Sterling was my first bike race of the year. I woke up at 6AM, ate breakfast and had coffee. Lots of coffee. I had prepped myself and gear the night before: shaved the legs, packed my kit, cleaned the bike, got the tools, pump and race wheels ready by the door so it could all go into the car in the morning. I filled my bottles with Cytomax and water, gathered up food for the race, as well as pre and post. I went to bathroom at least 5 times. Packed the car and drove off.
In the parking lot of the local school, I went to sign-in. In Europe, all the sign-in’s and number pick-up’s are at cafés, usually raucous and smoke filled even at an early hour. In the US, they’re usually at elementary schools.
I said hello to everybody…these days it’s mostly people from the ski scene that I recognized, but there are still diehards out there, guys I raced with when I was in my 20’s. Talked about roller skiing, how much bike racing we’ve been doing, or not. Looked for a bathroom but couldn’t find one that didn’t have a wait.
Back at the car, I set up my bike, changed, oiled up the legs, then put on extra clothing. One last panic bathroom stop before heading out to warm up. The race had a neutral start, so the warm up wasn’t that critical, but I’m old and need the extra time to get my legs going. With 8 laps of a hilly 10km circuit ahead of me, I wanted to be sure that I didn’t have trouble from the start. I was worried about the distance since my longest ride of the year so far was just last weekend, and the same distance. I usually need a few thousand k’s in my legs before I can be competitive. I don’t know how I’ll get back to that kind of mileage.
The race started in earnest on the first hill and I was working hard, too hard for the first lap. I quickly found myself at the back of the field. After the shock of the hills, I decided that I needed to race the damn thing, not just ride to survive. So I got to the front and did some work for the next few laps. The break had already gone clear. I tried to bridge up to it, but anytime I went with a chase group, I redlined and had to skip pulls. At one point, I lead the field onto the climb, then quickly faded. With 3 laps to go, I could feel the rigor mortis creeping into my leg muscles. With 2 to go, I sneaked up to the front of the field before the climbs and slowly drifted back to save what little I had left. I let others close the gaps and avoided getting dropped. That’s an old trick and one that I’ve, unfortunately, come to rely on.
I first raced Sterling in 1996, back east after the spring campaign through the West Coast and Southwest. I was super fit, albeit a little worn out from racing since February. Still, I climbed the hills in the big ring and went clear with Frank McCormack. At one point he told me shift into a bigger gear to go faster. “I’m going as fast as I can. If you want to go faster, pull through,” I said. “I can’t,” he replied.
Today’s race would not be nearly so impressive.
On the bell lap, as we hit the hill, I had to sit up. My legs were empty, starting to cramp and there was no reason to turn myself inside out to finish at the back of the pack. I rode the final lap on my own, and crossed the finish line well behind the main field.
Back in the parking lot after the race. The ritual re-telling of how the race unfolded. The break-downs — both of machine and man. Disqualifications by race referees. Questionable bike handling from other riders. The feuds. The excuses.
I had no excuses. Just reality. I didn’t do what I said I wanted, which was to finish at least with the bunch. But I raced hard, had some moments of nostalgia, and put some quality miles in my legs. Not enough to make me competitive. It would take me a year of full-on bike training to get back there. That’s just not going to happen.
Elapsed Time: 1 hour 59 min
Total Calories: 1500
Max HR: 176
Place: approx. last