Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Ronde De Bethel- First Race
See, the whole race is conducted in a small loop, which you ride many times, passing by the spectators each time, to the finish. The women, young and old, pro to brand new category 4 riders, like me, are all in the same race. Competitors ride in a pack, and the pack goes very fast, so if you get dropped, you’re riding on your own, loop after loop with all the spectators noting what a looser you are each time you pass by.
So, I was feeling really anxious. Feelings of inadequacy surfaced with memories of childhood humiliations, like getting picked last for square dancing, or being first victim in dodge-ball. What was I thinking trying to compete with these women? The morning of the race, I was there early with Victor, as the men’s race started at 7. It was really cold, so while Victor warmed up on the bike, I went inside. Registration was set up in the offices of Navone Photography Studios, commercial photographers with a passion for cycling, and the space was decorated with antiques, leather couches, bike frames and photos of cycling, food and wine. It was warm, and soft music played in the background. As people came in I chatted with folks I knew and introduced myself to folks I didn’t know, and soon it seemed the most natural thing to be a part of this scene.
I had done lots of base miles, intervals and lost a few pounds. I read a blog by Aki Sato, (check it out http://sprinterdellacasa.blogspot.com/ ) the race director and experienced racer, who even took the time to answer my email and lend support. I listened to webinars, talked to people and got advice, so I was as prepared as I could be. Of course, I had no teammates and no strategy other than to stay with the pack.
By the time our race started at 10:30 it had warmed up quite a bit. The women were chatty at the starting line, and when we took off, I was comfortably snug in the middle of the pack. It was amazing how much easier it was to ride the flat inside the peloton. I actually enjoy the feeling of gestalt, like being in a flock of birds or a school of fish. Ever wonder how the whole bunch knows when to dip and dive? Inside a peloton you have to focus on everything and nothing at the same time, so that you can react to the subtle movements and sounds around you. It’s a giddy feeling of joy and oneness.
But, the hill loomed. The first few loops I tried to sit and spin up the hill, so as to keep my heart rate down, but I found myself dropping back a bit and had to catch up after the crest. There was an early prime- that’s when they ring a bell and everyone at the front goes like lightning to be first on that lap for a bonus prize- and I didn’t catch up until just before the bottom of the hill, which meant not enough rest time in the pack.
So, I stood and hammered up the hill to stay with them and that seemed to work. It was an effort to get up the hill, but not so hard that I couldn’t recover nicely in the pack on the backstretch. In the second half, I began to feel really optimistic and even got out front on the climb once. Going into the last lap I felt really good and wondered why the others were not going faster on the flat. Apparently, the two in front had already taken off without chase.
Then, on the hill they all started going off like fireworks. I tried to do the same, and held my own to the finish line, coming in 12th in a field of over 20 (they only publish the first 20 finishers). I’m not sure how fast we were going, but it was a 20mi race done in about 50 minutes, so it was fast. Ann Marie Miller, who won, (riding way out in front of the pack for the last few laps) is a Cat 1 racer and many time Masters National Champion. I will never be like that, although nor will I be the woman who did get dropped…and lapped…several times (apparently though, everyone cheered for her). In the end, I felt pretty proud of myself. I learned and I had a lot of fun. I was tired, but not too tired to go out for another 20mi with Victor on the tandem, watching the world melt as the sun went down.