Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A pic of my teammates and pals cheering my approach to the finish line. They are so great.

And suffering up to the line. I couldn't believe I was actually winning.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

I've envisioned this blog as a sort of paean to pack fodder. I mean, that's what I've been. Until now.

I raced the Women's cat 4/master's 35+ race on Saturday. 40 minutes plus one lap around a mile long, well, circle basically. Other than some potholes and a few big puddles, Sherman Park has a very non-technical course. A bit of a decline and tailwind on the side after the start, a bit of an incline and a headwind on the side coming into the finish. So very different than the short, technical cat 3/4 races I've been doing lately.

From the start, I felt good. I sat third wheel for a couple laps until I flatted. My teammates gave me a quick wheel change and pushoff back into the field [thanks Ed & Mark!]. I had no problem getting right back into third wheel, no problem covering attacks. My teammate Jeanette moved around the little pack, surveying. After about a half hour, she signaled to me, then attacked. Two riders jumped right on her and I jumped on them. The four of us left the rest behind. Then Jeanette signaled again and I jumped. Hard. I just pounded it . . . and I got away!

Since I'm not a sprinter, but I am pretty consistently strong through a long race, I figured that a breakaway would be my best chance of maybe winning someday. So I'd been experimenting a bit when I got the chance and had been reading other racer's accounts of how they rode away from the pack. And Luke at Chicago Bike Racing [.com] had written that a breakaway could succeed at Sherman Park because it was possible to get far enough ahead that you couldn't be seen.

So I dropped my hammer and got myself out of sight. As I came through the start/finish, I heard a bell and thought "one more lap! I can do one more lap!" And I burned it all on that lap, just gave it all up. And when I came up to the finish line thinking that maybe I had possibly won . . . I saw the card read "3." I had to ride three more laps.

I settled in. Downshifted one and just kept spinning. All the marshalls were my teammates and they yelled encouragement. Every time I came through the start/finish, there was a roaring cheer. For me. I heard my name, I heard someone yell to keep my rhythm. To dig deep. Finally [finally!], I came around for the last time. The marshalls called out that I had 20 seconds on the chase group . . . but I kept thinking they could catch me at any time. I pushed across the finish line . . . and I won. I WON! I actually won. I succeeded in my solo breakaway and WON! Seriously. I won.

It was SO HARD. Actually, before I attacked, it wasn't hard. For pretty much the first time, I felt comfortable. I was strong enough to sit on the other strong riders and chase down their attacks. And then I was strong enough to ride away from them. And then it was all pain. My heartrate at my max, my legs burning, my lungs trying to escape from my chest. On the verge of throwing up. Just incredibly hard for 5 laps.

And it wouldnt've happened without Jeanette. She read the pack and set me up perfectly. Then she blocked for me. At one point, the other two started to look like they were going to chase in earnest, so she got on the front and pulled respectably hard for 100 meters then slowed down . . . and they slowed way down too. Hee. She's so smart about racing. And so selfless. I wish I could read a race a tenth as well as she. She took second in the sprint, for third overall.

Frankly, I still have a hard time believing it. Conditions were exactly right. It was a small field, and Jeanette and I were strong and coordinated [thanks to her]. The other strong racers spent a lot of time pulling the field around the course, wearing themselves out. In a larger field, it might not have worked at all.

But yesterday it did. And I'm still giddy. I've learned so much in the last year and a half, and it all came together. I WON MY FIRST RACE! WOOOO!

Random bits:
-as I took a cool down circuit on the sidewalk, the men's master's race went by and my teammate George called out congratulations from the pack.
-my coach, Randy, gave me a big hug—and then gave me trouble for not posting up as I crossed the finish. As if I'd EVER thought I'd need a victory salute.
-this morning, riding with Gigi, she noticed that my cornering has improved. I guess those crazy hard technical crits were good for something.
-Thanks to Jeff Kao for the picture taken right after the race. That's Seri in the background. She did really well in one of her first races ever.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Its been raining all week. The Lakefront path is a mess of wet sand, gravel, puddles and flooding. Thus so is my poor bike.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bike racing is fun. Its exhilarating and crazy and really, really, hard. I imagine its REALLY fun to win. Or to have a chance at winning. Or even to be useful to your teammates. But until I get to that point, its fun.

Racing is to riding a bike as Ballet is to walking. You need all sorts of skills and muscles and knowledge that take time and effort to acquire. Some people are able to do it much faster than others. But even though my improvement is incremental, I AM improving.

Last Saturday, I raced the Downer's Grove crit. The amateur women's race was a 20 minute plus 1 lap 3/4 crit — 20 minutes around a mile long, hour glass-shaped course with a small, steep hill on one end, with the category 3 and 4 riders racing together. I'm a 4 — the beginner category. A 4 gets to be a 3 by doing really well in a whole bunch of races. I'm going to be a 4 for the forseeable future.

It started to rain just as our race started. I don't think it made that much difference in my race — I was chasing from the whistle. It was super fast and super hard. Ideally, one wants to be near the front of the pack in a race, and I was clinging to the back, using up WAY more energy than I would have if I were better positioned. I just don't corner well enough to keep a good position on a technical course like this.

My climbing is better than my cornering. I had no problem with the little hill. However, on the second to last lap, I got behind someone who just died going up it. I was forced to brake hard and swerve into the gutter. I stayed upright, but ended up 20 feet behind the pack. So I spent the last lap chasing hard.

Into the finishing stretch, I came around the racer ahead of me and reved up my sad little "sprint." 10 feet later, she floated right by me and crossed the line. Sprinting is one of my biggest challenges. I practise all the time, I think I understand the mechanics of it — I've been drilled enough — but I always get dropped like a stone in the sprint. I think its the 'fast-twitch" muscle vs. the "slow-twitch" muscle thing. You need fast-twitch muscle fiber for explosive power . . . and I don't seem to have any. Anyway, I finished 18th out of 33 with 26 finishing. And it was really sorta awesome just to be a part of it all.

One of my teammates took an early flyer, got caught and then popped and was dropped. Another crashed out in a slick corner. And the third finished a respectable 8th. They're all 3s.

This coming Saturday is the Sherman Park crit — my team, xXx Racing-Athletico stages it every year. I'll be racing the cat 4/master's women race. 40 whole minutes! Woo! I'm looking forward to the race and to volunteering and spending time with my teammates. And seeing how I'll do in a field without the 3s to speed things up.