Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Road Racing – A New Adventure

Since I have been having such a good time on the Birmingham road rides, I decided to try some road racing this year. I figured it would be a good change of pace and fun to trying doing a few road races.

Tour of Kensington

I figured that being a mountain biker and a reasonably good climber; Kensington would be a good race for me. I signed up early to make sure I got in under the cap of 50 racers. The weather was not looking to favorable leading up to the race. The morning of it was cold, windy and misting. I threw what appeared to be every combination of clothing I had to make sure I was covered. I checked in, pumped up my tires, pinned my number on my jacket and was ready to do battle… at this point I wasn’t sure if the battle was going to be the weather or the competition. I warmed up a little and ended up removing a layer of clothing. One thing that I noticed riding around were how much money people had in bikes and wheels in road racing. Some guys had multiple wheelsets worth more than my whole bike! I lined up my junk and was ready to go. On the first downhill my fear of being taken out almost became reality as a guy was all over his brakes on a corner, cut across the road and almost took a group of us out at near 40mph… not good. After that things weren’t too exciting as the race turned into basically a fast group ride. The only place guys would attack was out of the neutral zone as we entered the pavement. A couple attacks were hard to reel back in due to the windy conditions, but once a group was formed things would settle down. I attacked on an uphill to warm up and strung the group out, but they caught me as soon as we turned into the wind. The wind was so bad in some areas that the whole peloton had to lean their bikes almost 30degs to keep going straight. As we roll through at the start of the final lap, I noticed that our group was now down to 12 guys. Maybe we were going harder than I thought. At this point I was wondering how the finish was going to shake out. There was a long hill followed by a short down hill and then the climb to the finish line. I was thinking about waiting till the top of the first climb and then attack or just follow whatever anyone else did. As the first hill approached, a guy started to go for it and the rest of the group didn’t respond so I chased him down. It was a little sooner than I wanted to go but didn’t want to be in a position to be racing for second. I caught him at the start of the finishing climb, drafted for a little bit and then started to sprint around him. At this point another group of riders caught us and I was out sprinted by one of them. I was excited to finish 2nd place in my first road race experience and even one a $50 gift certificate!!

West Branch Classic

Saturday Road Race
I had another open weekend and decided to give another road race a try. I had wanted to West Branch as they talked about how it finishes on a “killer” climb and is a very hilly route. It was a 2 day event with a Criterium on Sunday, so I decided to drive up the morning of the race to minimize the cost. I warmed up, talked to a few guys and looked at all the bike bling. This race had a couple “teams” in the group with matching kits and bikes and I wondered if they would organize during the race. We rolled out easy and then guys immediately started attaching off the front, but were easily reeled back in by the peloton. The hills didn’t seem that bad, but it was interesting to me that on every turn the front guys would take off and then easy up. I quit chasing the corner surge to conserve energy and just rode at a hard pace to pull myself back to the group. There were some good hills but we seemed to keep the most of the guys in the group. As we got closer to the finish guys started to battle for position, but I just tried to maintain my position and not get caught up in a wreck. As we approached the base of the climb, I wasn’t in a great position and guys were all over the place. I worked my way toward the centerline to give myself an outlet and it was a good choice as a couple guys got together and went down right near me. All that I could hear was the cracking of carbon fiber. I powered my way around and up the hill leaving most of the peloton behind. There were a couple of guys ahead of me and I was closing on one of them when another guy rode around us. I gave it everything I had, but had to settle for 5th. The funny thing was that everyone that beat me was younger than 25 and went to Michigan State.

Sunday Criterium
I was a little nervous about racing a crit as it is where a lot of wrecks happen. After the wreck on Saturday, it was definitely on my mind. There was a smaller turnout for the crit, only 12 guys show up at the line. The pace was fast and furious. There were a couple of preems (prize points for being in the lead at certain points of the race) and I went for one of them. I was pretty sure I got it but they called it a tie as they weren’t using the camera to review. On the second preem, the 2 guys that went for it gapped the group and we couldn’t reel them back in by the finish. I rolled in for 5th place. The race weekend had an omnium (an overall for the weekend) and I finished second and won a Michelob Ultra jersey. Fun weekend of racing!

Le Tour de Mont Pleasant

After having a few good finishes in CAT5, I requested an upgrade to CAT4. It was approved, so I decide to challenge myself and enter the Tour de Mont Pleasant road race in the Master’s 35+ category. I had just finished the Mohican 100 mtb race the weekend before and wasn’t sure how my legs were going to be, but I knew this would probably be my last opportunity to do a road race so I took my chances. I drove up the morning of and walked over to pick up my packet. I was really impressed at how much the city of Mount Pleasant did for the race. Most of the store fronts had cycling related things in the window and shops and sponsors had booths set-up on the side streets. The people volunteering for the race were all really nice and seemed excited to be part of the event. I got my stuff together, did a quick warm-up and lined up for the race. There were some familiar faces in this group from the Tuesday Birmingham ride racing for MPI and Essex Brass. Once again I felt like the odd man out with a bike that probably cost less than most of their wheelsets, non shaved legs and mtb shoes. Right at the start Rich Stark took off and we were in full chase mode. I was already wondering how I was going to keep up at this pace! After a few miles, everyone relaxed and we settled into a pace. One thing I noticed with this group was that they weren’t afraid to go off the front. Sometimes the peloton would chase other times not. A couple times the group was split up and I found myself in the front of the chase group at 30+ mph bridging the gap. At one point I thought that my whole book of matches was going to go up in flames… but I held on. At one point in the race a couple guys got off the front and I didn’t realize it as I thought we had caught them. I must have not been seeing straight due to oxygen debt. Rob Selle was yelling about racing for 3rd and I didn’t realize what he was talking about till the finish!! Haha!! The Peloton was riding pretty slow for a while and then the Master 45+ guys caught us, which was a mess because then they slowed and we went around and then they went back around us. It was hard to maintain a lot of speed with our group as it was probably less then half the size of the 45+ group. As we approached the finish the group was at a group ride pace. I talked with a couple guys while warming up about where the sprint would start and they thought that it would happen at the railroad tracks. Well… they were wrong as it started immediately at the last turn which was about a ½ mile out and I was out of position for a good finish. I drafted as long as I could and passed a few near the finish rolling in for 14th place. I was happy to finish with the main group and had a great time! I will definitely do some more road racing next year.