The journey begins at 45 years old I started riding my bike everyday and now nearly five years later I find myself going for the gusto nearly 50 years old, trying in some wacked out way to recapture some of the glory from my younger days. I find that cycling is like a disease, once you get the poison inside there’s almost no way to get it out. I mean this in a good way of course, maybe I should say it’s more like that stuff the children had to drink in that Mary Poppins movie or something like a magic elixir ? Whatever is the case, I am totally hooked and love the sense of freedom I get while riding.
Racing is just another extension of this obsession I have found to be very stimulating because, like yesterday, I felt more like I was racing against myself rather than the 54 or so other riders in my class. The other guys just added an additional level of danger and competitive spirit to the whole mix.
The weather in Tampa was perfect and the course was nestled inside of the huge towering giants of the downtown skyline under a clear blue sky. I would say there were about 5,000 people there with display tents and vendors adding to the already charged race atmosphere.
There is something to say about all of the many colors you see at these races, all the riders and teams are all decked out in their kits with priceless looking bicycles scatted all about like horses in waiting to charge into action at the first hint of a finely tuned peddle stroke. As I walked around in the few hours before my race I savored the moment and was proud to call Tampa may home.
As for my race in the Cat 5 (Newbie Racers) there were 54 racers as we all pulled up to the line. I made sure I was on the far left with no more than two riders from the front so I could take the first left turn on the inside at a fairly slow rolling start speed which put me in a perfect outside position when we went into turn #2, a right hand turn at almost full speed. I had practiced and visualized the start of this race for some time and had worked on starting off in my smaller chain gear to get moving and clipped in and then with a quick flick of my left wrist I could be in my best high speed gear for the battle ahead.
My starting strategy worked out perfectly as planned, as we began the race and moved into the first turn I shifted to my big chain gear, the teeth caught and I started accelerating fast as I rounded the first left at turn #1, I found myself in about 5th position as we barreled toward turn # 2, just then someone on my right about a bike length back wrecked and I was very glad I had honed this starting thing as we were already at about 24 mph and still accelerating as we rounded #2 and approached turn # 3. I didn’t even look back for the poor dude that went down, I just kept accelerating. The back stretch between turn # 2 and # 3 was two city blocks long and by the time I hit turn #3, I was freaking out because I was leading the race and hitting almost 30 miles an hour turning onto a brick street at that point in the race.
The excitement of it all started to get the best of me because after a two minute EXPLOSION ! my brain said to my body “what are you doing to me ?” and I knew I would have to back off the pace or pop right then and there so I slowed and slogged all the way down through turns # 4, 5, & 6, it was just like marching ants as the other riders just kept passing me as I kept trying to grab a wheel. I think a little over half the field had passed me before I finally recovered enough to pick the pace back up around turn # 6 so I settled in with the second group and for the most part stayed with them through the next half of the race.
This was the first time I had a chance to actually stay in any kind of a pack while racing since my first race last year I had gotten left right at the start and was lapped several times as a lone rider who would not give it up. So with this opportunity to actually draft and be “in” the race I took a few minutes to analyze what was working for me like where I could attack and accelerate, what my best corning positioning would be, watching wheels and staying off the brakes whenever possible, also finely tuning the ears to hear and see with them (virtually seeing) what was coming up behind me was cool too.
The coolest thing was attacking my little pack of about 15 guys, I would sit on the wheel about three guys from the back and practice zooming up to the front and actually bridged a gap to another rider on one occasion, to me that was the coolest thing ever. I did this for the middle of the race for about 12 or 13 of the total 17 laps. I was really having fun and doing what to me was real racing when I noticed I wasn’t sweating and I began to feel a bit dizzy, I had trouble getting my breathing under control so rather than pop completely I pulled way back on the reins as my small pack of guys pulled away from me. It was a happy sad kind of thing, I was happy I had gotten a chance to experience the thrill of real racing and sad that I was now off the back and on my own.
As I worked my way around the course at 20 miles an hour still, the announcer shouted 6 more laps to go. I looked down trying maintain my speed and dig in for what was to be a real grinding slog to the finish. On the back side of turn three the lead group finally lapped me the first of three times I would be lapped on this day. The thing that kept me going was that I just kept reminding myself was that this was nothing more than a race against myself and that I had to keep going, pushing, fighting and to not give up and stop. I wanted to just pull off the course but something deep inside, that thing that makes you race in the first place would not let me do it so I just kept peddling. I found the bricks that make up the full half of the backside of the course just got to be like big huge boulders very hard to peddle on as I kept grinding it out. Then finally at one to go I tried picking up the pace a bit and crossed the line a winner in my mind but I had to keep going because in reality I was three laps down from the lead pack so I quickly road two more laps before the organizers would not let me pass again.
I finished the race exhausted yet jubilant about being in 46th place out of the 54 riders, and would have been in 35th place had I been allowed to cross the timing line again. In the end I was excited that I had gone through with it and had the experience of a lifetime.
Now, I’m looking through the online race calendars plotting and scheming how and when I can race again. I will take all I learned from this and train even harder so I can improve for each new adventure because some day I want to be a contender, hopefully that someday will come this season, now let’s go racing shall we !