I finally made the leap, and signed & lined up for my very first mass-start bike race ever, the Seward Park Thursday night 4/5/unlicensed race. Not an official race, so I'm not quite a Cat 5 yet - but a lot closer now. I've been wondering for years how I'd do in a race like this, and today I found out!
View at Seward Park (from last week - I didn't get any pics today):
The course was a .8 mile tear-shaped loop with a 140-degree turn and a 125 foot climb each lap, for 15 laps or 25 minutes. I've done one TT previously but no other racing, so it was exciting to line up for the first time. and even more exciting to shoot downhill at about 40 mph with 50 other people around me.
The Pre-Race Clinic
This was an intro to the course, and mostly focused on the 140º turn. Though I was a bit late to this (hauled ass to the start from Capitol Hill, what else is new), I joined the group for their last lap before the turning work. It was great to be able to do the turn in a semi-controlled environment, since it was interesting twist in the race.
The clinic was led by local/national legend Kenny Williams, if I'm not mistaken. I've seen him kick some butt in the Boat Street Crit and a few others around here, and is a super strong cyclist and a really nice guy.
After the pre-race clinic I lined up in the 10th row or so, pretty far back, but not quite in the rear of the peloton. I've heard that you want to get up front early, but at the same time I didn't want to be "that guy" in everyone's way..
As soon as the race started 90% of the tips I'd read, heard, and imagined were lost in a sea of freewheels and the whir of high-PSI tires. Stay out of the gutters, don't do too much work by yourself, stay in the front 1/3 of the pack (to avoid crashes & the "accordian effect"), find a good wheel to follow, etc. All of these tips were temporarily forgotten, as the only thing I had time to think about was not hitting wheels or falling.
Speaking of falling, on the second or third lap I saw another unattached guy go down near the start of the climb, I think he hit some dust or something, but maybe it was a wheel. Ouch. They say it's just a matter of time until that happens to all racers, and so I wore my knickers today, just to save the knees some trouble. Luckily, it didn't end up mattering.
It was an exhilarating feeling to be finally rolling in a peloton, after watching so many local races, and of course races on TV. Being squished, surrounded, by at least five riders, with inches separatnig handlebars was an interesting feeling too.
For the first few laps it felt almost easier than I'd expected, though once there was a prime lap things sped up a bit. I think I was somewhere in the middle of the 50 or 60 that started the race, and was definitely having to catch up after the hard turn at the top of the hill. But it was fun to get to go fast around with a bunch of other people.
Then the last few laps was where it seemed like the heat was really turned on. By about lap 9 I was hurting more than expected, and near my general limit, or at least what I'm used to. So with one or two laps to go, the speed was increasing but I was hurting more and more. Looked down and saw my heartbeat at 194 bmp, when my max is about 199. (old max was about 193)
I didn't win, but finished maybe 25th out of 50 or so - actually I'm really not sure where I ended up, I was just happy not to crash or get lapped or dropped. I think the field was split in two, and that I was at the back of the lead pack. I had no chance of contesting anything at the end, but was at least glad to be rolling in near the pack.
Work: 334 kJ
TSS: 34.7 (intensity factor 0.91)
Norm Power: 259
Distance: 16.123 km
Elevation Gain: 307 m
Elevation Loss: 309 m
Grade: -0.0 % (-2 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 978 221 watts
Heart Rate: 139 197 185 bpm
Cadence: 31 140 89 rpm
Speed: 4 59.6 38.3 kph (or 23.8 mph, my fastest average speed ever)
Altitude: 17 36 29 m
Crank Torque: 0 201.8 22.1 N-m
I didn't look at the power data at all during the race, but it's interesting to analyze it afterwards.
Overall graph of the race:
Peak 5 minutes - the last few laps:
When I saw my first Cat 5 race years ago, I was shocked that 95% of the riders were in team kits. Cat 5 was for beginners, so why were they already on a team? Now I know that it's just the way it is, although in 4/5 races team tactics seem to matter a little less so it's not that big of a deal. But at the same time, it's a bit daunting to know you're just out there on your own, fending for yourself.
I wasn't sure what jersey to wear, as I didn't want to embarrass Seattle Randonneurs or Velo Bike Shop if things didn't go well - so I went with a green Ibex jersey that I don't wear much for some reason. Saw a Rapha jersey and a few other unattached riders, so at least I wasn't the only one. Also some some other riders with leg hair, I kind of expected to be the only one sporting it.
Bike Racing Is A Blast
Overall it was a blast, and I wish I'd done it sooner. It helps that I'm probably at the best form I've ever been or damn close anyway. But there's always more room for improvement!
The only thing is that doing the brevets will take time away, and also change the types of training I'll be doing. Since I basically have to "pick one," I'm going with the rando stuff, as I enjoy the length of those rides. But this new high-intesity thingis pretty fun too.. I'll definitely try to make it out to more of these Seward Park races, as well as the Ballard Crit, Redmond Crit, the one in Bremerton, etc, etc.
I owe a huge thanks to everyone I've trained with, and everyone that gave me advice about racing for the first time. Joe P offered tons of advice on our recent 24-hour fleche ride, and Lloyd from Velo Bike Shop got me in touch with a local Cat 4 Kevin, who offered this advice about racing at Seward:
It's good to be taking the race clinic. Kenny has lots of good practical advice for the course and he can get a feel for it at a slower tempo. Here's my tips for the course:
• Stay out of the gutters. They are mossy and slick this time of year.
• If it's wet then the paint at the corner is going to be slick as well.
• Find a good wheel to follow in the corners to get an idea of how to take them.
• Shift down before the corner so it's easier to spin back up to speed once you're
• Don't overlap wheels.
• Close down the gap on the climb. If you get too far back you're going to be toast.
• Ride predictably.
• Hang on and have fun.
The Race Bike
Before I forget, I'd also like to thank my trusty steel Ciocc, which did perfectly. My Open Pro rims are light enough not to slow me down, and the wheels definitely felt fast with the light/thin Conti Supersonic tires on (they're only for racing).
Even though the Ciocc is about 21 lbs, which I would guess is on the heavier side of bikes out there, I don't think it was holding me back much, if at all. Not even the Brooks saddle held me back, it was somewhat of a renewal in my belief that I don't really need a lighter bike. At least not yet.
Mostly, it's the engine that needs more work.