first things first. my goal for this race was to finish in the top five. mission accomplished with 5th place!
i'll start at the start line. the official went through his whole schpiel & told us the race would be a neutral start for the first few turns out of town and after that the race was open. but i swear, within the first mile of the race, i looked at my computer and wondered what the hell was so neutral about 30mph. neutral my ass. in every road other race i have been in so far, the starts were very civilized. lots of polite, girly chatter. not this one. this race was all business from the get-go. just get in position and GO!
there were two girls up front who were really pushing the pace - this was within that first 'neutral' mile. we hit the first hill, which was a steep doozy of a mother at mile 5, and i watch them get out of their saddles & just gun it - knew they were trying to split the group, and i wanted to be in the break. it was tough as hell but i stayed on; and so, for the first time ever - i was able to stay in the break & be up with the cool girls. i was still reeling from that hill (not so much the hill, but the speed at which we went into & up it), and the two girls just kept pushing the pace - they were hitting the rollers hard & we all started to really string out. by mile 10, they had all just ridden away in a strung out line and i could no longer see anyone (i would find out at the end of the race that every single one of us wound up in essentially, a solo time trail). and we finished the race in exactly the same positions we were in at mile 5 once we had crested the hill and split the group.
i know that when you fall off like that it sometimes behooves you to wait for the second group to catch you so you can work together - no one wants to do a hilly 40 mile race alone. that said, i also knew that no one behind me was going to be of much help. so now my goal was to just not let anyone catch me. i needed to try to keep putting as much distance as i could between me and the girls behind me. i knew they were not climbers, but i also figured they might have some power on the flats & could certainly catch me on a descent, so i never, ever let up. i went faster on downhills that i have ever gone and just settled into a steady pace in the hills. i would look back every now & then to ensure that the girls behind hadn't organized themselves into any chase group. i even asked passing guys from the citizens' race how far back they were and was assured they were 'very' far back. (still, i never sat up -never stopped pedaling).
at about mile 37, with 3 miles left to go, i looked back and in the very far off distance i thought i caught a glimpse of the kit colors of one of the women that we dropped at mile 5. but i didn't have my glasses on & so couldn't be sure. i looked back a few more times and the orange and black dot may have been slightly closer, but i still couldn't tell. so i just kept going as hard as i could. i had worked too hard to keep my 5th place spot, there was no way i was going to lose it this close to finish.then, with 1 mile left to go. one mile! i look behind me and realize that orange and black dot was exactly who i feared it was because she was on. my. wheel! on my wheel. i may have said holy crap out loud. not sure. i was simultaneously impressed and worried as hell. as i noticed her, we were coming up to a hill that starts a series of turns to the finish. she may have just bridged a gap of 34 miles, but i knew she wasn't going to be able to keep up with me on the hill if i really hammered it - i could buy myself just a tiny bit of time. so i just gunned it and rode away. when i got to the top and looked back, i swear she was still at the bottom of it.
i still wasn't safe. this race had a crit-style finish and i figured it could be my downfall if i found myself with anyone who was better at turns than me (and that would be everyone). but i also thought i'll be damned if i lose 5th place in the last few turns. suffice it to say, i have never gone through a series of turns faster in my life. every time i looked back, she was maybe a block away, maybe closer. i thought if she can get dropped at mile 5, haul ass on that hilly mofo of a course and catch someone at mile 39, she could probably take me on the thing i suck the most at: turns.
i finally turned that last turn, saw the finish archway and was enormously relieved to see that it was closer than i thought - if i had to sprint her, and i thought it could come down to that; i could do it. i gave a quick look back to see where she was. and she wasn't too close, but she wasn't that far away either. she was medium distance.
so. i start to really haul ass. i mean really. big ring, all out - i am going for it. 5th place is mine.
one split second, i look back to gauge where she was, and when i look forward again - there is a CAR in front of me. at a dead stop. i'll say it again. a car pulls out onto the course and stops. and now a car is between me and my sprint to the finish. i can hear the race directors screaming at the car and waving it to just keep going forward. i'm still propelling myself forward, fully confident that the driver will actually propel his car forward and move out of my damn way. i am so confident that he'll either move forward or just remain stopped, and i have a perfectly wide enough passing spot on the right, that i just keep going.
just as i decide to go to his right, he decides to TURN RIGHT down a side street.
and i scream and lock the brakes and can feel my back wheel skid out a bit and because the cycling gods were smiling down on me and maybe my grandparents too, i am able to clip out and stop in time so i don't crash into him or fall and be run over by his back wheel as he makes the damn turn. i stopped so close to the car that there was no room to even go around to the left. i have to actually sit there and wait for him to complete his turn. and off he goes on his clueless merry little way and i bet he never even saw me.
and all of this happens in what feels like a nano-second. and now i am at a dead stop in the big ring. the adrenaline is pumping, i'm freaked out and mad for all kinds of reasons, moreso over losing my spot than almost biting it mere feet from the finish line. i don't even look back - i don't want to know where she is, for all i know, she had already crossed the line. so i clip in, and try my best to kick it (which is hard in big ring from dead stop) and i still take 5th place. i looked to my left just as i crossed and she was right. there.
we rolled around together to the parking lot & i gave her kudos for the good job chasing back on. and she said she thought that near crash was going to be really ugly - i imagine it looked pretty bad and so i am assuming she slowed down a bit to avoid any possible carnage. also highly impressive that she caught me. more highly impressive there was no carnage involving me.
this was a hilly, tough course. i loved it. loved it even more when i hit the biggest, toughest hill of the course (which was nowhere near as hard as the hill on this course) and steadily made my way up past guys who were walking it. now, all this said - i loved the hills when i was hitting them at my pace - going up them at the blistering pace that the two girls had been dictating earlier would have been nearly impossible. i like to think i am good in the hills, but when you get in a race with the higher category girls (and for the first time you are actually in the break and able to see up close how they work) you really see the differences in strength. those girls up front pushing the pace and hammering every roller were a force to be reckoned with - they just rode away and left the rest of us in their wake. they hammered the hills, splintered the group and very deservedly took first and second. i want to be where they are next year.
i would occasionally get discouraged these past few months, thinking i hadn't improved enough (i have very high, bordering on completely unreasonable expectations for myself). my husband would remind me all the time that its my first season, i came into it with some fitness from running, but no bike base. but in this last month especially, i really started to see that i have indeed come a long way from that first race.
so. 12 races later, my first road race season is complete. bring on the long winter team training rides. cause i can't wait to see what a good bike base and a second season does.