After my third season of road racing, I have a couple of thoughts I can't shake. The first, unfortunately, is "Why do I bother?" This was for sure the most demoralizing and un-fun season of racing I've had so far. Did I train as hard as I could have? No. Was I successful at work and other stuff? Yeah. Could I have done both? Possibly. It was a rough winter for everyone, and I was coming off of a terrible crash at Ice Weasels, which resulted in a huge hematoma turned fluid collection turned scar ball that looks like an extra love handle. (I'm so attractive already, self esteem at an all time high!) Over the winter, I did the series of computrainer workouts at Fast.Splits with Karen Smyers, which was exactly what I needed. Some awesome data-driven nerdery on bikes. And actual numeric evidence of progress. I schlepped my road bike through the snow to my car every Thursday though the record-breaking Boston winter, in order to ride bikes indoors with a bunch of white guys on Cervelos. I learned about this "threshold" business that everyone is talking about. Then I got the rare opportunity to join the Pedal Power folks at their training camp in South Carolina. We climbed mountains. Seriously. I was nauseated with fear going into some of our rides, but the entire trip was an enormous confidence builder. I'm not beating anyone up a mountain, but I climbed a whole lot more than I ever had or thought I could.
Anyway, I felt pretty good going in to the first race of the season, the Mt. Blue Criterium. It was a small 3/4 field, and there were a few attacks but overall not the fastest pace. So I stayed in good position, even covered some attacks. Unfortunately there was a crash towards the end of the race, I saw it happen right in front of me, and managed to safely veer to the right and come to a stop just as a bike slid in front of my wheel. I stuck around to make sure people were OK, then we all gathered to re-start. Because we were so close to the finish, they could only afford to restart us with 1 to go, so it was a 1-lap drag race. I managed to stay up at the front and take 6th, my best crit result to date. Good start.
Next up, the Orchard Beach Criterium in NY. This race was over Mother's Day weekend and close to my parents' house. I got to see some of my friends from cx camp last summer. Shockingly, there was a women's 4 race AND a women's 3/4 race, so I had 2 chances. I did the women's 4 race, and it was a flat, fast, course with 2 long straightaways, 2 fairly round corners at one end and a long curve at the other. The skill and etiquette of the NYC women's racing community is astounding. The riders were clean, alert, courteous, friendly, and the race stayed very safe, despite being quite fast. I was part of a small group of dropped riders unfortunately, though we kept a good pace, worked together, and then sprinted it out at the end. I managed to take the final sprint, so I was first of the chase pack, for whatever that's worth. I was way too spent after that to race again, and unfortunately bailed on the second race.
Things started to go downhill from here on. The Ken Harrod Road Race in Harvard MA was next up. I knew what I was getting into, signing myself up for a women's 3/4 road race, but #womenscycling, I have to support it. I'm glad that they offered a field and I want them to keep doing it. I did crappily last year, and this year the course was longer and included 3 climbs of Oak Hill. I lined up, and rode my race. Got dropped on the first ascent of Oak Hill as I expected. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Maybe. There were a few others around, but we spread out eventually as I couldn't hang on. I finished the race, coming in dead last. Am I glad I did it? Not really. Am I glad the race happened and my friends got to do it? Yeah. It became more and more clear over the season that there are a lot of strong women racers around. It unfortunately also became more and more clear that I had no business lining up next to them in races. The coolest part of the day (other than maybe a couple of bragging points for climbing Oak Hill 3 times), was the astonishing amount of pollen in the air, which we all had caked to our skin after the race.
(No pictures from the next few races because nobody I know came to watch, and nobody else cared to put any online.)
Moving on, the Nutmeg Classic Criterium in Connecticut is a really nice flowing course with a small climb and then a whole lot of wind and a slightly downhill finish. It started fast but I hung on. Then it split into 2 groups, Eileen from NEBC bridged up to the leaders and I was in the chase pack. Unfortunately then the entire rest of NEBC decided to take a nap, since they had a rider up in the break. I decided to see what would happen if I just did the pacemaking for a while. Allison from Team Monster Truck and I took turns pulling and then as expected, I got my butt handed to me in the final sprint. I feel good about how I rode though, at least I felt like I was in control for most of the race. I just think it's silly when cat 4 women get caught up in "tactics" and then ride slow on purpose, only to then complain that they didn't ride fast enough. That was also the first race where I really saw some unfriendliness from some of my fellow racers. I get it, some racers want to take it seriously... but at this level it seems ridiculous to act catty towards the rest of the field. These people could be your new friends, or your new teammates. I don't get it. So Nutmeg in a nutshell... I rode fast but not fast enough and placed really far down but still feel OK about having tried something.
A couple of weeks later with the Longsjo Classic in Fitchburg MA, a race in which I had hung on to the pack last year, all the way until the last couple of laps when a crash got in the way. This year was another story. It was pouring rain, I was happy to have my heavy duty 25s. The course has a long drag up, then another long downhill with a couple of turns. The race started fast and only got faster. The usual suspects (me and most of NEBC) wound up in a chase group together. My friends Tonia and Senta apparently went off the front together and gained a huge lead, going 1-2. Our little chase group kept a good pace and picked up dropped rider after dropped rider. Some people feel that a race is a good time to start teaching. It's not. Shut up and pedal. I think Audrey could feel my eyes rolling even without looking at me. We got lapped by the leaders, and then by the field. In the confusion of us getting lapped, it didn't occur to me that we were now one lap down, and I was slow to react on the final sprint, finishing in a terrible position, at the back of our pack after working my ass off pulling. Again, I rode OK, not terrible, but it's clear that I don't belong in a field dominated by 3s-almost-2s-who-just-don't-have-enough-upgrade-points. It's completely demoralizing and a waste of my time.
As for the Concord Criterium, I was happy for a 4s field, but with several junior girls who are clearly not 4s, it was fast. The Concord course has a long hill that after a couple of times up it, just gets harder and harder. I got in a chase group, could barely hang on, and finished the race way off the back. To add insult to injury, I was placed behind an NEBC rider who was most definitely behind me, but in my hurry to get the fuck out of there, I didn't stay around to look at the results (last year they messed up too and then didn't change them even after I protested).
So, my conclusions from road season... This was a very tough year. Over and over again I found myself alongside fast 3s with whom I felt I didn't belong. I'd love to say that racing with these people, who are faster than me, is inspiring, but it's just not. I'm glad at least that there were a few other people who seemed to be in the same boat, so we were sometimes able to have our own little race-within-a-race. But otherwise, I'll have to see how I feel about racing come next road season. I don't know if I want to even bother with another season like this one.
On a brighter note, as the weather got warmer, I started spending more time with Erich, riding in Cutler Park on my cyclocross bike, learning to approach more rugged technical terrain without (or with less) getting nervous and hitting the brakes. We had semi-regular Friday rides after work which, even with a few hard crashes, were a great experience. I also completed both Raid Rockingham and Raid Lamoille, non-competitive and extremely challenging gravel rides with lots of climbing. Riding with my friends, Chris, Eric, Lee, Erik, and others, who are also fast, excellent riders, WAS inspiring.
Perhaps I should be doing more of this.