They all laughed when I entered my first race, after all, what did I know about racing? I was just a bike shop employee that did the shop ride when I felt like it. I was curious what it was all about. It seemed so cool, like, I don’t ride bikes, I RACE….. so, I paid my entry fee and pinned on my first race number onto my jersey.
My first race was the West Oak criterium in Marietta, Ga. It is about a 1 mile loop that has 2 right hand turns and 2 gradual curves, but otherwise open 2 lane roads. I was anxious, and totally unprepared for what I was about to experience, yet a co-worker was telling me “this course is made for you.” I heard the words, yet had no idea the meaning of them. How could a course be ‘made’ for someone? I’ve never even raced before. It’s not like I’m Lance and it’s Paris Mt. or anything.
We all lined up and I had no idea what was about to happen when they said ‘Go’. The group started off with a slight burst of speed and man, I was ready, I pounded on the pedals! I easily bridged up to the 10′ gap, then had to jam on the brakes……. (hey, it was a category 5 race, it’s expected!)
The pack wound it’s way around the course with much trepidation. Everyone on pins and needles about what was going to happen next. Luckily not much happened other than we ticked off the laps at a snails pace.
As we raced the course I seemed to move all around the field. Someone would spook me with a swerving maneuver and I would stop pedaling and grip the hoods of the handle bars anticipating having to grab a hand full of brake at any second. My senses were on high alert!
The referee finally rang the bell for 2 to go….I was telling myself: ‘okay, be ready’. Although, I didn’t know know what I would be ready for – I had never been in a race before – I had no clue what would happen. Still around the course the group went, swerving…. pedal, brake, pedal, brake.
As we were going through the back side of the course a larger rider than myself started leaning on me – uh oh, I thought….. he is about to fall, and is trying to keep his balance…. so I leaned back. I felt more pressure, so I leaned and equaled the amount of push onto me….. I was looking at the wheel ahead of me – no room there, to the right was another rider – no where else for me to go, I had to hold this guy up so he doesn’t crash. Suddenly he barked something, stopped leaning on me and took off in front of the leaders…… what was that all about I wondered?
Around the course we went, ‘1 to Go, 1 to Go!’ The pack was whipped up into a near panic, a frenzy of emotion and anticipation filled the air…. what to do, what to do? The pack wobbled through the last right hand turn. I was starting to grip the bars and my mind was going crazy about what to do next – I had no clue. I wanted to just take off and ride away from everyone….my body was ready, and my eyes were searching for an open space – my brain was screaming ‘GO, GO!’ but we were going into the chicane and the gap on the right was closing fast…. 1 person ahead of me, a guy next to him, and a guy on my right….. no where to go, I was boxed in.
‘GO, GO!!!!’ my inner voice was panicked! Nerves were on HIGH alert, ‘YOU MUST GO NOW’…. and yet I could do nothing but sit behind the wheel I was on. Slowly, painfully, the chicane changed, and the space on my left opened up. We were within 300 meters of the finish line at the top of this roller. My inner voice was screaming: GO, GO! I stood up and with all the pent up anxiety, I jammed on the pedals! I cranked on that bike, twisting the handle bars, torquing the frame, pushing the boundaries of spoke tension. Head down, and I went.
I crossed the line and slowed down, my heart rate was high, but I barely noticed….. was that it? Are we done? What happened?
I didn’t raise my arms. there wasn’t a salute. no pointin to the sky. I was baffled. It didn’t sink-in until I was back with my friends – I WON! Me. I was a winner. WOW.
I never got anything for that Win…. well, nothing tangible. What I did get was a lesson – even though ever fiber of your body is screaming GO, the Win goes to the person that sprints at the correct time. It’s all about TIMING! And from that win, started a BIG spark for racing, and the timing of many more sprint Wins.
Timing your sprints takes practice, don’t get frustrated, gain knowledge and keep practicing on group rides and in races….. A common thing I hear amongst Pro12 riders that are pack finishers is that they wished they had spent a little more time in a lower category figuring out how to get that ‘W’ that has now eluded them.
Something I suggest in coaching is for them to get that ‘W’ in several different ways -> Sprint finishes, from a break, and solo in front of the field.