Activity: road cycling (racing)
Location: Barnesville, MD
Distance: 37.5 miles
Weather: sunny and muggy, 75-84 degrees
Avg HR: 170 (max 188)
Type: aerobic (!)
My first-ever road bike race: the Giro di Coppi.
Yup: in all the years I’ve been riding a bike, I’ve only ever raced on the mountain bike. And that was in the late-1980s and early-1990s when I was still a Utah resident, when a Slingshot bike was about as full-suspension as things got, and Suntour was the alternative to Shimano in drivetrain components.
So seventeen years after my last full-on foray into the land of bicycle racing, I decided to dive into the land of USA Cycling road racing. My friend, Darren, asked me about a month ago whether I’d be interested in racing the Giro, which is the final race in the MABRA Championship series. His team, DCMTB/CityBikes, had an extra entry slot for the race, and he thought that the rolling, hilly course would play to my strengths and improve the team’s chances of doing well. I thought about it for a moment and agreed to race.
Since Darren and his team are primarily a mountain bike squad, they’re all ranked Category 5, which is the beginner’s league in road cycling. As I’m not a licensed racer, not only did I race Cat 5, I had to buy a one-day racing license at the venue (no big deal, though the organizers had to scurry to get a day-license form from officials). Unlike the other teams at the race, our squad didn’t have any rollers or stationary trainers to warm up before our starts. No matter, though, as there was a one mile neutral roll out (from the staging area at Monocacy Elementary School to the course loop in “downtown” Barnesville) to get the legs moving.
And once we hit the course, the pace wasn’t exactly breakneck. In fact, Darren had to tell me to scale back my hill pace (which is fast as-is) to keep from stringing things out too early. So Darren, Matt and I (the entire Team DCMTB/CityBikes squad for the day) stayed close to the front of the pack, keeping an eye on the dynamics of the pack. Other teams had more folks in the mix (especially All-American Bike Club and NCVC), and there were some non-affiliated folk as well. But we were the smoothest riders in the pack: consistent pace, predictable. That’s the thing with Cat 5: you have some folks who should be ranked higher, and some who are definitely still learning the ropes (I was a quick learner, due in no small part to the fact that I ride with a lot of current and lapsed racers).
Our strategy was to attack at the end of lap two, during the last 200 meters of the uphill grind to the start/finish line. I worked my way to the front, with Darren and Matt on my heels, and at the 200 meters-to-go mark, I made my move: a shot up the hill, going from 15 mph to 21 mph quite quickly (I love the Garmin’s ability to record this data). As we crested the hill and rounded the corner into the final 12.5-mile lap, we were joined by two other riders (one from AABC, the other from the University of Maryland team). I’d given a lot in the attack, so I wasn’t as quick to get into the paceline with the others, but I found my pace and legs again by the turn onto Slidell Road. However, my shifting was skipping a bit in the higher gears, which was perplexing. I soldiered on, and our group built a one minute lead on the pack by the last sharp turn of the course, about 3 miles from the finish.
Darren dropped off, leaving four of us to contest the finish. I was feeling really strong, and was preparing for a sprint finish when I heard the sound:
“Pling… ping, ping, ping…..”
And my chain spun freely.
I didn’t know what was going on, but I was able to upshift to my 12-tooth cog – my next-to-highest gear in the back. I tried to downshift, but no luck: lots of chain skip. The other three raced ahead, and I was perplexed. The race marshall asked if I wanted to turn back to get the metal piece that had fallen off, but I figured I was going to muscle through to the finish, come what may. So I settled into my 50-12 gear (not good for climbing, but my 34-12 was skipping like mad) and POWERED my way up the final two hills to the finish. I saw the finish sprint happen some 30 seconds ahead of me (my powering did make up a little ground) as I fought up the hill to a 4th place finish.
Not bad for my first try, right?
When I got back to the car, I assessed the damage: I’d sheared off the 13-tooth cog (third-from-highest) from my cassette. Damn! I’d never heard of this happening, but it explains why my shifting was erratic on the last lap: the cog must have been cracked and bent at that point, and my push to the finish sealed the deal in terms of snapping it off.
So I sacrificed a cog, cost myself the chance at a top-three finish, but still finished a strong fourth. Not bad for a newbie, right?
ETA: Darren has posted his write-up of the day’s events, as well! T’was fun racing with you, sir!