So when I heard about the Waffle Training Races at Fellow's Lake, on a course I'm already familiar with, it seemed like a no-brainer. Especially since several friends said they would be there to reduce my apprehension from racing against all of the scary, serious road cyclists. (...who were probably going to laugh at me because I'm a triathlete and that's just how it goes with cyclists and triathletes. Even if we look better in spandex than they do).
Me, Jim Farasy, and Jeff Del Vecchio. Jim won the Yellow Waffle jersey from Race #1 of the series so Jeff and I had to get our picture with a real cyclist before the race!
Part of the motivation to do this race is because I joined a semi-formal cycling team this Spring called Team Sub-4. The Goal if Team Sub-4, sponsored by Springfield Brewco (the best brewery/restaurant in town) is to ride the Hotter Than Hell (HHH) 100 mile bike ride in August in less than 4 hours (yes, averaging 25mph). The event is notoriously hot (hence the name), but fairly flat and with few turns. We have a pretty big group of people committed to doing it, and with 20+ people taking turns "pulling" at the front it might happen. Several friends do it every year. It's so hot that they have tons of cots laid out with IV drips ready. They say you get an IV when you are done and you feel like a million bucks.
If you have a spouse who thinks you are dumb for doing endurance sports, this is what they are talking about. My wife likes to tell me that running and cycling are not real sports. She plays real sports, like volleyball and softball. Hmm. Anyway, back on track.
I figure doing races like these will motivate me to train harder, and if nothing else, make me a little stronger. Or I will crash and break my collar bone and not have to worry about HHH.
My BFF Jeff Del Vecchio and I drove up together planning our strategy. We felt very confident because Jeff has watched a lot of the Tour de France on TV and I like bike shops. Osmosis.
Road races are a set distance, but different from triathlons in that drafting is legal. If you ever watch a bike race, there's usually a ton of drafting until someone decides to try to break away. Or they all just sprint at the end to see who wins. Part of me thinks this is kind of a weenie way to race since in a triathlon you win if you are the strongest. But it's also kind of intriguing since you actually have to think strategy instead of just suffering by yourself for an hour or five.
I suggested we sit in the pack and draft as much as possible. Jeff kept saying, "what if we just take off and drop the pack?" I kept replying, "that would hurt way too much and besides, they would catch us." Then he would say, "but what if we just took off?" This exchange went on maybe 10 times. Jeff is an Ironman triathlon, a good cyclist (better than me), and has not raced this year yet so I suspected that might get him in trouble (it would).
Jeffy and I arrived on site to find the good old A and B Cycle trailer set up. We registered and got our numbers pinned to our jerseys.
Our inexperience was apparent from the start as neither of us pinned the number of right. They were way too flappy, which is frankly unacceptable at a bike race. Fortunately, our hero Jim Farasy noticed the error and fixed them for us.
Race management contacted me via Facebook in advance, knowing I was a triathlete, to remind me that shirts are required in bike races. Boo. I asked if I could wear a Speedo and remarkably, they said yes. So this means you can wear a Speedo in a cycling race as long as you have a shirt on. I find this really odd and kind of funny.
PS - My Ironman buddy Kurt requested this photo. I don't know why - something about for his personal collection. He is the Team Sub-4 mgr and is in charge of PR. Is that the right lighting, K?
Jeff I are were so excited that we couldn't stop taking pictures!
We also kept following Jim around asking him questions, such as "are you going to bring water bottles, Jim?", "Aren't they are really heavy?", "Should i wear compression socks, Jim?", "What if we just take off at the very start, Jim?" and "What are the rules, Jim?"
The race started with an A group and a B group. The A group is for serious cyclists. They are not afraid to blow snot rockets into the pack, called your mother dirty names, or throw elbows. Too scary for us so we started a couple minutes later with the B group.
There were about 20 in each group. Our group had to do 2 loop around the lake, which is 22 miles total. Not knowing what to expect, we took off...and it was like a slow group ride. Totally awesome! We all just stuck together in a big group and pedaled into the blustery wind. Every once in a while, someone (ahem, John Bradley) would get a little antsy and go off the front a bit, but it was too windy and the group had too much of an advantage.
So we did the first lap relatively easily, although I noticed that Jeff was spending a lot of time at the front of the pack. Since I'm not very comfortable drafting closely, I hung at the back of the pack. It was annoying because every once in a while I'd start thinking about the flowers or hey there's a squirrel!, and then suddenly I'd be 15 feet off the back and have to push hard to get back in the draft.
The end of the loop has a pretty steep 100yd climb that we all call the Dam Hill because it's by the dam for the lake. I call it the damn hill because it makes me say damn a lot. The concrete man triathlon takes place on this same course every July and several people usually get off and walk. So it's not for weenies.
I was hoping the group would slowly spin up it but they pushed it a bit. I guess they were hoping some of the weaker riders would get shelled. Getting shelled means you lose touch with the pack and lose the aerodynamic benefits so you're pretty much done for the day. I didn't expect to win the race and just wanted to see how long I could last before getting shelled.
I guess we might have lost a couple people because the pack was down to around 13-ish people as we started the second lap. One guy was riding next to me and was really tired...he kept veering a couple feet from side to side on each pedal stroke. Weird - a guy who handled his bike even worse than me!
At this point, I started getting antsy. I was just sure that people were going to start attacking. But fortunately, everyone stayed together for a few more miles. Around halfway into the 2nd lap, I think a couple people broke off the front. Jason Holland, Neil Chanter, and another guy or two. Maybe 3 guys from our Team Sub-4. Here's where strategy comes in. If you are on the same team and you are in the chase pack, you are supposed to get to the front and slow it down so your team can break away from the pack. So your team can win.
Well I had no clue. So I moved up to the front of the chase pack, next to wily veteran adventure racer John Bradley, to make sure we could bridge if the pack decided to go hard. John is also a member of Team Sub-4 although I forgot it at the time because he wasn't wearing his team jersey. John didn't seem to want to go up to the pack, which was weird because he was easily strong enough to do it. I think I asked him if we should bridge and he didn't say anything. As I write this now, I realize it's because he was being a good teammate. Hey, it all makes sense now!!! Haha. Oh well.
I decided to go up to the pack and of course because I'm a dumbass I invited another kid (Austin Lear) to jump behind me and I'd pull him up too. I had been drafting off him for a couple miles so I thought it was good manners to offer that.
At the front Jason Holland was doing most of the work and getting tired. He fell back to the chase pack. I don't know if he followed me and Austin up, but another mile or so later we had around 5-7 of us together. We went down a really steep hill with an S-curve at the bottom and suddenly there was another guy or two.
At this point, I was shocked no one had decided to hammer it in. I didn't know if they were tired or just being smart but I knew my sprint sucks so I had to make a move. So about a mile from the finish, right before the last right hand turn on the course, when the two guys in front of me spread apart a few feet, I decided to go for it. I sprinted through the gap, around the corner, and then down the last straightaway before the damn hill.
I couldn't tell if they were on my back or a ways back so I rode as hard as I could and hit the hill strong. After the race, they all told me that I had about a 100 yard lead at the bottom of the hill and that they all were just sure the race was over. I mean, how do you lose a 100 yard lead so close to the finish?
I hammered up the hill and was really strong...for the first half. But about that time, my heart rate hit 345 beats per minute and my legs went from steel pistons to Jell-O. They would later say they could see a mushroom cloud emitting from my helmet as I blew up in historic fashion.
This is what it felt like
One guy in the pack in a Wal-Mart jersey from Arkansas, Ben Craig, floored it and passed me about 2/3 the way up the hill. By the time I crested the hill, he had 100 yards on me and the pack was close behind. I gave it all I could in the final 150 meters and was able to barely hold off Austin for 2nd. Maybe he was being nice for pulling him up to the pack on the second loop.
4th through 7th were Fred Brand (Team Sub-4), Neil Chanter (Sub-4), John Bradley (Sub-4), Jason Holland (Sub-4). Jeff rolled in 9th. I have no doubt he or Jason Holland would have won if they had sat in the pack more. Results are here.
After the race, we watched the A's finish and talked about how much fun it was now that we were done. The operative part of that statement is being done.
So in summary, bike racing is fun and hard. There's a strategic component that is interesting. This is a nice opportunity for rubes to come out and give it a try for pretty cheap. Hope to see more triathletes out next week.
PS - Don't tell Neil that I ruined the team's breakaway. He's English and he's oddly serious about cycling. I mean "500-word-bi-weekly-team-emails-about-cycling-serious."