What was I thinking? A couple of weeks ago I talked about winning a bike race. And then waking up to myself and racing in a more competitive category and taking a third place. In the post there’s links to the photos of me in both races. Since that race went so well, and because I’ve never been much of a judge of character, I decided that with these huge successes behind me it was time to step it up a notch. After all, the 2 guys that beat me the week before were well credentialed riders. One being a current world champion and world record holder, the other a multiple national medallist. For the doubters amongst you, I’ll add the little snippet that their credentials are current not historical. The bit I’m not as comfortable including is that they both race up 4 age categories from me… at 5 years per age group… yes, I’m 40 and they’re both 60ish. But a world title is a world title.
So last Sunday was my first real test. I entered the State Criterium Championships. Round and round the block for 40 minutes plus 3 laps. Days before the event I had already decided on my race tactics. There was one entrant, Russell Tucker, whose brother Kenrick had a velodrome build for and named after him. Yes, the family has experience and skill on a bike. Russell is in the middle of preparing himself for the World Masters Track Championship which is being held here later this year.
The tactic was simple. Stay away from the front of the race and preserve energy. With 5 or 6 laps to the finish find Russell and glue myself to his back wheel. The theory goes that when he wins the race he’ll drag me along with him to a silver or bronze medal. If there’s a group up the road he’ll have missed the opportunity and so will I but I was willing to back his tactics.
Race day came around and Russell actually (re)introduced himself to me before the race. It seems he recognised me from racing together in the late ‘80s. I must have left an impression. I remember one impression I left – it was his brother’s velodrome that was the venue of the ambulance ride. I don’t know if he remembered me because I was fast or because I left a pool of blood in his suburb.
Race time… and I immediately deviated from my race plan. I seem to have a phobia of being too far back in a biggish bunch of riders – and 40 plus guys on a criterium circuit is as good a reason as any to be anxious about having people crash in front of you. But being near the front means that sometimes you accidentally end up at the front. Over and over again, bridging gaps if you’re not real smart. Like me. Apparently when I pin a number on my back I go from being a Dean’s Commendation quality university student to somewhere in the vicinity of a pet rock.
So I puffed and panted and sprinted and surged and chased down about a third of everything that disappeared up the road in the first 30 minutes of the race. A couple of times I faded into the middle of the bunch for a rest but I was at the front again within a couple of laps. It was during fade number 3 that I decided it was time to find Russell and start “the plan”. I was on the right side of the bunch in about 15th place when I spotted him on the extreme left in about 4th place. Cool, 4 minutes to go in the timed part of the race and then 3 laps to the end. We were lapping at about 85 seconds so I was right on target at 6 laps to go.
Through the next couple of corners I eased my forward and across to the left side of the group but I couldn’t find his jersey. I was riding 4th or 5th in the bunch and I looked back to try and find him. Nothing. I moved back a few places over the next 400 metres and had a more careful look. Nothing. Then I opened my eyes properly and there he was in front of me. Only not right in front of me, but rather 250 metres up the road with 3 other guys.
And they were moving away from us at quite a rate.
This is where a lesser man would cry. My plan was coming to fruition without me on board. I knew I couldn’t bridge the gap on my own so I called out as if someone was attacking the bunch to get everyone moving and then jumped around a couple of guys to start the chase, giving a huge momentum to the chase with nearly a quarter of a lap at a touch over 50km/h (30mph). But there were 25 guys who were intent on wheel sucking while the medals pedalled over the horizon. Bastards. So I eased off and let a few lazy mongrels roll through at 40ish and then there were a heap of solo attempts at about quarter lap intervals and I spent all of the last 4 laps bridging gaps. 4 more guys managed to get away so the bunch was sprinting for 9th place. I didn’t have any legs left and rolled over the line near the back of the bunch. Oh yeah, and Russell won comfortably.
I wasn’t happy with the outcome but I had to pay for my tactical mistake. As far as effort was concerned, I think I did OK. The race averaged 41.5km/h (25.8mph) and my heart rate monitor said I averaged 166 bpm with a maximum of 178 bpm.
More about my stupidity when I post a race report for the State Team Time Trial Championship which is being run this Sunday.