Race Anecdotes: Pulling the Peloton at Front Range Cycling Classic

First race of the season and I’m questioning my fitness and preparedness. I pack the day before, double-checking everything. The Race Director posts on their Facebook page that the race is delayed by an hour. Chris is excited. I’m questioning if it’s legit.

I watch what I eat, drink four Nalgene bottles worth of water, and decline a dinner invite by my co-workers out of fear of it messing with my eating-and-sleeping regimen.

I swap out my two-year old tires for a pair of new ones which I won at Pedal 50. As I struggle to get the new tire over my wheel, I second-guess these are the correct ones, even after double checking and comparing my old tires with the new ones. Even though they match, I still don’t believe they’re correct until I squish and squash and roll and youtube “how to get a tight tire over a wheel.”

My weak hands are no match to the stubborn tire.

Angela and I text about the race, our goals, and the competition. She asks me my goals: “Top 10?” I question. My goal is always to win but I know my fitness and most of my capabilities and most of the time, I don’t assume that’s a realistic goal. Top 10 out of 26 felt obtainable and not easy seeing as there were a number of pros signed up. I also wanted to hold on to one of their wheels as long as possible.

I’m happy I chose Angela as my Women’s Road Captain successor. She’s knowledgeable, empathetic, and the women respect her. It’s relieving to have someone to commiserate with, even if we don’t race in the same category. I know I can count on her to provide honest feedback when I get too much in my head.

I distract myself the rest of the evening, opting for an early bedtime.

I get to sleep in until 7:30 AM on race day. Something that rarely happens. I wake up with breathtaking upper back pain. The same pain I was experiencing when I started commuting to work, hauling a giant backpack to and fro. Frustratingly, I did everything Chris at PhysioRoom instructed me to do and it’s returned with vengeance.

I’ve also been plagued with lower back pain and finally sucked it up and went to a chiropractor last Friday. I learned my left leg was one inch shorter than my right and now I have a whole other set of exercises to do. Is this what thirty is? Your body is just like, “fuck it, I quit.” I’m wondering if it’s our bed giving me these problems. And my flat feet.

I let Chris sleep some more as I roll out my ass with a lacrosse ball in the other room, finding tender spots and holding it there. Although excruciating, it’s peaceful being the only one awake and all I hear are my deep breaths. In through the nose. Out through the mouth.

As I poke at my Cholula with a side of omelette, I try the techniques I always read about (like the chapter I read in The Brave Athlete the night before): deep breathing to calm nerves. I breathe in, expanding my stomach, and breathing out slowly. Chris finally interrupts with, “are you okay?”

“Yeah, just trying to stay calm.”

“Are you nervous for the race?” He asks.

“Of course. It’s the first race of the season. I’m not sure how ready I am” I say.

I was trying to remember what I told Sean the night before:

And guess what?
If you don’t “kill it,” I 100% guarantee that the guys will be like, “holy shit, bro! Good fucking work.”
Or however the guys on the team talk. They’ll also be too busy FOMO’ing or overanalyzing their own results. I can promise you that.

It’s so easy to motivate and encourage others. I hold myself to a standard that not even I can achieve. It’s stupid and it doesn’t work. And it always makes me feel like shit.

I park near the team and can’t decide whether or not I want to ride on the trainer or on the road. I decide on the trainer, finally, and then the guys roll up. Always more excited to ride with people than alone, I tell them to give me a minute to get my bike off the trainer. I only have about twenty-five minutes or so until race time.

In hindsight, I should have talked less and warmed-up more but my defense mechanism is to talk a lot and convince myself that it’s all good. So I talk to distract myself. It works until I’m no longer talking and too busy in my head.

As we line up at the start, my stomach is already racing. Instead of thinking what I didn’t want to happen, I think of what I want:

  • To clip in at the start (sometimes I struggle to clip in fast enough)

  • To stay with the group up the rollers

  • Staying safe and keeping two wheels down the whole race

  • Feeling strong

I’m in second row between Andie and Angela in a group of 26 women in the Open field. It will likely be one of the few races I get to race with my teammates since we’re in different categories. I tell Angela we should stick together as long as possible. We’re told the center line rule is in effect, we have three laps, to move over when the moto refs come by, and that there were numerous potholes to look out for.

“10 seconds. Go at my whistle.”

I take one more deep breath in and slowly let it out, imagining clipping in on my first try.

The whistle blows.

My goal is to stay on Jillian’s wheel. I spot her in the group and make my way over. There’s a downhill and already the group is spreading out. We bunch back up at the following hill.

The thing about road races in Colorado is that they’re never flat. You’re guaranteed to climb several hills. This feature shrinks the field drastically. It doesn’t help that all the Senior women are combined into one category. The only other women’s category is for Masters. Meanwhile, the men have four categories. Welcome to women’s racing. #shrinkitandpinkit ?

All of a sudden, I’m in the front of the peloton, pulling. Biggest mistake, but I felt guilty for hanging on Jillian’s wheel for so long. You spend more energy in the front than the other racers hidden behind your body from the wind. Knowing this, no one wants to be up front. It’s the “smartest” racer who wins, not necessarily the “strongest.” I’m neither.

Angela calls me out for being up front. We start to soft pedal at 119 watts. Recovery pace. Later I find out this is the way racing goes and I’m annoyed by it because I’m inexperienced. Women finally start to go around me. I hop on a wheel again, out of the wind, and focus on protecting my front wheel, and making sure before I take a swig of electrolytes that no one’s about to sprint away.

We’re two laps in and an ALP racer sprints off and another racer chases her. The rest of the peloton hangs back. I’m sandwiched between riders and can’t move. I’m at the mercy of the group. The best places to attack are on climbs. You can drop an entire field if you’re good.

The peloton crests the hill, the BRACmobile on our right, the white line streaked across the road signals the third lap. We’re told the women have a thirty second gap. No one gives a shit and we keep on with a steady pace.

I’m back at the front of the group again and luckily enough, we’re about to ascend one of the many hills. I don’t have the power and the women surge around me. I catch on to the last rider. My thunder thighs are eating my bibs. The group is slow enough to adjust. I pull the bottom of the bib down and around my leg, pedaling at the same time. Another rider says, “I’m glad I’m not the only one who deals with that.”

“Good lawd, right?” I say back.

Another ALP rider sprints from the left side. I scream, “LEFT! LEFT!” convinced there would be some sort of blocking. Nope. She slides on through. The peloton stays. As I watch her grow smaller and smaller, I wonder how do I train to get that kind of power? I clearly wasn’t doing efforts at tempo then sprinting every five minutes. Something to add to my training.

It was the final slog uphill. The group was thinning fast. I could see the effort both Andie and Jillian we’re putting into the pedals. Somehow I was passing them. I tried to encourage them, to motivate them. But they fell behind. I held on to Caitlin’s wheel, challenging myself to not let it get away from me. I had a quick taste of the solo effort and it was worth holding on to a wheel rather than free solo’ing it.

The bunch kept pace and Caitlin and I soon lost them. I watched the gap between us  grow and my legs howled “no.” We were on the last 500 meters, a bastard of a hill. I slowly inched by Caitlin and said “almost there,” trying to motivate again. I assumed there wasn’t going to be a sprint finish as I pedaled ahead but then I heard her gears shift and saw her come out of her saddle.

I’m too competitive not to catch the bait of a challenge.  I threw all my weight into the pedals, making sure no one passed me. I could hear my teammates yelling my name, to “PEDAAAAAL,” and their “woos!”

I had to wait until later that night to see my results: 8th Place. Same as last year’s placing. I wanted to be able to compare my efforts to last year but with a change of course, I wasn’t totally sure the best way to do it.

In 2018, I was in Zone 6 for the majority of the race. My left Vector pedal power meter stopped working at the beginning of the race so comparing power is moot.

In 2019, my heart rate was mostly in Subthreshold and Recovery.

I know this is because of the different athletes between the two races. Last year, the pace was faster and there were many more attacks. This year, no one wanted to work.

I compared my finishing times. Last year I was roughly five minutes behind the winner. This year, I was two.

So maybe I’m getting stronger. Maybe the field affected my efforts. I know my weakness is hills. I thought I was a solid hill climber but time after time I’m proven otherwise.

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