We raced hard, rode fast, had fun, attacked aggressively, got soaked, became covered in filth and muck, but could have placed better.
The first of anything is always going to be about buying into the program, and will inevitably be a learning experience. This is definitely the case in bike racing. It was Graham's first road race ever, mine in two years.
And a learning experience it was. Saturday was the road race, and we timed our morning ritual poorly. So we got to the start thirty minutes before the race and spent the whole time registering. The race started with cold, tight muscles on a cold, rainy day and I led the pack out at a steady pace up good sized hill. Not a good start.
The next ten miles played out as any race, there were attacks, but Graham and rode strong, consistently in the top five. This meant we were out of the typical carnage that plays out in the back of a race with a bunch of new racers. Fortunately for everyone, there were no crashes.
Then came the big hill, which revealed our second serious mistake. Not researching the course profile meant we had no idea there was a three and a half mile hill. A real motherf---er. Of course, not knowing that meant I took a giant pull at the front right before the road started climbing.
Two Western Washington guys jumped away, and though we are strong enough, we were too cold to keep up. It helped that there were like ten of them in the race, and two of us. WWU did as much work as us in the beginning, but had the firepower to sacrifice those beginning guys for others to take the hill and the eventual win. We accidentally sacrificed ourselves.
The hill hurt, and at the top I was about in 15th position in a spread out group, with a 4 mile downhill before the uphill finish. I attacked hard, passed four guys, brought two with me and consolidated a nice chase group. Working for Graham, I spent a little too much time on the front because some jacka-- wouldn't take a pull, but Graham got away with the front group minus two.
They sped in towards the finish, I sped in just behind, caught a different WWU guy who proceeded to suck my wheel super hard. We got to the half mile hill that constituted the finish and I saw Graham up ahead, struggling in his group of a few riders. It turns out he didn't know it was the finish.
The WWU guy tried to pass me, I almost threw in the towel but realized there was no way that guy got to beat me after not doing his share of the work. I embarassed him with my uphill sprint for 9th place, Graham taking 8th.
We were pretty stoked to have raced well and ridden strong when we knew what was going on, but knew that in the future knew that knowing the course and warming up would be key.
We spent the rest of Saturday with good coffee, and great food, thanks to much old friends Charlotte and Robert. Realizing that even though it felt like a vacation, we were in the thick of school so we spent time doing homework instead of exploring unfortunately. We got an early bedtime with alarms set for 6 AM, enough time for breakfast, coffee and a good warmup before Sunday's crit.
SHIT. We woke up at 7:55, well rested, but with non-functioning alarms. It was a miracle that we packed the car, shoveled down food and made it to the start line with 5 minutes to warm-up. Not enough, but better. Especially given the fully flat day.
But crits are hard, fast and unforgiving. They are also super fun in the rain, with tight corners, high speeds and stoked college students. For those of you who don't know, a criterium (crit) is a closed circuit that is usually less than a mile that riders repeat for a set amount of time. They favor those who can corner quickly and safely, and can accelerate super quickly out of turns. Suits Graham and I, though everything is hard when your not warmed up. At least we were awake.
Once again we raced strong and were up at the front, but a bad turn left me at the back of the group and Graham 20 back (out of 40 or so riders) with 5 or 6 minutes to go. There was also a breakaway of 5 guys about 10 or 20 meters ahead. Not a good situation I took advantage of a good turn that I took to accelerate hard to catch Graham. A quick check-in showed his legs were stronger, so I'd try to set him up.
I motioned that around the next turn, which shot us into a tailwind, I was going to plow ahead and that he should ride my wheel to get to the front group. Essentially, I made myself the sacrificial lamb with a ferocious attack to the front. It got him there and he finished 7th, contesting the second sprint. After my big effort, I was a lost cause, but still finished at the end of the pack in 17th, long before all the stragglers.
I'm happy with our first racing, but we've got a long way to go. Our fitness is great, and with a proper warm up we'll be able to use it. Our tactics are good, but with more people we wouldn't spend too much energy out front. We need to know where the hills are - there's no way around that.
But the northwestern collegiate cycling conference knows we exist and that we mean business. And most of all, it was an affirmation that all the hard work that we've put in has been worth it, because we love to race bicycles.