It’s raining… I’m pedaling… The spray of the rooster tails off the 45 or so bikes ahead of me further obscures my vision… I’m not hurting too bad but… I am losing ground. I hear someone on my left say “this is insane”… inwardly I agree but I neither turn my head or reply. My job, at the moment is to pilot this conglomeration of rubber, carbon fiber, flesh, and steel… and keep all of these parts in the right place… especially the flesh…
My adrenalin tells me to go for it… my head tells me that I’ve already hydroplaned a couple of times… Reminds me that I’m already doing 32 MPH and that there is a roundabout that I have to navigate ¾ of in just about a minute… I have no idea how fast I can do that and still keep both tires on the pavement.
I reach the roundabout with the shattered back of the field… cautiously coast thru the 270 degree turn… as I exit I see the field moving away at a pace much more rapid than the one I find myself maintaining…
This was not how I envisioned my first bike race…
How did I get here?
After much angst… and indecision I finally signed up for the Nocatee Stage Race last Friday. OK so I did not sign up for the whole thing. I did, however, sign up for the road race and TT stages.
The Time Trial was no big deal since I have done one of those before and it was only 6ish miles. The Road Race… well I have been racing bikes in triathlons for a dozen years but have never done a mass start bike race before. I picked this one because it was a Road race with few corners and had a specific Cat 5 35+ race.
To say I was nervous would be accurate… having never done this before, my greatest fears were crashing, causing a crash, and getting dropped.. probably in that order.
Packing the Suburban for 2 races was a bit odd… in that it required 2 bikes… at present my road and tri bike have different pedal systems… and I use 2 different pairs of shoes.
Well.. I got all my sh!t together and got it all to the race site a couple of hours before the race. I watched the pro/Cat1/2 race come by a time or two
The clouds rolled in about the time I went back to my car to start getting my act together and get a warm-up in. By the time I was ready to pull my bike out of the car the sky looked ominous so I decided to wait… As I sat there I watched the Cat 4 guys getting ready to race… a serious looking bunch all carrying a set of spare wheels more expensive.
Rains came… and along with it an electrical storm of biblical proportions…
In 30 minutes the rain let up a bit and the lightning moved off… work of mouth spread that the Cat4s/5s/and Juniors would all start together and the race has been shortened to 4 laps of a 7.4 mile course. Before I really had time to get nervous again 40-50 of us were standing at the start.
Okay back to the race:
So I’m out the back… 2 miles into my first road race so… I put my head down and start pedaling… I weave thru a few riders falling back and before I really know what I’m saying I’m yelling at them to help me catch the Peloton. A big guy from Kingsland Cycling club and I trade a couple of pulls… and we almost reach the draft of the service vehicles when I start to get cooked and slide to the back of the paceline that had formed behind us. By the time I work my way back up to the front… the peloton is gone.
For the next 2 laps I kill myself taking long pulls… in part as punishment for having no balls earlier… in part because I wanted our little group to lose as little time to the peloton as possible… part stupid… part anger…
On the 3rd lap I start to open my eyes… not literally.. I’m still squinting… peeking over the tops of my Rudy’s as it’s still p!ssing rain… but I start to take a good look at our situation. We are in a bike race… off the back of a peloton we’ll ever see again. I quit the stupid long/hard pulls and start to get back below redline. As we get to the final corner I calculate how far it is from the finish line.
On the back side of the circuit on the final lap for some reason the guy on the front of our group sits up… I don’t know why but he goes from 24mph to 20… I was 3rd wheel at the time so I decided to just pick it back up and so I roll off the front… I knew we were a forgotten bunch of dropped Cat 5s but… it was a bike race d@mmit... Oh they caught me.. a couple of minutes later. I was not really trying to solo away… just testing the water. As I work my way through the paceline I think on my strategy. I want to be near the front for both the two final corners… on the next to last corner I find myself on the front… cornering confidence has taken a quantum leap in just a little over an hour and I hit the corner hard and accelerate out of it. What is just a little punch for me strings everybody else out. Now… I just try to rest up for the final corner.
Just before the corner the Kingsland guy works his way up the left hand side… I hop on and follow… he passes the lead guy right on the corner… as he does I hit the gas… slingshot past him… I can tell that I have a gap… and only about .3 miles to go. Kingland Guy rips past me just a few seconds later… I’m on his wheel where I stay as we cross the line… the rest of our group comes in 10-15 seconds later.
As we roll down the starting straight… where just an hour and a few minutes earlier I had been terrified.. I have this feeling of elation… even tho we raced for 37-43d places… we had ourselves a bike race. When I finally got off my bike my legs were trembling to the point where I had to lean on my bike for support.
In the end we averaged 24.7 in the pouring rain… not too bad for a bunch of guys who got dropped.
I’ll be back to try my hand at this again… it was just too much fun!