It's January, and in the Bay Area January means (1) the start of road bike racing season; and (2) rain. I've been doing my best to deal with #2 by avoiding riding in heavy rain, which lately is the only kind we've been getting. On rainy Saturdays I've been (promise you won't tell anyone) going running. Riding to work has been tolerable on wet-ish days thanks to some new rain gear (although fenders would be nice). And I got the Muni pass this month just in case. My very cool employer subsidizes transit expenses (and also some fitness-type expenses, which means that new frame I just bought will be even cheaper).
As for racing, I've signed on for a 5-week series of training races called the Early Bird Criteriums. They're designed to help newbie racers get comfortable riding in a pack & learn proper etiquette while getting a chance to "race" in competitive (but not scored) events. And in fact the 5th out of these 5 races will be scored. Before each race there's a mentoring session for new riders. This has been very helpful, and it basically consists of repetition of a bunch of Very Important Principles:
Protect your front wheel. No sudden moves. Hands in the drops at all times. Arms and shoulders relaxed. Wide before a corner, then hit the apex. Inside rider chooses the line through a corner. Pedal the corners. Don't fear the Botts dots. The pack is a school of fish - if the school goes left, you go left. If you hear a crash behind you, don't look back.
Also there's been the advice from teammates: Stay out of the wind. Ride near the front of the pack. Find the good wheels.
Early Bird race #1 was last Sunday, and I was able to keep up with the (fairly moderate) pace easily until the end, when things picked up. As for riding in the pack and cornering, this went pretty smoothly, and I'm happy to report that it looks a lot scarier than it actually is. I still need to work on pedaling the corners. Anyway, I was in the top 5 riders nearly the whole race, and I stayed out of the wind until the last lap, when I decided to make a jump for it. Well, I don't know what made me think I could stay away for a whole (1-mile) lap. Maybe I thought I'd catch the group off guard. Anyway, after 20 seconds or so I was caught. I ended up finishing somewhere in the 15th-20th range (out of 40 or so riders).
Race #2 was yesterday, and the pace was definitely faster. This was more to my liking, as I feel like I've got the legs to go a bit harder than we did in race #1. Keeps everybody more honest and perhaps improves my chances at the end. So early on I was near the front of a pretty strung-out bunch, and then I was sitting 2nd wheel. The front guy looked strong, and I peeked behind us and saw that we had a little gap on the pack. I eased up alongside and suggested we work together, then moved to the front for a pull. After a bit I peeked back to see how our gap was, and wouldn't you know I was riding ALL BY MYSELF. Well, that wasn't what I wanted. After a few minutes of painful solo riding I eased up and let them catch me.
The pace stayed hard, and I was tired but surviving. Finally the bell sounded for the final lap. Things were getting pretty messy, even near the front, and nobody crashed or anything but there were some scary moments. Finally we got to the L-O-N-G finishing straight. I was about 15 riders back, pushing as hard as I could but staying protected. Then with 50m to go I moved out around the outside and slipped past a bunch of people to grab 6th place (I think). Nice.
Next week - my teammates and I need to figure out how to work together to improve our chances. It's a team sport after all, although in Category 5 thus far it has felt like every man for himself.