The Baddlands Cycling Team held the first of the season's Tuesday Night races last night. The locations vary and last night's race was held at Spokane Raceway Park. In addition to the all-American quarter-mile loop and drag strip, the car racing venue also boasts a 2 1/2 mile "road" course. Even with it a bit torn up, Baddlands made good use of the available asphalt. We then had to make good use of the available daylight.
Since yesterday morning started out with a couple of inches of fresh snow on the Spokane area and rain threatened intermittently all day, I was pleased and surprised to see the large number of racers turn out. In years gone by these races were done in three packs, A, B & C, with the women generally joining the C pack. The A pack was often around or under 10 riders, with the B & C pack around 15 up to 20. A big turn out for women was 3. Last night they added a Women's pack and there must have been 20-25 women in it. Interestingly, the entire pack was made up of one team, Riverstone Woman's Cycling. That does decrease the use of team tactics, but it was an impressive showing.
I arrived to the course late, one of a series of less than savvy decisions on my part, so I'm not sure how big the B pack was, but the A pack was about 20 and the C pack closer to 30.
How did my racing go? Let's use the term racing in it's loosest definition and then I will proceed. As in, I did pin on a number, I did go around the course with a group of people most of whom I have never shared pleasantries, and there a number of pointless accelerations and pseudo-attacks. Sure, this could describe a Morning Ride outing, but you forgot about the race numbers.
I decided to ride my bike to the venue. I like to forget each year how long it takes to do this, so thinking that 30-35 minutes would do it, I left my house 55 minutes before my start time. I intended to leave earlier, but I also decided to change out my race wheels after the time I planned to leave. Mistake 1, which lead to Mistake 2, leaving too late. It turns out that it took me about 53 minutes to get to the course. Thankfully, the race officials were understanding of my lack of planning as they had met me before and were used to such antics. At least I had my race fee.
In the three minutes I had, I registered, pinned on my number and stowed my pack. I also realized that I was a bit tired, sweaty and cold. Thankfully the pack was slated for about 30 minutes, so I figured I could endure most of this.
The first lap I rode in the rear third, in part because I was still figuring out if I was ready to race and because it has been two years since I pinned on a number out there. After riding the first lap, which served as my preview of the course, I wasn't feeling sparky, but I wasn't feeling bad, except that, and this is a silly thing about which to complain, but my socks were too thick and it meant my shoes were pinching and my toes getting numb. Looking back, I like to think this is the reason I didn't finish higher. Let's be clear, it had NOTHING to do with it, but I still like to think that it did.
After the first lap I moved up a bit higher in the pack and rode the next four of our seven minute laps in the front third. I tried to stay out of the wind and get used to being in a pack again. It turns out that being in the "aged" side of the pack and overweight is not the best recipe for racing success. I should call Lance and let him know. The variety of pointless accelerations were not too bad, as I was able to keep up. Accelerations on a bike can take a variety of forms. The best ones are surprising and the increase in speed is quick and sure. Mine were more like a snowball rolling down a hill. A bit hesitant at first, gaining speed slowly and then amazement at how something that large seems to be moving fast.
The feeling of racing deserves books and blogs and paragraphs of their own, but I think that racing is always humbling. It is always difficult and, for me, there are always points where it takes much more mental effort to maintain your place than muscle effort. Last night, as we took our last lap, the pace kept creeping up, as usual, and there was more jockeying for spots. I realized as we entered the last third of the last lap that I did not have the jump in my legs to really be part of a sprint. I momentarily made the decision to pull out of the pack to avoid being in the way or needing to dig deep to fight out the fifteenth spot. Just as this thought flitted through my head I also decided that I was letting my mind get to me and I might as well hang in there and see it to the end, particularly as the end was only 120 seconds away. Unless you have raced, though, it it hard to realize how much pain you can pack into two minutes.
Anyway, I ended up with what I would call a "position based" 9th. I had a good position into the last tricky corner. While I lost some spots on the acceleration out of the corner I held on to the last of the group and nine of us ended up with a significant gap on the 20 or so behind. The finish was windy and uphill, so it was a long drag. I was not gaining on 7 and 8 enough to catch them and I had 30 meters on 10 - 12, so I cruised across the line at the tail end of the first group, which was fitting. I often find that if I am in shape, my goal is the be the slowest guy in the fast group. I succeeded at that.
My buddy PW says that winning a race like this is akin to the pride of being the tallest midget in the circus. Last night I may not have been the tallest, but I got out in the midst of the three rings for the first time in a long while.