Because of the amazing winter we've had, the Tidewater Classic was postponed to a date that I could not attend. So instead, my first race would be the Richmond International Raceway Criterium put on by Richmond Velo Sport. The Flyer for the event has the Cat 5 mens race at 8:30am for some respect.
The Saturday before the race we did an indoor trainer team-spin. I rode hard for the first half-hour, and just put in a Z2 effort after the middle sprints. I'm unsure how much pre-day effort I need to put in, so this was a bit of a benchmark. I talked some with Sean and Clay and Thom about what to expect, goals, etc... Basically my goals:
Really, Don't Crash.
Finish in the pack.
Though Thom did say "Lots of people are going to give you advice, even me, and you should ignore all of it."
But the advice I did take away from everyone:
Have Fun -- Why else are you doing this? (Brian)
If you get to the finish in the pack, ride across the finish line with two wheels in the same direction. (Thom)
For your sprint, you just need to find where that 15 seconds is and go from there. (Sean)
After the spin, I picked up my stuff from the team buy and headed home to over prepare. I spent much of the rest of the day going over the checklist in my head for what I would need. I spent time cleaning off my bike, tuning my front derailleur, which I knew I wouldn't use during the race but it kept my mind off the race, over packing two bags of clothing, prepped my oatmeal for breakfast, made sure the coffeemaker was set up for the morning... I set my alarm for 5 am and finally climbed into bed near midnight.
5am came way too soon.
Coffee started, oatmeal finished and eaten, and everything packed; I had forgotten to prep my camera bag so I spent some time getting it put back together.
As I was loading the car up, I dropped a couple things -- I had to step back and tell myself "You've got more then enough time, don't rush, calm down..." So I eventually got the bike into the SUV and took off towards Richmond at 5:40am.
I-95 was devoid of traffic thankfully. Only a couple times during the drive did the butterflies rise up, but I found other things to distract my mind, until the last couple of miles from the racetrack, since you have to pass 6 or 7 parking areas for the racetrack before getting to it, and by that time there was really nothing I could do. I pulled into the racetrack, and then into the tunnel, then onto the infield of the racetrack. Funny thing is that I arrived two cars ahead of Clay.
Parked, went to registration, picked up my number, and went back to the car to get dressed. I listened to the guys next to me talk about how to put on a number. I tried to adapt that to my own, since one brother was pinning the number to the other while he was wearing his jersey. Again, I had to calm myself down and slow down, I was rushing and dropping things because I was nervous already.
Eventually I got everything on, which included a quick trip to the bathroom to put on my bibs. For warm up I just put on my winter jacket and gloves because it was still cold and somewhat windy. Clay caught up with me and we chatted about how the wind will hit you as you go around from Turn 1 to Turn 2, and that would be the spot to put in a dig. We did some checking on the effort that it would take to get down the back straightaway - the headwind was easily 150 watts of extra effort, so if there were any solo breakaways, they'd quickly come back to us because of the headwind. Therefore it was sit-in, get experience with a pack, stay out of the wind, and finish.
After 5 or 6 laps, I went back to the car, dropped off the jacket and gloves and made the decision to go with just the plain fingerless gloves and not put my full fingered gloves underneath. I also went with a cycling cap under the helmet instead of some sort of head warming thing; 30 minutes is short enough that I might get cold but not freeze.
I gathered my confidence and went out for a final lap and then got into the start.
Being Cat5, the purpose of the category is so that you learn to ride in a big group and learn the skills you need to not be a danger at Cat4. We had a basic course on how to better pin your number on your jersey and why it's there -- it needs to be viewable from the finish line camera to provide accurate placing. Also some basic terminology on what a free lap is, what a mechanical is (that would get you a free lap), and some other miscellania. And on the whistle, we started racing.
After a lot of clicking and clacking, the pace picked up, and I started sitting on wheels in what I thought was the middle of the pack. As we got around turns 1 and 2, there was some squirreliness as the guys on the front hit the wind and didn't want to put in the effort to keep going the speed we had with the tail wind. The pack bunched up and then again spread out as we rounded turn 4 for the first lap.
The effort to stay in the pack wasn't too difficult, I had no idea how hard I was working though; I was watching the riders in front and beside me more than I was my Garmin. (We averaged 23.5mph for the first lap) Pretty much Zone 2 effort to stay in the pack. On the third lap, a VDay rider ended up dipping below the cones on turn 3, I think more that he was forced below them rather than him trying to do advancing of place; his look back into the pack was pretty accusatory. Other than that, the guys from Phase cycling (of which there were many) were all yelling about trying to boss the peleton around. Not sure you need to yell "HOLD YOUR LINE" every time you go around the corner. All went normal for another lap or two, we got around at the end of lap 4 with 10 laps on the board.
As we came around turn 3 on lap 6, there was a crash, probably from the rider being forced into the cones, and as we rounded that turn on lap 7, we were being yelled at by race officials to move our line out, slow down, and stop at the start/finish line... But when we stopped at the start/finish line, another race official said she was the only one able to stop the race... Which was odd, because the guy who told us to stop was also a race official:
So we waited at the line for some 10-15 minutes as the ambulance got onto the track and the rider was treated and sent to hospital. On later laps you could see the blood he left on the track. Other racers said he seemed to go down from the cone and then slid on his head and shoulder.
The oddity of being stopped in the middle of a race, on a racetrack was not lost on me... Given this unique circumstance, I did what anyone would do in this modern age of social media -- I took a selfie.
And there's Clay - outside on the front row:
Eventually the ambulance cleared the track, and the officials said that we would do a neutral lap (18-20mph) and then when we hit the Start/Finish line, we'd have 5 to go. I figured that would give me a couple laps to not expend too much effort to move up and keep up with the pack.
Again, on the whistle, and off we went. Click/Clack, yelling to slow down, and then as we got around to the Start/Finish line, the officials yelled "3 To Go!" I think I audibly said "Well, light the torch now." And pretty much that happened. Pace got injected into the peleton, and as we got into corner 3 of the penultimate lap, I glanced behind thinking I was in the middle of the pack, and saw there were three behind me. Somewhere Tom was saying "It's time to move up."
So I took advantage of the tailwind to put in some effort on the outside and get around half the peleton. As I got around into the headwind, I stuck my nose out into it, moved up some more places, and then got on someone's wheel for the final corners because that little headwind we had during warm up was now almost a full on gale. As we got into Turn 3, one of the Phase guys got squirrely in front of me, so we backed off into turn 3, and then I was a little pinned in on the inside.
Around corner 4 I saw the front take off, and that was my cue to sprint. I had to negotiate a couple guys and ended up on the outside, crossing the line to me about top 15th. As I caught up to Clay he said that he came in third. We talked about the last couple of laps as we took a couple of cool down laps.
I met back up with Clay on the infield again:
The officials did not seem to find the bell:
The Cat4 race went off quickly after we finished; the stopping of the Cat5 race had really put in a kink in the timing for the day.
I kept wandering around taking pictures waiting for the Cat 5 Results.
I heard a group of Phase Cycling riders say something about the results being posted, and since there were about 6 laps to go on Tom's race, I went to go see..
12th! I was so stoked and amazed. First real race ever, and I finished 12! And Clay in 1st? What was this? I walked back and did not tell Clay of this, but told him to go check the postings himself. To quote the rulebook from USA Cycling:
Results will be posted near the finish line after each
race. The protest period is 15 minutes after posting,
after which time they become FINAL. Final results will
be posted to the USA Cycling website.
So we waited, because we expected whomever it was that crossed before Clay to protest.
Tom's race was finishing:
Tom finished 22nd. The Cat 4s couldn't get a breakaway going, so it ended up with Ezekial Monmouth from Bike Works winning it.
Eventually, we saw that someone was re-posting the results for the Cat5... which was really just repositioning the list... They didn't contest, so Clay took first!
(FWIW, The Winner's video is on Youtube):
After all that we hung around and talked with Tom, tried to figure out when the podium was going to take place (after the final race), so eventually we left because...Lunch. I went and got on I95 Northbound, which for a simple 90 minute ride down became a 2h30m ride home. I got home, unloaded the SUV, got everything together, then went on a nice leisurely 55 mile celebratory ride out to Leesburg for a powerbar.
So, things that I learned:
Stick around and check the posted results -- They might be incorrect.
The best time to move up on the field is when they're in difficulty.
If you're going to choose an inside line; stick it. If someone moves out on you from the inside, you need to move as well.
Just because you're behind someone doesn't mean they're the right person to be behind.
Take the time during the race to figure out those 15 seconds; I didn't this race and I could have placed better.
Just because that guy's wheels cost more than your bike doesn't mean his engine is better.
Rule #53 because I really don't want to stare at a hairy buttcrack during a race.
Trust your training
Point 8 above deserves some more description. Having chosen to join the VeloWorks - Spokes Etc. team, I had no idea what it would be worth in doing so. I know I've written about why I wanted to join a team, but the training benefits were very apparent from the race. Though I wasn't completely comfortable getting in behind a bunch of strangers and wobbly Cat5ers, I knew better on how to hold a wheel, how to react quickly to things happening in front of me, and when to move up. Plus, the hardest part of this race honestly felt like a training ride with the team; I'm not the strongest on the team, and I struggle to keep on most of the Cat3's wheels, but that struggling taught me the hows and whys of the importance of doing so. Had I not even thought about joining a team, I probably would have sucked it on the back and stuck out into the wind for way too long, and probably finished in the back.
During the race, there really were 4 team mates with me in the race; Clay up front killing it, Thom reminding me my job was to finish, Sean telling me to get on that guys wheel, and Tom telling me it was time to move up. I'm glad I was able to do the team proud today.