Last Tuesday at happy hour, all Jess had to say was “bike race.” Why not get in a hard workout and test my pre-St.George fitness, all for the low price of $39?
Compared to my first road race (Boulevard in January), San Luis Rey practically looked like a brunch date in Bonsall: My category (Cat 3-4) didn’t go off until 10:30, and took place on relatively nearby roads I ride all the time.
Until I realized I’d forgotten my cycling shoes. In all my years of triathlon racing, I’ve never forgotten such a critical piece of equipment. Never a helmet, sunglasses, wetsuit, nothing. I instinctively called Mark, who was off like Astro Boy before I could eek out the words “I can’t race.” My race started in one hour. My shoes were at least 50 minutes away.
Panic, disappointment, and self-loathing set in, and I started texting friends madly. On Jess’s advice to ask around, I turned to the couple in the parking spot besides us and asked dejectedly: “You don’t happen to have an extra pair of cycling shoes, do you?”
“9 or 10…”
“Yeah, I do,” came the reply. He might as well have been a songbird.
They fit perfectly, and had the right cleats. He was there to watch his girlfriend race and didn’t need them.
I got ready, warmed up for a half an hour, and headed to the start line.
The beginning of a bike race brings its own strange mixture of dread, anxiety, and excitement. Despite the fact that my bike usually feels like an extension of my body, during those awkward minutes before you take off in the pack it feels like a stranger. Will it support me? Keep me safe? Do what I ask it to?
The horn, and we were off.
I’m not going to narrate every single detail oft the 1:59:29 I spent jacking my heart rate up through the backroads of Bonsall, Boulevard race report-style. I spent lap one jockeying for position and responding to the unexpected movements of other riders. Lap two brought a breakaway by a stronger pack of 20, and surprise that I’d managed to hang on. The third and final lap forced me to learn the intricate waltz cyclists call pacelining pretty much on the fly. The race ended with a final breakaway by the three strongest girls, and despite being well prepared for it, I just didn’t have the juice in my legs.
Bike racing is strategic and tactical in a way that’s still foreign to me. The group works together, everyone taking a turn at the front of the peloton to lessen the load on each individual rider. It’s quite beautiful, actually, and got me thinking about things like cooperation and teamwork, relationships even. But then, as hunger for the win creeps in, the whole arrangement can flip upside down without warning, selfishness usurping collaboration. (Later, at the finish line, I met a Cat 3 girl who put it simply: “Sometimes you just have to be a jerk.”)
At the start of the paceline, I
humbly admitted stupidly announced that I was a triathlete, trying to be teachable: “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” There were compliments on how quickly I was learning, that my pulls at the front were improving, etc. But there was also criticism: “Hey triathlete, stay in the line.” Not to mention finish line drama I could’ve done without, where a couple of other girls reported me to the officials for crossing over the middle line and using it to “gain advantage.”
It was all too much for a Saturday morning. Thank goodness I had a crew of much more chilled-out friends there to counsel me through my first official hand-slap. For the record: My wheels barely swerved over the middle line, and only because I was trying to allow the pack to resettle. I went right back in the line and promptly re-entered the paceline.
I waited around to cheer for friends, chatting with some of the other girls and cowering in fear from others. An hour later and the Cat 4 results still hadn’t been posted. Another hour. The race officials (a rather interesting collection of human beings) were taking their sweet time sorting something out in our category, and I couldn’t collect my winnings until it was done.
The vision of In N Out burgers was growing stronger. I was pushing three hours and still hadn’t had a morsel of post-race food later (notes for next time: bring beer and a picnic.) I politely asked one of the organizers if I could collect my money and be on my way.
The rest of my field had gone home, so I rocked the Velo Hangar podium solo, race bling in hand:
Fifteen minutes later, I handed a good chunk of it over to a cheerful In N Out employee in exchange for hot, salty fries, an animal-style burger, and a chocolate milkshake so thick I could barely get it through the straw. The adrenaline-soaked day rolled pleasantly into a fun evening with friends, complete with a growler of Pizza Port IPA and cause to curl up on the floor in laughter.
And I started to think that maybe this bike racing was here to stay.
But first, St. George and Vineman 70.3. You know, commitments.