Photo: mikeywally, Flickr Creative Commons
I should probably follow up my last post with results from my first road bike race. The short version is that I sucked. I came in next to last and guy I beat was obese. That would be more impressive if I were still classified as low obese instead of borderline overweight/normal
The long version is a little more nuanced. My start genuinely sucked. I wasn't sure how competitive I'd be so I started at the back of the starting group. I was the only guy who didn't have a proper cycling kit. My shorts were triathlon shorts. They look kind of like bike shorts, but the chamois (the crotch padding) is definitely minimalist compared to that in true bike shorts. Instead of the club jerseys everyone else wore, I had a seamless synthetic running shirt that I got from a tennis tournament in Augusta last year. I definitely didn't look the part. When they sounded the start, my performance matched my dress. For some reason, I couldn't get my left shoe clicked in and struggling to get that to work, a problem I didn't even have when I first got the new pedals, allowed most of the stronger cat 5 riders to get well on their way around the next corner before I really hit my pace. It didn't help that the start was downhill. My start continued to be rough for several laps. The other riders were a corner ahead of me for the first few laps so I had no idea of how to pace myself to catch up without burning out. Turns out that I set too conservative a pace and I was lapped by the main group about halfway through the 30-minute race, although I did pass one of the two guys fatter than me not long after that. By the time I was becoming proficient at working the gears to keep my speed going up the hills and maximizing my speed on the downhills, all hope of finishing with the main group was gone. In fact, around that time I was lapped by two guys who had dropped off the main group early on. This, however, ends up being a much more positive experience. As soon as these two guys passed me, I turned up my effort and actually passed both of them easily on the next uphill (the steepest on the course). Passing someone on an uphill is pretty rewarding, by the way. Of those two, the younger rider managed to pass me after the next turn, although I hung with him for the rest of the race. The older rider I never saw again.
Here's what I learned: (1) I'm not as good as I had hoped. Being completely out of contention in what's basically the beginner's level in road biking was humbling. I never even remotely convinced myself that I'd be able to compete in Cat 4, 3, or the Pro 1 2 races, but I had hoped that I'd be at least middle of the pack in the Cat 5 race. I wasn't.
(2) Starting is important. I was never close enough to the main pack in the early laps to base my pace on them. When they lapped me, I hadn't yet gotten my shifting down so I kept up with them on the downhill and flat, but lost them on the first uphill. I don't know how long I could have kept up with them had I started better, but I would have had to have done better than what I ended up doing.
(3) How to do hills. Now, I'm not going to claim I could ace a long uphill going through the mountains now, but on the relatively short rolling hills I see here, I'm a lot better going up than I used to be. I know better when to shift down, when to get up off the saddle, and I concentrate on doing the full circular pedaling motion. If my Runkeeper chart is correct, I'm actually speeding up while going uphill at times now, at least in the first half of my rides when I'm fresh.
(4) I need a different bike. I saw a photo of me on the bike and it looked like a man on a 12-year-old's bike. That got me looking into things and discovering that despite the fact my cousin is my size, the bike he loaned me is about 9 cm too small for me. It's a 51 and I need a 60. I'm trying to decide if I should ask him about buying the bike and, if I get a good deal from him, use the bike until I save up for a good frame more my size. Then I can take the quality components off of this bike and put them on the larger frame. Otherwise, I'll need to just save up for a new complete bike.
Yesterday I went out for a 20-mile ride and my goal for the day was really just to take it easy and focus on my pedaling technique. I really focused on the circular motion and concentrated on doing the short uphills right. By the end of my 20 miles (my longest ride ever by about 3 miles) I wasn't even tired, but ended up with an average pace only a couple of seconds off my best times at shorter distances. I still wouldn't come close to the podium in a cat 5 Criterium, but I'm a faster cyclist now, which is good. I have to make up for my swimming in the triathlon in about a week and a half.