Happy Birthday to me, I’m 54. I won’t really turn 54 until October 28, but in the world of bicycle racing, you are whatever you will turn during the year on January 1. I am contemplating the first race of my second season, so I guess I had better put the first year to bed.
The first thing to know is that bike racing is not quite the same as foot-racing-only-on-bikes. There is a good deal of casual participation in your average 5- and even 10K, where there is a large percentage of folks just trying to finish and won’t be bothered too much if they walk some. That’s great, but in bicycle racing, most everyone there is pretty doggone serious about cycling. There may a person or two that might be considered a casual entrant, but not often. The overall volume is low as well: A lightly attended 5K may have between 50 and 100 people in it. 50 would be a pretty big road race (event), although it should be noted that the road race is divided into a number of events for different race categories that race at different times. Also, you need a license to race. You can get it by signing up and paying; the point is it’s a bit more organized and centralized than running.
The whole season can be considered one big learning event; I am looking forward to not having to learn the lessons again and applying my knowledge in season number two. Here is a brief litany of the the things I learned. I have several paragraphs to say about each, but neither of us has all day:
1) You can turn off the course, and even if anyone sees you, they may not try to correct you.
2) If you have to choose between the Cat(egory) 5 and the Masters race, choose the Cat 5. They call them Masters for a reason besides age. Cat 5 is where you start; it means rank, pitiful beginner. I can qualify for Cat 4 this year, which means pitiful beginner. That is likely where I will retire, unless there is an influx of old, slow racers.
3) Look before you leap, which is good deal easier said than done. Learning this lesson cost me a nasty crash.
4) It’s better to be in the front if you can manage it. The rubber band effect is real. And tiresome.
5) When you get dropped by the pack, and it seems like you are alone in last place, there are in fact people behind you. Usually.
6) Some of these dudes are flat out crazy, and I have teeth and dependents that I am fond of. Better to give crazy his patch of asphalt in the peloton (the bunch) than to crash out defending it.
7) Other than being on the bike, those long training rides have next to nothing to do with racing. It’s a whole different physical activity. Long solo rides are: grind, grind, grind, grind. Racing is: PEDAL LIKE CRAZY coast. PEDAL LIKE CRAZY coast.
The effect of riding in a bunch can’t be understated, and in racing it’s a lot bigger than it is in group rides. In the race situation, the group enjoys an aerodynamic advantage and can cruise, even for Cat 5s, around 25 mph average. So you can easily imagine peak sustained (pedaling) speeds in excess of 30 mph. I don’t have any gears that go faster than that, so I am considering re-gearing to what the pros use (fast, lots of mechanical advantage), which is fine until you get dropped by the group and have to pedal up a big hill without a decent climbing gear (spin-y, little mechanical advantage). I will let you know how it goes.
I have been taken with the fact that so much of success has to do with weight, although there is much to be considered about proper fueling. Also, once you have addressed your gross weight, there is a surprising amount of advantage that can be purchased through better equipment.
I got a new carbon bike fairly late in the season with improved gadgetry; we have been together 1000 miles now and/but I do not believe we are at full song.
I completed several races; I failed to complete a couple for various reasons, but not for lack of conditioning ; I failed to start at one race; I crashed once; I avoided the crash once; I won a medal (in a very small category). If you can believe this, I was a victim of doping in the peloton, as one of my doped competitors beat me (by about an hour) in a particular event.
I discovered that I am not likely to beat everyone in a bunch sprint (having not been in the bunch at the finish yet) and throw my arms into the air as I cross the finish; and that I am not the next undiscovered phenom of the masters set. So since I don’t have those images motivating me, it is a little tougher to get going for Season Two, but I think I am over that hurdle. A pro I admire recently said that racing is all about setting goals and doing your best, so I am following that model. I lost a lot of weight cycling; I like the benefits and the lifestyle.
So watch out, fellow codgers, here I come for season two.