After a year of successful excuse-making, I decided it was finally time to quit being a chicken and do a cycling race. I decided there was no better race than our own team-sponsored road race at Square Lake.
The course was described as 70% pavement, 30% hard-packed dirt. The people who created the course told us that the dirt sections were well packed and perfect for road bikes.
The course seemed more like 50/50 pavement/gravel. (The actual statistics showed there was 4.4 miles of gravel in the 12 mile loop, or about 37% gravel.) There were 3 gravel sections in the 12 mile loop (which my race did 3 times). The first section was about 3 miles long. It wasn't great but it wasn't impassable either. If you could find a tire tread and stay in it, you were alright. If you needed to get out of that tread to pass someone, it got a lot scarier. The second stretch of gravel was the worst. It was mostly loose sand and had a giant hill in it. By the 2nd lap, we had learned that it was best to be in a small gear and spin your way up it. If you tried to power up the hill, you ended up spinning out. The 3rd stretch of gravel was short and pointless. It had a long downhill that made for a nice white-knuckle ride as you prayed you could keep your bike out of the loose dirt and still have your wheels under you for the 90 degree turn at the bottom.
The race started off well. Meredith and I were the only Birchwood Bettys to race. There were 11 in our wave which included Cat 3, Cat 4, Jr. Females and women 40+. We had a rolling start and immediately got into a single file line. I had no intention of doing any work within the first half of the race, so I hung out near the back. Since this was the first road race for either of us, Meredith and I agreed we would simply sit back and see what happens.
I made one rookie mistake in the first few miles. I was watching the wheel in front of me when Meredith rode up along side me and said "Hey, Let's go!". "Are we making a move?" I asked. But then I looked up and noticed that the girl I had been following had actually fallen off the back of the pack, taking those of us behind her along. Oops! I had even been warned to always watch TWO people ahead. Lesson learned. I quickly bridged the gap back up to the leaders and was very thankful I had a teammate out there to catch my mistakes!
We cruised the first 6 miles with ease and then hit the gravel. It was super scary. Bikes were sliding all over the place. I looked at my computer and saw we were going over 28mph! In gravel. On road bikes. NOT fun! I watched Meredith pull out some super human powers to regain control of her bike after a nasty fishtail in loose dirt. I still don't know how she managed to save herself on that one!
After the 1st stretch of gravel, our pack had completely broken up. I ended up riding with a girl named Iman from LGR/Behind Bars. We finished the first lap together and started in on the 2nd lap.
At 18 miles we agreed that there was no benefit in losing each other. We would finish the race together.
At 22 miles the Junior boys group passed us going into the gravel. At mile 22.25 those boys crashed in one big pile-up at the bottom of the giant hill. Their support car then pulled right in front of Iman and me... AND STOPPED! Iman and I just about slid into the back of it! We then had to dismount our bikes and walk around the car. WTF?!
Obviously the guy driving the support car was completely oblivious to any racers other than his group. He did, however, give Iman and me a push up the hill to allow us to clip back into our pedals and get moving again. However, at that point, we were barely able to find enough grip in the dirt to get up the hill. It was not an ideal situation.
On the third and final lap, we picked up another girl, Nikki from SPBRC, who had also lost the pack. The three of us rotated through a pace line on the paved roads and took turns leading through the gravel for the last 12 miles.
The sprint to the finish was only about a quarter mile long and I knew my untrained, slow-twitch muscle fibers stood no chance of pulling off a good sprint. Iman and Nikki finished a few seconds ahead of me, taking 6th and 7th while I finished 8th.
Overall, I had a really fun time. I wish there had been a little more "road" to this road race. The gravel was not ideal. I really think I could have hung unto the lead pack a lot longer had we not had to spend so much time in the gravel. I guess that just gives me an excuse to race again! Too bad my schedule is full of triathlons this year. I will have to wait until next year to try this again!