Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The race

On Saturday I woke up at 7 a.m., put on my cycling clothes, ate a banana, slammed a cup of coffee and pedaled into town for my first real bicycle race – the Opie’s Buick-Chevrolet McKinleyville Criterium.

I figured there would be 10 to 15 participants in the men’s beginner race, but only four signed up – myself, a nice fellow named Pat and two kids that looked like they were in middle school.

Pat was a little older than me and said he’d never entered a race before. The kids were aloof and kept to themselves.

Sizing up the competition, it looked like the kids might be the real threat. Due to their lack of body fat and youthful exuberance, they would probably zoom ahead, leaving Pat and I to duke it out for third place.

I was wrong.

It didn’t take more then a lap and a half to see how things were going to shake out. Pat took the lead and distanced himself from the rest of us. He got further and further ahead until he was eventually out of sight.

The younger of the two kids fell behind and was eventually lapped by the rest of us.

That left me and older kid, who I dubbed “The 14 Year Old.” We played a game of cat and mouse for nearly the entire race, which lasted 20 minutes “plus a lap.”

I drafted him and he drafted me. Given my size, I suspect I was nearly pulling him along at times. Every couple of laps his father would yell “ride the wheel!”

That was good advice.

In retrospect, I should have stayed behind the kid for at least half the race, or more. Let him do all the work and get tuckered out. Then maybe – just maybe – I could have pulled ahead and beat him.

But I had a different strategy. I knew for certain that if we were neck and neck at the end of the race, he would be able to out sprint me and win. My only hope was to hit the corners hard and try to pull ahead in the straight-aways. If I could muster enough energy to put 30 to 40 yards between us, I could win.

I tried and there were a few times that I made some headway, but the kid always caught up.

When the horn sounded for the final lap, I knew I was doomed. The kid pulled ahead. He was a yard ahead, two yards, three yards, four yards. By the time we were on the backstretch, he was standing up and making some serious progress.

I was giving it my all and there was nothing I could do about it. I crossed the finish line and took third place, or second to last.

I caught up to the kid as we circled around the .67 mile course to cool down. We made the obligatory “good race” comments and that was the end of the conversation. We both struggled to catch our breath. He looked like he had over exerted himself and was in a little bit of pain – just like me.

There was a lot of interesting chit chat at the finish line, then I pedalled home, took a shower, changed into street clothes and pedalled back into town – this time on the Suburban – to cover the expert-pro race for the paper.

That race was exciting and fun to watch.

Later, as I reflected on my first race, I came to the conclusion that I’m nothing more than a slowpoke recreational rider.

I’d like to compete in the sport class, but it’s going to take a lot of work – more than just a few training rides.


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