I don’t remember exactly when I decided to enter the Pescadero Coastal Classic Road Race. Sometime last week I think. I’ve been wanting to do more racing, but have felt a little bit intimidated by it all; the effort levels, the danger, the endless possibilities for failure, the unfamiliarity of it. I’ve been intimidated by it in a way I never was by racing motorcycles. Motorcycles, I just had it in my head what I wanted to do, and I did it.
I think I’ve been holding myself back a little bit out of not having specific cycling goals. All I know is that I want to be a power machine someday. I want to be able to twist my throttle and beat bitches. Or, help teammates win. Or pass dudes, or sandbag, that sort of thing. But bicycle racing comes in so many different forms, that beyond simply having a high horsepower motor and fast aftermarket parts, I still don’t even really know what I want to do with it all.
Long, hard, dangerous things with cars, hills, and where climbers kick ass? Here’s a video from a men’s field in the Pescadero race last year. The rider is a weaker climber and better descender than most of his competitors, so remember what that looks like as you read the rest of my report:
Where sprinters kick ass and girls ride around and around in a pack? Here’s a video from the 2012 Cat’s Hill Classic, where some retard drops a bottle and creates a chain reaction (remember this too as you read on):
Off road bicycle racing with varying terrain. Here’s a video from the CCCX XC race at Fort Ord I competed in earlier this year. I was in a slower field:
Mountain bike races down steep, technical hills wearing full face helmets and crash gear? Here’s a rider from my friend Roxy’s last downhill mountain bike race. I kind of want to be him when I grow up:
Like downhill, only more pedaling:
Sure. All of the above.
In motorcycle racing, an individual sport, I never felt a need to have friends to encourage me or help me along. I asked questions, I figured it out, I made it happen. But I’m kind of aimless right now, quietly longing for guidance and an awesome team of women racers to commiserate and train with. But my aimlessness is not completely without aim. My fitness goals fall somewhere between this:
Last Thursday I parked at Pescadero High School and rode the race course. It’s about 30 miles, and the race would be nearly two laps, starting at the high school, winding around one loop, and then almost again, finishing at the top of Haskins Hill. I thought that riding it might help me make a decision about whether or not to race it. The course starts out flat, then climbs the relatively minor, two-part climb Stage Road, turns right onto Highway 84 in San Gregorio, turns right again on Alpine road, and another right up Haskins Hill (Pescadero Creek Road).
I’m not a climber. I’m not a sprinter. What am I? I made a mental list of my strengths:
- Endurance: I’m a 50cc scooter with a ginormous gas tank. I don’t make a lot of power, but I can go all day long. Maybe this would come in handy during a two-and-a-half hour road race.
- Pack riding: I don’t have the strategy figured out yet, but I feel very comfortable in a tightly packed mosh pit of girl cyclists traveling at high speed. Call me brave or stupid, I don’t mind either.
- Descending: Maybe I could catch back up to people on descents, then sit in the pack, rest, and edge my way to the front by the next climb.
Maybe this wouldn’t suck that bad.
Friday I was putting my Zipp 303s on and we noticed that the glue on one of them looked funny. My awesome guys at Cupertino Bike Shop confirmed that it looked funny, and although I’m sure the way I was storing them must have contributed to the glue situation, they offered to reglue for free. Only, they wouldn’t be ready for Saturday.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the late tennis great Arthur Ashe:
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
Bummed, I realized though that I would still race on my heavier, less aerodynamic training wheels, get a great workout, and pop my bicycle roadracing cherry. And I would forget about my fancy wheels.
Friday night I couldn’t fall asleep. I almost called my coach to tell him to sleep in, because I wouldn’t be racing. I’m a Cat 4 racer, the rookie category for women, and we’d be lumped in and scored together with the faster Cat 3s, so the possibility of scoring any points would be pretty much zero. And It would be very painful because I would try to keep up with those 3s. It would hurt. A lot.
I didn’t make the call. For a 10:30 start time, I had a bagel with cream cheese and a big ass non fat sugar free caramel latte around 7. Another half bagel and banana around 9:30. Pescadero High School was abuzz with activity; bicycles criss crossing everywhere, dogs, cars, tractors, a guy on a megaphone, a long porta pottie line, CHP, and me.
Here’s a pretty picture of the view from the parking lot from fellow racer Gritchelle:
I’d carry two bottles filled with electrolytes and two energy gels with caffeine. I was nervous about riding so long without any food, but also didn’t want to want to become nauseated by the effort. That’s the most painful thing ever; not only is your heart exploding, your lungs heaving and your legs burning, but you want to throw up your insides. Horrible! I hated it! So no food.
On the start line, the girls all just stand around. 40 or 50 girls. A guy talked at us on a megaphone, then blew a whistle and we started riding. We had a pacer for the first mile or so as we rode through the town of Pescadero, but once we turned right onto Stage Road, the race got going.
Things were kind of chill for about thirty seconds, then some girls started sprinting for a prime. First and second girl past an arbitrary line would win a prize. Once that nonsense was over, everyone calmed the fuck down, and we kept riding along towards the real climby part of Stage.
Coach Thomas had told two things that I was fixating on:
1. Stay with the lead group as long as you can.
2. If you are having a rough day, or feel sick, you can quit. People do it all the time. But on the other hand, if you keep at it and finish, you might be pleasantly surprised by your results.
I was trying to stay with the lead group up Stage, and I was quickly starting to suffer. Girls were handing me my ass on a paper plate, and all I could do was watch my heart rate climb up to 190. I could faintly hear some Bossy McBosserson comments about the centerline rule, because girls were going into the oncoming lane to pass slower climbers (like me). Socially, my goals were to keep my head down, be quiet and polite, and not react if any girl sassed me. Physically, I was dying and wanted to quit.
I was pushing so hard I didn’t even know where I was, and I know the climb pretty well. I kept looking for the pretty house, and then the green water wells. The top seemed to be forever away, and yet it came to me before I knew it. I started to fly down the hill and pass back all the rude girls who didn’t wait for me at the top. By the time we turned right onto Highway 84, I was back with the lead group.
Riding in a pack is so exciting. I’m sure it will seem exciting to me until shit happens and I break a collarbone or something. But it’s exciting for now. You’re constantly scanning the wheels in front of you, to your sides, looking to the front of the group to see if girls are attacking or swerving, and occasionally glancing at your computer. There was occasional chit chat, but not too much. The pace became more manageable, and I saw my HR dip into the 150s.
I needled my way up to the front of the pack by the time we hit Haskins. And I dropped like a bag of hammers to the back by the top of the two mile climb. I was certain I was DFL by the time I got to the summit.
From the first climb up Haskins, when my arm warmers were still deployed:
The summit came and went so it was time to boogie. I hurried down the hill, passing girls on the technical parts and then latching on to a strong looking girl on the flatter part towards the bottom. This girl was rad. We chased back up to the lead pack. I gave her about a minute’s break, but warned her that I wouldn’t be able to keep up her pace for long. “That’s okay, I just need to recover!” She said, gasping. She recovered, then jumped back in front and we eventually chased back to the lead group.
Once I was back on the bus I drank some fluids and tried to be cool. Speaking of being a cool bitch, I would always think of this scene at the standing start of motorcycle races, and, not surprisingly, in the middle of a nervous peloton:
I was not a cool bitch. I practically threw a grenade into the middle of the peloton by accidentally dropping my water bottle like an asshole. “BOTTLE!” “BOOOOOTTTTTTTLEEEE!” “BOTTLE!” “WHOOOOA!!!” I apologized profusely to the ladies who witnessed my rookie move, knowing how much trauma I could have caused. I didn’t hear any crashing, but I was still upset, so a few miles later when we were riding through the town again, I pulled out of the pack to a turn worker with a radio and asked if there were any crashes in the women’s race. No. Phew! Pedal pedal pedal pedal pedal…
Stage Road. Super, here’s to sucking again. The pace seemed slower this time, so I was kind of hanging on, and at the end of the short first descent and up the start of the second climb, I was in front. Of the WHOLE pack. I was like, dude, wait, what? It didn’t last long, nor did I want it to. I couldn’t believe it, but I was staying with the lead group, and a half hour later when we hit Alpine and Haskins again, I was about four back from the front.
Red flag. Everyone was stopped in the neutral feed zone at the base of the hill. Apparently there’d been a bad crash in the men’s race on the descent past Haskin’s. At first I was dismayed; I looked behind me as more and more riders started trickling in, riders I would have had a much better chance of finishing ahead of if we’d been allowed to continue. But then I realized that I’d had an amazing race so far, and besides that, I wasn’t the guy getting hauled away in an ambulance. Life was good.
We were stopped for five or ten minutes. We were probably 11 minutes away from the finish, and that much closer to my post-race margarita. The waiting was agony. Finally, we started again, but they started us in the same waves we rolled in on. I guess the officials had kept track of the breaks in the field, and held back the other groups. Yay!
I brought up the rear of that lead group…but I was in the lead group. I saw the other girls pass the finish line, girls I’d remembered seeing at the start, and was pretty surprised by how many girls kept coming.
Rolling down the hill back to the high school and the car, I was so hungry I saw some chickens on the side of the road and wanted to eat one.
I still had some pep on the descent and the ride back, but by the time we got to the car, I was starving and delirious and spilled my chocolate milk everywhere. No matter, I was actually having a hard time getting it down anyway, and couldn’t put down much solid food for the rest of the day.
Got our results a few hours later – 21st of 40 overall, and 5th of 18 of the Cat 4s. Thomas told me that I’d PR’d my CP5 (critical or “max” power over a 5 minute period) at 235 watts while going up Stage Road the first time (when I was wanting to die). Also, that the first 60 minutes of the race were the hardest, with CP60 at 180 watts.
“By the time you got to the first climb up Haskins you had already ridden at/near your max fitness levels for an hour so just getting up the hill at 210 watts for 10 minutes shows great endurance, and then being able to repeat that effort later (same time and power up the second climb up Haskins) shows that again.”
Thanks as always to an outstanding coach, Thomas Chapple, my friends at Cupertino Bike Shop, and the nice people I’ve met at SJBC. Without them I wouldn’t have the motor I do now, or a great running bicycle. Can’t wait for my next race! Just don’t know what kind of race it will be…