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Worth the sunburm

By Bill Barnes | Apr 10, 2010

Race name: Hillsboro-Roubaix
Race date: Saturday, Apr 10, 2010

So, this was my first road race.  During the 4.5 hour drive from the city, I started to feel a little more of the soreness in my throat that I’d started to feel the night before.  Awesome.  I had a sneaking suspicion I’d wake up with a full blown cold in the morning, and was not disappointed.

I got up at 6 for my 10:50 race, partly excited about the race, and partly knowing in the back of my head I was really coming down with something.  No matter, I didn’t spend 6 weeks waiting and that long of a drive to call of a race like this for something as minor as a cold.

I warmed up by going up the final climb and the cobbles a few times, which I thought to myself was far easier than people kept talking about, and starting to think I had a real chance at placing well. 

So, the race starts neutralized, and I have a good starting position.  10th/11th or so, sheltered, not working hard.  Exactly where I wanted to be.  Going around the true starting point, I am expecting a mass acceleration, and am completely wrong.  The first few miles are easy, less than 20 miles an hour, and people in front of me are grabbing brakes every few seconds.  I can only imagine what it’s like in the back of the field, where I hear shouts of “slowing” every couple of seconds.  I know that I’m where I need to be for now, and I’m feeling good. 

Mile 5 or 6, the Wild Card rider ahead of me has an audible blow out in his front tire.  He seems to be drifting to the side as I would expect, and someone near him suddenly screams an obscenity, and this causes him to panic.  I see him jerk his bars to the left suddenly in panic, and he goes over the handlebars.  (I later hear there could be a broken collarbone, but I never did verify that)  Anyway, I have no choice but to pull right to avoid joining him in over the bars land, and slip on the gravel into a nice, soft ditch.  The pack flies by, I check my calf for bruising and see I’m pretty much fine but for a little grease on my leg.  Having avoiding anything too serious, get back on my bike, and decide I’m not going out this early.  I rode as hard as I could (though later I realized I probably didn’t need to ride so hard since the pack would rubber band a bit around the next few corners) and caught up to the pack.  At this point I was somewhat worried I was too far back, especially as we came around corners and I saw the front of the field far too far ahead of me. 

So, I did the only thing I could think of, and started moving up in position.  I didn’t want to be at the back, as I knew first hand from the gaper’s block crits what can happen there, so I started taking every chance I had to move up, and eventually got back in the top 10 positions.  I had expended a bit too much energy in doing so, but I was starting to feel pretty good.  I’d conquered my first nasty happening in my first race, and was feeling pretty good.  A few more miles of being up near the front but not too near the front and I was still feeling good - so good I started to think I might be able to attack if I found the right spot.  I even had a spot in mind.  The night before we’d driven the course and seen a spot with a nasty downhill into a >90 degree turn into an uphill, and I can get up hills pretty good, so I was going to try my move there since I knew there were some nice downhills after that to regain my strength before the finish. 

Well, that actually didn’t work at all.  Around that turn, I got in my drops, shifted, got ready to make my move on the outside, and bam, another wild card rider slips on gravel, gets squirrelly, slams brakes, and I have nowhere to go but stop. He goes off course, but I stay on, but now I’ve lost my position.  I power it up the hill from a near stop, but by the time I get to the top, that cold I keep pretending I don’t have starts to kick in.  I hang on another 2 miles or so and start to cough uncontrollably.  Awesome.  I decide to pull off to the right and remove my cycling cap because the coughing is making me overheat a bit, and in doing so, finally get dropped. 

Realizing this, the mind beats the body and I give up for about 15 seconds.  I look at my computer and we’re 22 miles in, and change my mind.  I can hang on for another 7 miles, I decide.  I get my willpower back and go as hard as I can for as long as I can, and start to pass riders from my group, as well as some of the women’s 4 that we overtook.  I’m feeling good, but I just can’t catch them.  I run into Jim Patti and convince him we should chase to get back on.  We do this until we hit the last two hills, and then realize why these climbs are hard.  After the rest of the race, they are brutal.  I manage to get up them pretty well, but by this point the damage had been done - and I unintentionally lose my teammate in the process.  I finished 25th, and exhausted.  Jim finished behind me at 26th, about a minute back from me.

All in all, I was happy with my placing, all things considered.  One thing I did learn from this is that I still need to work on my cornering.  Good cornering can save energy.  Any corner you can take and not have to stand up to close a gap is energy others may have to burn that you don’t.  Also, I learned to choose my wheel in front of me well.  At least in the fives, watching body language of riders in front of you can give you a much better understanding of their own abilities and save you having to slam on your brakes when they lose confidence.

I wish we’d had more opportunities to work as a team.  I’d only met one of my fellow racers briefly during Gaper’s block, and the other only on one long training ride.  Had we had a little more time riding together, who knows what might have happened.  Oh, and try not to crash.

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