It is Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting sipping a coffee in my compression tights. It is a definite change from where I was several hours ago. It was a hard ride on the Upstate Winter Bicycle League, but now I’m feeling pretty comfortable.
Climbing out of bed this morning, I could feel the stiffness in my hip. The temperature outside was in the 20s. I knew that going out in the cold with this hip could be a bad move. The cold seems to make everything worse.
I sent a message to my coach letting him know that I might not do the ride. I thought I might wait until the afternoon when the temperature was supposed to reach the upper 40s. I’d let him know what I ended up doing.
By 9:30 the thermometer showed 34 degrees. I knew that by 10:30 the temperatures were supposed to edge into the low 40s. Besides, 3 hours on the bike goes by so much faster when you are in a group. I decided to dress warmly and give it a go.
As soon as I walked out the door, I knew I made the right decision. It was quite warm. Even after getting on the bike and starting down the road with the wind tugging at my clothes, I felt comfortable — not really warm, but cool.
We rolled out and it came to me that not only did I make the right decision to do the UWBL, but I was also feeling pretty good. Today was a “let the meter run” day, so I didn’t have to worry about any workouts or intervals. I was supposed to make it as much like a race as I could.
I like these rides because it is a chance for someone like me – a lower Category 3 racer – to go out there with the big dogs and see what it is like to ride with them. While I wouldn’t do this in a race, I figure that if you have the opportunity, then stick your nose in there and learn something.
It is safe to sit in the pack and feel good about yourself as you finish at the back of the sprint. What did you learn? Do you get the experience of knowing what it feels like to push yourself to the edge? Why not go out there and put theory into practice. Sure, you might fail, but that is often how you learn.
We moved into the first attack zone of the day. This one would last about 10 minutes. Steve Sperry went off the front immediately. I knew we were trying to get my teammate Rodney to the finish line first. Steve was taking control of the race so our team could set the pace.
A rider started to attempt to bridge up to him. I covered this rider and followed him toward Sperry. We were at the tip of the spear of the field. As we passed Sperry, I launched a counter from the wheel in front of me. My goal was to pick up where Steve left off and control the front of the field.
I attacked at about 1000 watts and then settled down to 400 watts, then 350 watts, and then looked back. The entire field was right on my wheel! I backed down to 250 watts and finally pulled over to let the field pass. I had pegged my heart rate and now I was just hanging on.
My teammates then moved into line and the final sprint was on. All I could do was watch them launch from about two riders ahead of me. I couldn’t help — and didn’t need to. Rodney won the sprint.
Later, I explained to Rodney what I did and why I did it. He told me that the problem was I attacked from the wheel of the lead rider. Everyone could see what I was doing and they just increased their own cadence and allowed me to pull them along. On the positive side, it kept the pace up and discouraged an early attack by another team, but overall it didn’t accomplish much.
By the time we finished talking, we were headed into the second zone. This one is a bit longer and anything could happen in the next fourteen minutes. Because Rodney and I were talking, we got caught starting at the rear of the field. Still, I could see one rider go away and then saw my teammate Thomas Smith start out after him. The field slowed and let them go.
Thomas is amazing. Not only did he bridge up to the other rider, he went around him and then rode him off his wheel. Then he was out there alone. He was out there alone for a long time!
I started to work my way through the field keeping in mind the advice Rodney had given me earlier. As we got closer and closer to Thomas, I tried to work my way closer and closer to the front — but not too close. I was going to try something.
We caught him with about a mile to go to the finish. When he came back into the fold, there was a lull as the field waited to see which of the “big dogs” would make a move. Once again, the key for us was Rodney. Thomas had controlled the pace for a long time, maybe now I could buy Rodney a few more minutes not having to instigate anything.
I attacked down the left side of the field. Once again, I launched at 1000+ watts. This time I looked back and saw a huge gap back to the field! I had no delusions that I would win the sprint, but I did hope I could hold a pace that would make the other riders have to work to get up to me before the finish — giving Rodney a free ride.
Unfortunately, while I learned the lesson of how to attack from the field, I didn’t have the stamina to back it up. Later, Boyd Johnson rode up to me and chuckled, “We watched your legs just implode on each other.” I laughed right along with him. Sure, I wish I could have helped Rodney more, but the only way to find out what I could do was to try.
The field did go blowing past me. I watched some of the Category 3 riders I’ll be racing against this year go past. My first thought was, “Man, those guys are hanging in there and passing me! I’m toast this season!” Then I reminded myself, “This isn’t a race. The job today is to learn something and just leave enough in the tank to get yourself home.”
I am not naive enough to think my move had anything to do with it. The outcome probably would have been the same regardless. Rodney won the sprint. At least I felt as though I did TRY to do something to help my team.
There was one other attack that I won’t go into here. Let’s just say that at one point early in the attack zone I was surrounded by Globalbike riders — good ones. I was just trying to disrupt their four-man train. The earlier efforts just took it out of me and when my teammate Hank showed up to help, I couldn’t hold on anymore.
THAT is why I love racing my bike. Every time you go out there are new lessons to learn and experiences to put in the bank. You get a chance to push yourself to the edge and learn how far you’ve come — or how far you have to go.
It’s all good, as long as you leave just enough to get you home.