First race

vpI entered my first bike race today, the Early Bird Criterium sponsored by Velopromo. It wasn't a glorious effort, but it was a fun effort. I was busy gulping down free sports drink and sports bar samples when Al asked me to come ride in the 35-year-old+ race with him. The sickeningly sweet sports drink ended up on the side of the road three laps later and symbolically ended my first race. My poor showing was more due to the fact that I haven't ridden a bike in three weeks than corn syrup, and I got what I wanted out of the event. There are four more coming up and I have a better clue as to what I am getting myself into now. I already have some important little lessons learned, like warmup before you race and don't accept free drinks from strangers.

Riding in the middle of a pack zooming down the road at 26 mph is a lot of fun, but also really, really hard. Al and I usually ride the hilly terrain of Los Altos, so we were both unaccustomed to the notion of going round and round a flat 1.5 mile circuit at full speed until your legs burn off. The race starts off really fast and you'll find yourself red-lining almost immediately if you haven't warmed up beforehand. Riders are constantly flowing around and you have to quickly react to find a wheel to latch onto. On the straightaways you get a little bit of breather -- the slipstreams nearly tow you along. It all changes when the pack goes through a turn. You're trying to make sure that you go through the turn without veering into another bike's line and crashing, next thing you notice is that you're 5 ft, 10ft, 20ft behind the rider in front of you and there's a big headwind pushing you even further back. You pedal desperately to get back into that safe little slipstream, but your computer informs you that you're at your top speed and your stomach says, "Yes those sports drink samples were free, but didn't you bring two bottles of your own to the race?" The rider in front of you is probably coasting, having gotten back into the draft, and if he had a rearview mirror he would probably smirk that he's a cut above.

My goal by the end of these race sessions is to finish in the peloton. Also, to not crash.

This was a mentored race: prior to the race they had a tutorial (first in a five-part series) and they also rode along during the race to provide assistance. I've put some notes on the lessons taught so far in the extended.

The race I entered is geared towards people who have never raced before. There is a mentoring session prior to the race -- the first in a five-part series -- where they teach you the basics of race riding. This was the first session, so it was mostly about getting comfortable and little about specific techniques other than:

  • ride in your drops, not on your hoods: you have better control over your handlebars and you won't accidentally get your bars hooked in someone else's. The drops are the lower part of your handlebars on a road bike, the hoods are the upper part -- the piece of rubber plastic that covers your shifters. You should still keep a finger or two on the brake levers ready to apply pressure lightly.
  • keep your arms loose: You waste energy being stiff and if another biker runs into you, your upper body won't be able to absorb the impact.
  • don't overlap back wheels with other riders: drop back or pull even, but don't overlap because the rider in front of you might swerve
  • warmup for an hour before you race: you'll crack early if you don't.
  • use brakes sparingly and only lightly
  • speak to other riders: "on your left," "on your right," "hold your line"
  • there's no need to fight for 39th place: if you're in the pack, you're in the pack. Let riders in. It builds karma and you can ride their draft. Also, you don't know if the rider trying to get in just did a turn up front or is trying to avoid an upcoming median.
  • when going through a turn, accelerate as if you're going to go around the rider in front of you. If the rider accelerates, then you'll be able to stick his wheel. If the rider doesn't, you can get ahead.
  • turns are where the gaps are made: this was verified in my short time in the race

The mentors assisted during the actual race as well. They gave words of encouragement, advice, and kindly pushes if you were falling back. My heart lept for joy when I got my first push. I was falling back after going through a turn, then I felt my bike surge forward and I was right back on someone's wheel, safe again. If you completely fell off the back, mentors were there to pace you back into the pack on the next lap.

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Comments (2)


Don't accept free drinks from my dad, either, I've learned. :)


IIRC, that particular drink was delivered as ordered ;)

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