This weekend was my very first road race. I had been looking forward to it for weeks. The Prairie Roubaix, hosted my Speed Theory in Calgary. Racing in Calgary is always nice. I mean you’re in the foothills, with great views of the mountains just west, and of course I get to see my buddy Ken.
I drove up Saturday morning so I’d be there in time for a ‘funzies’ ride put on by Dead Goat. Tim set up a course, starting from his place it led us all over. Me, not being from Calgary, I was lost a lot of the time, but I didn’t care at all. It was 23 degrees, sunny and I was riding a brand new carbon Lapierre Xelius 200, courtesy of Edmonton’s friendly neighbourhood River Valley Cycle. What a machine! Super stiff and responsive. The bike literally surges with each pedal stroke. It was nuts how much I loved this bike. And, I have to give it credit where credit is due on the hill climb challenge we did from the bottom of Canadian Olympic Park (COP) up to the Tea House. I flew up that steep, switchback road, cranking over that 42 tooth inside ring to just eek out a win in the A group. My closest rival, Ken Hurd of course, just 2 seconds behind me. This might be the only thing I beat Ken at all season, so good times, indeed. Hill climb victory aside, Sunday was going to be the real race.
After an entire winter goes by, and you haven’t really ridden against your buddies, it’s a little nerve-wracking that first big ride, or in this case, race of the season. You wonder if your training paid off. If you did enough to stay faster than people you were faster than, or if you did enough to catch the ones who you chased all last season. I fully anticipate Ken to still be faster than me though, and well, he didn’t disappoint.
Sunday morning, Ken and I were at the start line, near the front of the pack. I was nervous. I didn’t really know how this was all going to go down. I mean, I’d read a little about strategy, drafting, etiquette, etc… But reading is one thing, and doing is always another.
We took off. It was an uphill start and the pace was high. I wasn’t surprised. I got in behind the front 5 riders until we reached the top of the hill where I looked down at my heart rate to see it was 189, or 101% of my max. Yikes! I decided to try and slide out the back door and settle down before I died of a coronary. I wasn’t sure how to do this though because there were about 10 riders right around me, including Ken. I didn’t see a way out. But as I let up on the speed, they all just whoooshed around me like water. I then fell in with another group (all Speed Theory) and watched Ken spin away. I was hurtin’, but my heart rate was back into the 160s and my breathing was coming back down as well so I decided to try and hold on to this group and see what happened.
With the first 15km lap complete, I’d managed to just stay with them, but I was dyin! Like a good little roadie, I tried to take my turns up at the front and pull, but it maxed me out and then I could barely hang on after, even tucked right into the draft. By this time I had lost Ken entirely, and a small voice inside me said, ‘crap…’. Then, I slid off the back of this group too.
Now I was in total no man’s land, fighting the hills (of which there were many) and the wind all on my own – my white shell flapping madly and loudly along my arms. I knew this was no place to be, but at least now I was riding at my own pace for a bit. I checked my heart rate, 164, and then looked behind me to see who was going to come to my rescue.
It wasn’t long before 3 riders came up on me and I was able to latch on. ‘Finally!’ I thought. ‘This is my speed!’ And it was a solid pace, one that kept that Speed Theory group insight. We pushed along, all taking turns at the front, until we hit the third lap where I, for some reason, suddenly felt strong. I can’t really explain it. Maybe it was what people call your ‘second wind’, but yeah, I pulled for quite a while, and turned back to the group and asked if they wanted to try and catch that Speed Theory group, who were then only about 250meters ahead. The answer that came back was ‘we can try’, but soon I was dropping them, and needed to fall back a bit to regroup. Emily (also a Speed Theory rider) said, ‘if you think you can catch them, go for it.’ And so I did. I pulled away and started to shoot the gap…
I felt good. Sure I was tired, but I felt like I had quite a bit left in the tank. I glanced down at my heart rate. I was in the high 160s, so I kept pressing, and the gap was shrinking. It was shrinking, until I hit the last paved section, which headed straight into the wind. Here I put the hammer down, now with my heart rate well into the high 170s again. I recall seeing 177, and thinking, ‘this is pretty stupid’ but I was just givin’er! haha… Alas, the gap didn’t shrink anymore. Instead it grew and I felt my legs turn into wet noodles just before I got to the gravel section at the beginning of the final stretch. I looked ahead and could still see the Speed Theory group, but they had disbanded, and were drivin’ it home, leaving me in their dust. It was then that I heard the sound of bike tires just behind me. I turned to look back and it was Emily! She’d caught back up. I was both surprised, and not. She followed me for maybe a hundred metres and then surged in front, offering a shattered rider a gracious pull in, but I’d spent it all. I was done, and as we rode on, despite every grimace and grunt I had left, she slowly but surely dropped me and when we got to the last hill climb, she jumped out of the saddle and that was that. I tried to respond, but there was nothing there at all. I rolled it in on fumes, just happy to be done.
So yeah, at my first road race, I got schooled. But, it was so much fun and a lesson learned, I hope. Don’t be a hero and blast off on your own when you can ride in a group, unless you’re sure you have it in ya. We’ll see if I remember that at the next one.