These Are Not the Goats You Are Looking For: Henleyville Race Report

Editor's note: I'm going to use a bunch of terms that none of you know. As such, there is a glossary at the bottom of the post.

So I did my first road bicycle race today. 3 18-mile laps through flat, flat, flaaaat Central Valley California. But really I should start this story earlier, like last Friday (cue Fight Club-style cut-back to the real start of the story).

One of my fellow SF2G'ers is also a racer on a fancy team that wears lots of blue polka dots. She's way fast and pretty obsessed with racing. Also, her team is recruiting. (How could they possibly need to do this when they have the best-looking kits in the area? No I'm serious, they're rad.) Her latest scheme in getting me to join was to introduce me to a teammate who lives in the East Bay and likes to ride around with people. So on Saturday we had a blind riding-buddy date (awww.)

And then in the emails we were exchanging to plan this date, she mentions that this race coming up would be a great one to try as a first race, and oh by the way she could give me a ride. Also it's flat. Ok, I was in.

After doing our pre-ride on Saturday, I rushed home, showered, packed some stuff, went back out to run errands, and then finally made it uuuup the hill to her house to meet her and the other woman to drive out to the Corning, CA Econo-tel so that we could be in Henleyville at ass-crack-of-morning AM Sunday.

After some sandwiches in the only non-McDonald's place in the "town," we called it a night at 9pm. Woooo Saturday night!

Ok, so. Bright and early. Or rather, so early it wasn't even bright, we got up, packed our stuff back onto the car, and headed to Starbucks. Some of Corning's Finest were having their morning coffee there as well and asked if there was some bike race because they'd been seeing spandex all morning. Us: "Yes, the Henleyville road race." Police: "Henleyville isn't even a town." Ummmm.... We passed many olive and almond trees. And goats! One of the women in the car commented that we shouldn't get distracted by the goats--women's races tend to slow down to look at the goats. These goats were close to the start/finish line; an especially bad place to slow down.

Flash forward to the race. I had my awesome Battle 4 Brooklyn jersey on (up yours team kits!) and was in a group of about 15 total Cat 4 women. "Stay at the front; stay on a wheel," everyone had told me. And "don't pull!"

So I did! For the first 15 miles or so, I stayed 2-3 riders back, close enough to the front that I was with the more consistent riders, but far enough back I was able to avoid pulling. We went up the "hill" and back down; handled all the turns just fine; things were hunky-dory.

And boring. OMG, riding along a mostly flat 18-mile loop, staring at the ass of some logo-addled bike shorts, is pretty friggin boring. This part of the race is just to work your legs a bit so that by the third lap they can separate the men from the boys. But the first lap is easy for everyone, especially averaging 18mph, especially when the view is of the same rider for 5 miles.

So, I made things interesting. For me at least. I was having trouble staying in the pack, kept getting bumped off to the side. And I'd seen the goats! Clearly the first lap was near over. So I sped up and got in front of everyone. It wasn't an attack, per se, as I wasn't really going any faster, but I figured that even if I wasn't supposed to pull, it was good etiquette and I might as well step up for a bit.

We turned, and turned again, and I was still in front. The start/finish line (end of the first of three laps) was not approaching. Uh-oh, those were not the goats I was looking for. I fiiiinally made it back into the pack right around when we passed the goats I was looking for. The women I knew gave me some "good job!"s for pulling, but I knew that loosely translated to "you're gonna be done soon, n00b." But I was ok with that. My goal was to stay in it through the first lap, and--hey there goes the start/finish line! I'd made it! So I continued to stay in.

Then things took a turn. I ended up at the back. Everyone around and in front of me was squirrely. But I was still with the pack! I tried moving around, getting on wheels up ahead, but the gaps were tight and I was getting tired and less aggressive. And the feed hill was coming up--I had to get to the right lane to get a refill!

Uh-oh. On the way up the hill, toward the feed, the front started speeding up. I was stuck at the back, and also tired. Or just too slow. I got dropped. As I grabbed my shiny new (used... but hopefully cleaned) water bottle, the feeders yelled "You can still catch them!" I thought I just maybe could, as I had been descending faster than the group all day. I went fast, with nobody to draft off of. And they went faster. The group, and the two women ahead of me who'd started to fall back from the group, all continued to shrink until they were dots on the horizon. And then they were gone. I'd been dropped. I kept going hard, but there was no way.

And then, my savior! A fellow rider caught up to me and yelled "get on my wheel!" So I did (well, once she'd passed enough that I wouldn't have crashed into her). And she pulled me slower than I'd been going. This is actually still ok strategy, as it takes a lot less energy. I sat on the wheel for a while, and then went up for another pull. I kept pulling and pulling, until a van came along side me and yelled "There's another rider about 200m back, going the same pace as you!" So I had dropped her, oops. So I time trialed. I just rode, as fast as I knew I could keep up, until the finish. And this time I was done. No way I was time trialing another 18 miles with no hope of catching the group. Also I wasn't sure if I was supposed to stop, having been dropped. But then once I'd put the bike back by the car and went back to the start to watch the finishes, there went that other woman cruising on around a third time.

But I had completed my goal! I stayed in for a lap. I did get a "you pulled too hard and too long too early" from one of the women I'd met, but I knew that already. And it had made things more interesting for me. And now I've raced road.

Cat: short for Category. 1 is the best, 4 is the... least best. To move to a better category ("cat up"), one must win some races and earn upgrade points.

Feed (hill): The feed is the area where you get to show how awesome it is to race bikes by littering and stealing! You throw your water bottle off to the side of the road somewhere, and then someone hands you a new one, full of water. The $35 has to pay for something I guess. They eventually find your water bottle on the side of the road and bring it back to you. Mine came back with a different color top, but I'm not gonna complain about that too much. The feed in this race was on a hill, aptly called the "feed hill." I'm betting that they're actually often on (up)hills so that speeds are slower.

Kit: the silly padded shorts and lycra jerseys worn by cyclists on teams. They have lots of logos on them and are very matchy.

On a wheel: The position in which you're behind another rider but close enough to be in their slipstream, taking advantage of full drafting action!

Pull: To lead the group. You do all the work while everyone else drafts off of you. Typically, everyone takes a few turns pulling, but as it was my first race and there was no way I was going to win anyway, I may as well have stayed in for as long as I could by avoiding pulling everyone else.

SF2G: Group of people, whom some would call insane, brought together by their love of meeting at 6:30am and riding 40+ miles to get to their jobs in Silicon Valley. Also enjoy drinking beer, but not usually during the ride.

Squirrelly: Mark of a n00b. When cycling in a group, and especially in a race, one is supposed to "hold their line," or continue in a straight line and not swerve, and ideally to hold about the same speed so that it is easy to draft behind them at close range. Being squirrelly is the opposite of that. It's not fun to ride next to and behind squirrelly riders.

Time trial: A race done solely by time. Starts are staggered and riders aren't allowed to draft. Bikes with crazy handlebars that you can rest your forearms on, and those super-aero helmets, are for time trials. Such things are not safe for road races, which are (ideally) ridden in groups.

1 comment:

  1. awesome. are you going to do it again?

    RRs can be kind of boring. crits and shorter circuit races are more exciting.