My First Bike Race

Posted by on August 5, 2009 in Training

My friend Bobby recently posted something about a bike race he did in Brooklyn and it piqued my interest.  So, I inquired a bit and decided to give it a go.  I figured I’d be great.  With watching Mark Cavendish win a bunch of sprint races in the recent Tour de France, I began to envision how I’d sprint to a win myself.  Long story short, it was a VERY humbling experience.

The race is apparently held at Floyd Bennett Field most Tuesday nights.  When I mentioned to my Dad that I’d be racing there, he told me that he once landed a jet there with a friend (they were in the US Air Force).  My dad really is very cool, but you should already know that!

From what I’ve learned, there is a classification system among amateur cycling races that follow a “category” nomenclature.  Cat 5 is for first-timers and newbies.  After completing something like ten Cat 5 races, one can move up to Cat 4.  Thereafter, a person has to not only complete x number of races, but also accumulate points which can be won by either winning (or placing) at the end of the race or by being among the first x number of riders over an intermediate point on the race course in order to advance to Cat 3.

As a newbie, I naturally fell into Cat 5 and figured that with generally having good cycling legs this year, and with a close to 20,000 miles of experience in me, I’d fare well.  I’m not exactly sure how I convinced myself that there’d be generally slower riders in my group, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  These Cat 5 dudes were FAST!

I met up with Bobby and one of his friends, Filippo, at Bobby’s apt. and we all took the subway to the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn.  They are on the same Terrier Triathlon team, and in the spirit of working together as a team of sorts, Bobby gave me a spare Terrier Tri Team jersey to wear.

The course was essentially a circuit that followed a rectangular design, and we were required to complete five laps.  There were significant winds and given the rectangle, two sides were against the wind, and two sides were with the wind.

When the starting gun (actually a whistle) went off, people kinda just lolled into the ride without much effort.  I stayed behind Bobby for the first two sides (into the wind), but when the course made the turn into the third side, other folks surged ahead.  Filippo immediately went with the fastest guys, but I stuck with Bobby who was much more patient.  We were only scheduled to complete 12 miles of racing, so pacing and strategy were paramount.  On the 2nd lap, Filippo found himself with me towards the back of a main group of riders.  We rode together for most of that 2nd lap, along with two other riders, until he finally picked up the pace and worked hard to re-connect with the main group.  It was a very good effort and to bridge the gap was important both physically and psychologically.

For a fair portion of the 4th lap, Filippo led Bobby who in turn led me at the front of the peloton (group of riders).  With matching jerseys, folks knew we were teammates and I sensed that we were recipients of a fair amount of respect.  That is, until we made the final turn into the wind.  Then, in what seemed like a split second, guys surged past us on both sides.  Filippo and Bobby put in good efforts to stay with the pack, but before I knew it, they were ahead of me.  They had “gapped” me.  I wound up having to complete the 5th and final lap by myself which essentially means that I wasn’t privy to the benefits of drafting behind anyone.  When one drafts (ride behinds another person), it’s said that there is a savings of about 30% of energy.  I had no such opportunity for those savings.

I tried to time how far in front of me they were and figured it to be in the 20 second range for a few turns in a row.  In the final tailwind section, I put in an all-out effort and it was heart-busting.  My heart rate was pushing 180 beats per minute and I was super-deep into the red zone.  With lactic acid searing through my legs, I made the final turn into the headwind and gave it my all out of the saddle to cross the finish line.  I don’t know my placing overall, but I think that I may have been either 2nd or 3rd-to-last.  Me, the supposed good biker!  Unbelievable.

When I got home last night, I promptly got out an icepack for my badly bruised ego and tried to put into perspective the events of the evening.  I’ve not fully come to grips with things but I’m leaning towards simply concluding that my style of riding isn’t currently suited for the road racing format.  As a triathlete (sometimes referred to as time-trialing), I’m used to sustained hard efforts and less of the surge-and-maintain approach.  Like Filippo said, get most of those guys last night on triathlon bikes or into a time trial event and let’s see how they’ll do against us.  It’s moot obviously, so I’m not expending much energy thinking about the what-ifs.

I’m mostly about tomorrow, not yesterday, so I’m already thinking hard about what to do make the experience better next time.  There is another one of these next Tuesday.  I’m racing in the Central Park Triathlon on Sunday, but the distance is short and I should be recovered given the 60 hours that will separate the events.  Who knows if I’ll fare better, but perhaps I will.

When I completed my first triathlon in 2001, I considered it to be a horrific experience.  I was underprepared, slow, ill-equipped, mentally weak, etc.  But, I vowed to try again and when I did, I had better results.  I tried two more times that summer and got better and better.  I refused to accept sucking and eventually, it paid off.  Same thing with basketball.  I’ll never forget Freshman year of high school when Jon Mullen, who later became a good friend, made it a point to mock my chubbiness and awful basketball skills.  I practiced every day for years and years… and eventually, I became pretty good.  Quick postscript:  last time I saw Jon, he had a pretty good-sized beer gut!

So, with this cycling experience, I have been humbled in a significant way.  Some friends will read this and breathe a sigh of relief!  Others will find motivation in seeing how a failure (again, in my terms, it’s defined as my perception of meeting or exceeding goals) prompts harder – and smarter – work.  Ultimately, I see no reason why I shouldn’t get better.  All it takes is the desire to get better.  Desire can be a pretty powerful incentive.

Before the race:  Me, Bobby, Filippo

Before the race: Me, Bobby, Filippo

Following Filippo

Following Filippo

Another shot

Another shot

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