Race Experience: Gebhardt Automotive Cycling Classic – Feb. 22, 2014

The Gebhardt Automotive Cycling Classic at Carter Lake was held this past Saturday.  It was the first race of the season, I wasn’t really training for it, but I just wanted to get my first race under my belt.  So, let’s start off with some good news:

  • Henceforth I will be known as “The Cyclist Formerly Known as the Guy in the Yellow Jersey” since I finally got a second jersey to add to my wardrobe; a red one!
  • I can officially say that I’ve been over 48 mph on a bike (going downhill of course).

That’s about where the good news ends for this race!

The whole cycling race thing is something I haven’t done since I was in high school and I wasn’t sure if things had changed significantly (aside from the fact that I now race on “old man legs” and I’m still about 30 lbs heavier than I was when I raced then).  But I decided to do it anyway so I wouldn’t be a racing virgin any longer.  The one important thing I found: I take this race thing a lot more seriously in my 30’s than I did when I was in high school.  When I raced then I would wake up, eat something, grab my bike, put it in my truck and be on my way – I’d figure out everything else on the fly if I had to.  But this past weekend I fretted about everything – did I eat the right things in the days leading up to the race, did I have the location programmed in my GPS, what would I eat on race day, when/where was I supposed to pick up my race packet, what time should I leave and should I leave early just in case traffic was bad, what tools should I pack, should I warm up on the road or take a trainer, and how the heck do I pin my numbers on anyway?!?  I kept telling everyone that I wasn’t nervous about the race but, and my wife can attest to this, I was freaking out.

So what happened?  If you don’t already know, I work the graveyard shift for my job so I usually go to bed around 9am everyday.  It doesn’t work to race when you’re supposed to be asleep (according to your body) so the day before I just didn’t go to sleep so I would sleep that night (like a normal person’s sleep schedule).  Basically I got 7 hours of sleep in the 48 hours leading up to the race.  I’ll have to rethink that strategy for next time.

On the morning of the race I had just about everything prepared (I even prepared a spare bike and loaded it in the car just in case something happened), I felt good, I had dropped 5 lbs leading up to the race, and I was getting ready to eat breakfast and pack the car – then I fell apart.  I couldn’t figure out what to eat and I knew I needed to eat something since my start time wasn’t until 12:50pm.  So I just grabbed a bowl and some Life cereal and started eating… then I realized that I was really hungry so I ate 2 bowls and washed it down with a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and a handful (or 3) of pistachios, some Mt. Dew, and some water (I didn’t want to get dehydrated after all!).  Too much.  Dang it! Now I was mad that I had eaten so much and stressed out about how it would affect my race.

I started loading the car, went through my gear bag again (for the 5th time) to make sure I had everything and was storming around the house.  It was at this point (a little late really) that I was suddenly convinced that my yellow jersey was embarrassing and I “couldn’t show up to the starting line wearing a freaking yellow jersey”!  Now I had to add a stop at pedal into my itinerary before heading north to try and find a new jersey.  The whole time I’m stomping around, loading the car and grumbling about this and that my 5 year old daughter is sitting at the kitchen table drawing something and singing to herself (I wouldn’t find out what it was until we got to the race).

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I finally got everything loaded, including my family, and we head up to the shop to see what we could find.  Tom and Bill were both there and they did a great job helping me calm my nerves by talking me through what I needed for the race.  I got some fuel (Skratch electrolytes), a red jersey, some CO2 cartridges, and some great advice from both of them (Tom: find the fast group, hang with them, then just out-sprint them at the end.  Bill: ride your race, remember it’s the first race of the season, then find the beer tent.).  I felt better already.

Getting ready for my 7 minute warm up.

We got back in the van and made our way north.  My wife was kind enough to pin my numbers on my jersey while we drove (since she didn’t like it when I tried to do it while jamming down I-25!).  We made it to Carter Lake and the parking area for the start of the race.  I had about 50 minutes before the Cat. 5 start.  We had to park off of the road on the shoulder which at this point was quite far away from the main tents.  It was at this point that I realized that I had forgotten my extra bottle of water and my jacket.  Oops.  We made our way to the tents and I checked in and got my timing chip.  We came back to the van and on the way I saw one of the Pedal p/b LTP Development Team Pro/1/2 racers so I stopped by and said hello.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what I was talking about when I said I was part of the pedal Racing “sister team” and I assume I probably threw off his race prep zone but he was polite and we chatted a bit.  On the way back we saw a spot had opened up right near the front so my wife and kids stood there while I ran to the van to move it.  The whole time I’m thinking “man, I’m losing warm up time”.  But I finally got around to it – for a whole 7 minutes!

With my “warm up” complete I made my way to the start line and found my group.  I figured I should find a spot near the back since this was my first race, I wasn’t in shape, and I needed a quick path out the back in case I got dropped.  That turned out to be a bad move since that put me right behind the one guy that forgot to do up his quick release on his front tire.  We were about .5 miles into the race and doing about 26 mph when I notice the front wheel of the guy a couple of bikes ahead looks like it’s wobbling.  He stands to accelerate and BAM! the wheel comes off, he crumples to the pavement and the racer directly in front of me (#184) does a nice cartwheel over the downed racer and lands off the road to the right.

Just before the crash. #184 goes down and #644 becomes my “hare”.

I hit my brakes and my back end starts to slide out from under me so I quickly feather the rear brake, unclip my right foot and pivot & weave my way between the downed riders (thank goodness I rode dirt bikes when I was a kid).  Great!  I look up and the peloton is about 100 yards ahead still moving at 26 mph and getting away quickly.  There are only about 10 or 12 riders behind me from the group of 55 that we started with and 2 of those are groaning on the asphalt.  Looks like I’ll be changing my game plan.  I get out of the saddle and try sprinting back to the group.  I’m doing 24 mph and I’m at redline – I didn’t realize how windy it was and the reality of the savings you get from the peloton.  There’s no way I’m catching up but I can still see the back of #644 (in the orange and blue windbreaker) he’s at the back of the group and he has now become my target.  My goal the whole rest of the race is to not lose sight of this guy and, if at all possible, try to beat him.  We started together so I have to do at least that.

The race continued on without me (so to speak) and at about 4 miles we hit a nice climb up onto the Carter Lake dam.  There were a few switchbacks which allowed me to not lose sight of 644 – we’ll call him “Dave”.  I was already feeling blasted when I hit the hills from my futile effort to catch up.  I took a look at my Garmin and realized that I was going to blow a gasket if I didn’t back off before the climb.  I was at a 183 bpm heart rate.  So I sat up and recovered a bit.  I got passed by 2 guys who where apparently following me – I was doing all the work and when I sat up they shot around me.  One of them looked over and said “Thanks for the lift, now let’s go catch those guys!”.  Had I known they were back there I would have actually worked with them and we could have probably caught up.  But that wasn’t the order for the day.

After much effort, and getting passed by 1 more rider, I made it to the top of the climb.  I knew that was the only real climb of the race and there were a few descents coming up so I started working to position myself to be able to use gravity to my advantage (I have a lot of mass to pull down).  I was way ahead of the nearest person behind me and I could still see a small group of 6 riders ahead – and one of them was Dave.  I knew I had to get going.  We rode along the dam for a few miles, had I not been close to dying I probably would have enjoyed the view.  The lake to the right was calm and reflected  the blue-gray of the overcast sky and the road was smooth and quiet (except for the headwind).

I hit the descent doing about 25 mph and kept pounding the pedals.  Very quickly I was at 28, 32, 38, 42 mph.  I couldn’t keep my cadence up any more so I buckled up for the ride down the hill.  I passed a rider near the top of the descent who hadn’t kept pedaling but was merely coasting – 1 official “Kill”.  The road was fairly straight so I let it all hang out and got in the most aerodynamic position my 215 lbs. would let me be in.  I glanced at the cycle computer and saw 48.1 mph, whoa, that’s fast.  There was a gradual left hand turn and at the bottom of the hill a sharp right.  I tapped the brakes but didn’t really want to slow down too much because I didn’t want to lose much speed.  The next 2 miles were a blast.  There was a mild tailwind and a slight downhill and it was pretty easy to crank out 32-34 mph.  With a little effort I caught and passed one more rider – Kill 2.  I could now see that Dave had broken off from the small group (I hadn’t seen the peloton at this point since the climb about 10 minutes earlier) and was riding on his own about 200 yards ahead.  Now this was a fair fight!  Him alone, me alone.

There was another sharp right at a stop sign and then a gradual uphill for a mile or so.  I think I finally warmed up so I was able to settle in to a nice cadence at about 174 bpm heart rate.  I think this was race pace.  Out of nowhere some guy passes me on a TT bike – I was surprised since I had only recently looked behind me and hadn’t seen anyone for at least a half a mile.  I was so shocked that I didn’t even see if he had a number on – maybe he wasn’t even part of the race (that thought made me feel better since I really hoped that the Pro/1/2 guys hadn’t started to lap me yet since they’d only started 15 minutes before us)!  It looked like the TT guy startled Dave as well since he kind of drifted off the road when he passed.  He was getting closer though.  We crested the hill.

We started the final descent which would take us past the feed zone (sponsored by Osmo Nutrition who is also one of our sponsors) and to the finish line.  Dave was now about 100 meters ahead.  I knew I had only a few miles before the finish to catch him.  I was already in my highest gears so I knew the only way I was going to catch him would be to pick up my cadence.  So I did.  I went from 95 rpm to around 100 – that was enough to start to reel him in.  The distance went rapidly.  I had it in my head that the loop was 19 miles and my Garmin said that I was at 16.5 miles – plenty of time to “Kill Dave”.  Then I looked up and saw something strange – the finish line.  Wait, did they move it?  Why was it at 17 miles?

I did it! I passed Dave!

I forgot that they had in fact moved it.  Just a few weeks ago they changed the location of the start finish.  It took the 19 mile race and made it 17.  So I kicked it up again.  Dave was within reach but now I doubted I would catch him in time.  400 meters to go.  He was still about 10 meters away.  Was it time to sprint now?  When do I go? Do I stand up?  Awe, screw it,  Go now!  So I picked up my cadence, hunkered down and surged forward.  With about 50 meters to go I passed Dave (which got a little hairy since he drifted to the left which would have put me over the yellow line so I darted to the right and passed him).  I saw my wife and kids standing off to the side cheering me on and my daughter holding her sign.  I crossed the line and sat up, hit the brakes and coasted off the road, and unclipped and stood up.  I was done.  I had finished.  I had won the race-within-the-race, Dave was vanquished!  That’s all I cared about.

That is until I turned in my timing chip and went and printed my results.  46th out of 55 registered racers (and 2 of those were DNF) – dang it.  I had hoped for more.  Well, oh well.  I learned a lot – and that’s the point isn’t it.

So we packed up and went to Freddy’s and I drowned my sorrows with a great meal with my family and some ice cream!  Time to get ready for the next one.

Thank you to our sponsors, especially pedal for the support!  For full race results visit this post.

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