Racing can be humbling

I finished my first race of the season today. It was a 47 mile three lap loop of the Fork Shoals course. I participated with my teammates in the Masters 35+ field. It was a humbling experience.

I can’t say it was humbling physically. Due to the dynamics of the race, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Yes, there were some times when I was just hanging on, but I ended the race with something still in the tank.

I say it was humbling because I always seem to do stupid things tactically. I feel like I am out there spinning my legs with everything happening around me. Today was no exception.

We started off and right away there was an acceleration around the first turn. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I hope we don’t go at this pace the whole time!” However, as quickly as the acceleration started, it slowed.

I found myself toward the front. I sat on a wheel for a bit and then that rider rotated off which put me on the point. I settled in to a pace I felt comfortable with and waited for someone to come around.

That person was my teammate, Mark. He attacked around me with about three other riders. I let him go and started soft pedaling. I watched the gap begin to grow. “Hey, I’m helping!” I thought. “Mark is getting away.”

We made our first turn and my teammate Thomas got relegated to the back for crossing the yellow line. I slowed to see if he had any need for help. At that point, Rodney pulled up beside me, “Dude!” He exclaimed. “You can’t be pulling the whole field around like that!” Hmmmmm, I guess I wasn’t helping after all.

“We have the numbers,” he continued. “You, Mark, and Phil are supposed to attack, attack, attack.” They made sense to me. I said, “Okay.” “Also,” he explained, “we have a rider up the road. You should NEVER be on the front.” He pointed at the rider currently on the front, “He can’t cover any counter attacks from there.” That made sense to me. I said, “Okay.”

I started to watch to see when we would bring Mark back into the fold. If I was supposed to attack, then I would do it as soon as we overtook him. I was starting to feel good about myself again because I figured a good attack would redeem me.

The chance never came. About halfway through the first lap everything just started going crazy! There were attacks and counter attacks. I didn’t know which ones to go with. I had teammates covering several moves at the same time and I was afraid I would do something stupid and mess things up.

Finally, I just had to put that out of my mind. With a couple of teammates forming gaps in groups ahead, I just waited for the next wheel to come by and jumped on it. I kept doing that trying to discourage anyone from bridging up to them.

Going into the second lap, things began to settle down. There were now three groups on the road. The first group contained three of our guys. The second group had two or three. Then there was our group with Phil Ball, Jae Bowen, and myself.

In that set, Jae was our lead man. Phil and I would work to help Jae. He was having to keep an eye on Ryan Jenkins who had missed the breaks and was now stuck in the field.

Everyone in the field was watching those two riders. They were playing a game of cat and mouse. For almost the entire second lap this continued.

Once we reached Dunklin Bridge, Ryan attacked and I covered his wheel. I looked down and saw 500 watts flashing across my Garmin. I knew I couldn’t keep this up for much longer. Just about the time I thought he was about to ride me off his wheel, he looked back at me and said, “You’ve got to ******* contribute!”

I was torn. The male in me wanted to pull through. However, the thought that I would be helping a threat get farther down the road didn’t seem like the right thing to do. “This is my job,” I said meekly. Exasperated, he let up and we were swallowed in the field.

Then I started to think about it. We were two minutes behind the second group. The front group was, in the words of the motorcycle official, “long gone.” What would hurt to catch the second group? Maybe I should have pulled through — with what little power I had left.

As we turned onto Cedar Falls road, I pulled up to Jae, “Hey, should we try to get up to the second group?” “No,” he replied emphatically. “We just watch Jenkins. If he goes, I go with him and you and Phil cover anybody trying to bridge up to us.” This made me feel a little better about my earlier decision. “So, we just ride in controlling the field?” I asked. Jae nodded.

Jenkins attacked once again as we neared the start/finish line for the third loop. I got caught behind a slowing rider and then had to work hard to catch the end of the group. In the process, I pretty much pulled the rest of the field to them.

Thankfully, things slowed just long enough for me to recover, but after the turn by the fire station Ryan Jenkins let it all hang out! He started pulling and the field stretched into a single file line. I was just trying to stay on the wheel in front of me.

On the back side of the course which is full of rolling hills, I looked down and saw that riding the wheel in front of me — in the draft — I was putting out 400 watts. I was about to get dropped from inside the field!

I recovered on a downhill and started up the final climb before we turned right again on Dunklin Bridge. “I’m going to make it!” I thought to myself. This would be the first race back since I broke my neck that I would finish. I started to think about the finish.

We went into the turn onto Dunklin Bridge in a wide arching line. As I entered the apex, it felt as though my rear tire was about to roll off the rim. I corrected and once we got straight I looked back. “No way!” I thought, “I’m going flat!” Knowing that we had some tricky descents ahead I didn’t think it wise to try to stay in the field.

I threw up my hand to indicate I had a problem and then moved left to the yellow line. As the field streamed past me and on ahead I took a closer look at my tire. It was not completely flat. It seemed to be a slow leak. I knew I had been having some trouble with the stem, so I figured that must be what was causing it.

Thankfully, there wasn’t much more distance to cover. As the tire got lower the effort it took to pedal increased. I was now alone with a slight wind and a flat tire. I was only hoping that the tire would stay up enough for me to ride to the finish.

Finally, I crossed the line with a sheepish look on my face. The desire was great to do something to let people know that I finished so far back because of the flat. I saw someone I knew over to the side of the road and pointed back at the wheel. I’m not even sure they saw me because everyone’s attention was turned to the Masters 45+ field that was coming up to their finish.

Being humbled isn’t always a bad thing. I learned a lot out there today. Being humbled and learning is wisdom. Being humbled and repeating your mistakes is stupid. I’m sure next race I’ll be humbled again… I just hope it won’t be because I’m stupid.