Well I did it, I raced.
I took a few days off riding this week because I thought I should be completely recovered before the race. Thursday I took a short easy paced ride, then Friday night I did a slightly longer ride. As I came into town Friday night I stood up to sprint and my chain slipped off the rear cog and I nearly fell. I could easily make the chain slip with a hard push of the pedals while it was in the middle cogs on the back. I checked the chain when I got home and as I expected it was beyond warn out. Luckily for me Dad had a brand new chain and loaned me a cassette to use. I replaced my shifting cables and went to the trouble of waxing the new chain. After all this the bike was super smooth.
I was still nervous about the race and there is no way I’d have done it if Adam and Shon hadn’t already signed up. Talked to Adam some Friday night, went over a bit of race strategy and it helped calm my nerves.
Number pinning 101
If you ever sign up for USA Cycling road race make sure you pin your number on sideways. I didn’t know this. No one told me until I was on the start line and the was race about to start.
We reviewed the rules, the most important one being that we were not allowed the cross the center line for pretty much any reason. Crossing the center line would result in a disqualification. I couldn’t believe the size of the field. There were 50 riders, it was full, and they all looked skinnier and faster then me.
We got underway and things started moving. Despite the road being a nice painted highway it felt very narrow since we were three wide and not allowed to cross the line. It was an environment that required hyper attentiveness. Seemed we were always speeding up or slowing down. I had good riders around me and never felt anything but safe, but it was so hectic that I could rarely glance at my Garmin. I felt as if we were taking it easy, but I noticed my heart rate was already at 180, but I wasn’t even breathing that hard.
There are several ways to explain this, the first half of the course is much more downhill then uphill and lacks any real hills, second there was a strong tailwind for the first half of the course, and third I was in a draft with 30 riders.
Race Tactics 101
Unfortunately for me the last half of the course contains the climbs and today it also had the headwind. I’ve always thought a good tactic a big guy could use on a big climb is to go to the front then drift back through the climb. The first big climb on the course appears as if the road runs straight up, it is steep but the steep part is very short. I assumed that as we approached the hill riders would attack and try to break up the peloton, but instead it seemed like everything calmed down. I was very close to the centerline and had been for the first 12 miles, then everyone started slotting in on the right hand side of the road and for the first time there was clear space in front of me. I was by myself on the left and for some reason I just went, moving past the peloton and going clear at the base of the climb. I was most of the way up the steep part when the riders began going around me. I hung on through the less steep part of the climb and easily caught back up on the downhill.
I had Phil Liggets voice in my head, “The rotund Gholson has survived with the climbers and made the selection.”
It was on the gas around the corner, onto the highway at Stonefort and I realized for the first time that I was well past the red zone and not recovering. Any civilized ride would have a few moments of relaxation here, but this is when I realized, this wasn’t a group ride. The hill out of Stonefort was where the race was really shattered, the climb had just been surfaced with fresh chip, no problem for anyone with mountain bike skills, but the leg shaving guy to my right spun sideways and rode straight off into the ditch. I could see my friend Benny out in the distance and he was pulling ahead nicely. My other two friends Adam and Shon were off the radar I wasn’t sure if they were ahead or behind.
There’s a couple of miles of flat that should have made for great recovery, except for the headwind and the fact that I let everyone slip away on the climb out of Stonefort. My heart was pegged and I couldn’t recover. Some skinny dude got on my wheel. I kept thinking, come on man come up here and take a turn, I was only going 18 and it was killing me. Finally some more guys caught us and we worked together and I got a bit of recovery, but then the pleasant valley climb hit me like a boulder and I was left alone.
The finally few miles of the race are a nice smooth road back into Creal Springs with rolling hills. I gave my best effort to catch back up and I began to see the riders ahead of me getting larger and my heart feeling a bit less like it would jump out of my throat. The follow vehicle was only 100 yard ahead of me and I felt like I could almost get there, but I would run out of the steam at the top of each hill. As the finishing hill came into distance I was passed by a Semi Truck, then a large pickup truck, they were forced to slow down behind the race follow vehicle and I saw my chance. I gave everything I had into a sprint and got into draft of the truck. Like a slingshot I passed the truck and Semi, as I came out from behind the semi I saw my Mom and my brother on the side of the road clapping. A large group of riders were crossing the finish line on top of the hill but there was one rider behind I could pass.
My big sprint came to an instant halt when I suffered a cramp in my left leg. I hadn’t been drinking enough on the race, there wasn’t time. I sit back down and started spinning and even though I could see the finish line and I knew that if I just kept at it I’d finish ahead of the guy I just passed, I just shifted down and took it easy for the last 50 meters. They guy passed me about 10 meters before the line.
I finished 22 out of 46 starters and nearly collapsed after crossing the line.
Adam finished only a minute or two behind me, and Shon only a minute or two behind him.
Besides the race it was an exciting day because of all the support I received. My Mom, Dad and my Brother had come to the race, and I got to meet for the first time, long time blog reader and email friend Mike. A couple of random folks told me they were fans of my blog as well.
I wonder what would have happened if I’d slowed down stayed in the draft for the climb instead of hitting it at 28 miles per hour. I went so deep on that climb that I was never able to recover. I’ve got to say that I’m happy with my results, I was in the top half of the ride, and easily by far the biggest guy there. I’m certain I won the 200+ weight class, if there were such a thing.
I’ve always wanted to do a bike race, and the Great Egyptian and for the last 4 years the Great Egyptian has raced roads I train on, and I’ve finally did it. It was an awesome experience. Thanks to everyone who got it together, the sponsors, especially Road Race sponsor, Don Luna Mexican Restaurant which is my go-to source for Mexican food.