I was in a couple races here and have no pictures- someone took at least 30 pictures of my during the races, if I find those pictures I'll add them later.
The last two weekends I raced in the first two legs of the Iowa Spring Classic series. These were my first experience with road racing and I was nervous going in. I knew I'd have new competition, new rules, new situations etc. and experienced the fear of the unknown. That fear was also mixed with excitement. I've always been interested in road racing, it just didn't initially seem as inviting/fun to get into as mountain biking. Regardless, now is the time to start.
About the Iowa Spring Classic races
From their own Facebook-
"Grassroots racing, $15 entry fee, no late fee, on-site registration! Very simple and no limbo mumbo jumbo."
These races lived up to my expectations and then some. $15 for a sanctioned race (more on the importance or lack thereof of this later) with volunteers at all corners, good people, nice prizes and some cash payouts to almost all classes seems awful fair! It's obvious that the organizers, and all the riders too, are out there because they love cycling. Both courses were enjoyable and had unique challenges/conditions which had the potential for making good racing.
Race 1 (Colfax)-
Absolutely no clue what to expect. Lots of nerves. Figured I might get crushed, felt pressure because a lot of my friends (who have never been in a road race) sneer about the "cat 5" roadie and how slow they are. Didn't really want to have to explain they weren't all that slow. Also thought to myself that whether they like it or not THEY too are cat 5 roadies until they make themselves something else through racing. I've experienced enough in athletics to know that it's never easy to win and sometimes even harder to win when you are expected to do so. I also knew that knowing nothing about my competition wouldn't help. Mostly I just wanted to get this "first" over with, learn something and be able to better prepare myself for later races.
Pulled the Viner CX bike out of the car and decided on the Real Design wheels with the 32c IRD tires. Had the Zipps with but in a strange way my nerves made me want to leave them in the car. I figured I'd rather not get my ass kicked by a bunch of 4s and 5s while riding on $$$ wheels. That shows my state of mind basically right before the race. Pretty fucked up huh? It isn't so much that the wheels would actually be faster or slower (both are pretty aero and the RD wheels are lighter) it was just that I was thinking like a pansy.
During my warm up I realized the cassette was skipping and that I'd gotten two identical cassettes mixed up (one lightly used and one trashed). I would have to switch to the Zipp at least in the rear.
Race started and pace was easy. Stuck in third or fourth wheel, idling, for the first 2 or 3 miles. First hill came and I got antsy. Eight or ten solid pedal strokes and I was off. It was the nerves that made me do it and as the hill unfolded under me I started to rethink. There were 2 or 3 turns as we climbed up and up. I wasn't working real hard, but I was vaguely aware that only one other rider was really right with me. I was thinking that this was EXACTLY what everyone had warned me not to do in my first race. I'd spent a couple hours the night before tossing and turning then researching online. All the articles and forum posts all agreed and they all basically said "dont' do what you're doing right now".
The one rider beside me started to pull away a bit as we crested the top of the hill. I looked back and realized the field was strung out pretty good, but there were 4 or 5 guys near behind me. I let the lead rider go, I would head the advice of many and ride in the group.
The group was slow. I rode the next lap with the group, resting. While climbing the same large hill I realized I had made a mistake by falling back to the group. If I wanted to win I'd have to give chase alone. I rode the rest of the race solo and wound up a few minutes behind that lone rider and at least 3 or 4 minutes clear of third place within the Cat 4/5 field. I also caught the 1/2/3 race at the end of my 3rd lap and finished a few minutes in front of them (of course they were only on lap 3 of 6 when I caught them).
I'd lost to only one rider (who was a cat 4 fwiw) and was feeling pretty good. However, as I packed up and headed home I started to feel worse and worse about the experience. There was a pit in my stomache. I'd ridden like a wimp. Was the guy who beat me that much stronger than I, or did I lose the race by listening to the voices in my head instead of just riding?
Race 2 (Hills)-
This route wasn't all gravel so I brought my Look 585 as well as the Vigor Cross. There were quite a few new faces this weekend and a larger field, but guessed that the same rider from last weekend would be strong once again. At Colfax he had ridden a regular road bike and I figured that even if it were slower overall I'd have a better chance of beating him if our bikes had similar strengths and weaknesses. I didn't want to let him get away somewhere on pavement just because of his bike. I wanted to beat him pretty bad for beating me the week before. Probably more so because I was angry about beating myself the week before... No nerves this week. Legs felt good too, despite the long ride Thursday and the cumulative hours piling up since my last rest week (prior to CIRREM).
Start was a long downhill into the wind, a turn with a crosswind and two rollers then a turn directly into the wind with two sharp rollers. I went all out up the two sharp rollers. It was just the two of us from there on out. We were out of site of the field quickly and working our way through the masters guys and a few of the people who had been dropped from the lead in the 1/2/3 race. We worked together well for the first two laps. It was somewhat new to work with someone in a situation where I really wanted to beat them too (usually in 'gravel grinder' races, though the goal is the same, they are so long that I don't spend much time worrying about how to beat those around me). I noticed he was weak in the crosswind and on the one loose patch of gravel. I started planning how I could get away. Then I started questioning IF I could get away. Then planning how to get away again- I was willing to take a risk. Was a tenth of a second from putting the hammer down for most of the last lap. Kept myself from really doing so until a downhill with a cross wind with about a mile left. Hit it hard and it worked. 100-150 yard gap by the top of the next hill! He either hadn't expected an attack there or just wan't comfortable enough with the wind/speed. I made it to the finish with my gap.
After my cool-down ride I got to watch the finish of the 1/2/3 race. A few of my new friends from the lead pack at CIRREM were right in there! It was fun to watch. I'd hoped to learn something, but what I saw looked just like any town line sprint back home with velo-rochester or Trevor. I wished I would have been a part of it, or had the chance to be dropped somewhere out on the road by those guys.
In theory I need 10 starts to move up to being a "4". I would then need to earn a bunch of points or else meet another minimum start requirement. I've got 4 road races on my schedule this year with the possiblity of 6, maybe 7 if I forgo rest weeks I have planned in May and August.
I'm hoping that the larger races on my schedule- Durand and Sogn Valley are more competitive in the 4/5 race. I know they are still quite short distance wise. Fast or not, I know I'm ready for "full" length road races. In fact, I'd probably be better in a cat 1 length race than in some mini-sprint. It certainly makes no sense that I should be doing road races that are shorter time wise than my XC mountain bike races.
I had a great time at these races, but if road racing is ever going to be something I do more than just before the big gravel races and mountain bike races start It's going to have to be longer races with more competitive riders. It's pretty much the suck that theoretically it would be something like 3 years before I'd even be a Cat 3 unless I'm willing to forgo something else in my schedule. Seems like someone at USA Cycling should rethink these rules.
In the meantime I intend to train some more and then race at Durand. I hope there are a bunch of people there in the 4/5 race who give me trouble, kick my ass, push me around. I need to get my ass kicked. If things go halfway decent at them I'll ask my local rep if I can upgrade then.
Some who read this will think I've lost touch and I'm in dangerous water here... Talking about categories and aero wheels and all sorts of non-necessary bullshit. I say it's all two sides of the same coin. I love it all. The steel single speed mountain bike crowd isn't any cooler from an outside perspective than the roadies on carbon bikes. It's all two sides of the same coin. I'm caught up in this right now because I want to experience it all. I will have to work my way up some (and get faster too) in order to really experience what road racing is about. I love riding my bike and love competition. Until I'm far better than I am at any discipline currently I will push toward getting better equally at any and all discipline that looks like it might be fun. Why the hell not? You've missed the point if you are somehow against road racing yet consider yourself a cyclist, you know who you are...
For now- big ride with Meiser, Cody larson and who knows who else (read- I'm going to be the anchor, in the negative sense!) this weekend. Follow that with a rest week on the way into the STD ride with Shockey and then a bit of a break until Durand. Can't wait for the season to get going!
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