At 5:45 we'd parked on 76th St just off Central Park (I've never seen on-street parking so easy to find in NYC). Pete collected our money and racing licenses (for those of us who had them) and went off to register us, while we got ready. Pete reappeared with our numbers and produced a bunch of pins to attach them with. I was #605.
Randy lead us into the park to warm up. We met Amanda and Cary (two other first time Penn racers) there. More and more bikers were showing up. The race circuit was the 6-mile road that circles Central Park. It's a beautiful place to race, perfectly flat smooth pavement, wide, and even the scenery was good. Not that we paid too much attention to the scenery, but it made a nice background.
As 6:30, the official starting time, drew near, people gradually lined up at the starting point. All the races (there was a Pro-Cat 1-3 race, a Cat 4 race, a Womens-Masters-Juniors race, and then a Cat 5-Citizens race) start at the same place -- the faster races go first, then the others take off at intervals following them. (For people who know nothing about racing, which was the case for me until very recently, Cat = US Cycling Federation racing category, there are Cats 1-5, 1 being the fastest and longest. Some races also have a Citizens category, which is for people who don't have USCF licenses. Citizens pay a higher entry fee than licensed racers. Since I don't have my license yet, I raced as a Citizen, and when I do get my license I'll be a Cat 4, since there isn't a Cat 5 for women.) Us Penn people gathered together. We had no idea what we were doing and kept worrying that we were in the wrong place. Then Pete pointed out that the different races had numbers that began with different digits -- the group in front of us had numbers in the 700s. Looking around, everyone near us had numbers in the 600s, so we knew we were in the right place and felt better. Pete got us to shift into appropriate gears for the start -- big chainring, something moderately small in back. He told us that he'd stay back with the last person, to make sure we got thru' safely.
The groups in front of us took off. Then it was our turn. A guy with a bullhorn gave us some instructions, pointing out that there was one place where construction had narrowed the course down to one lane, and that anyone who went into the joggers lane on the left would be disqualified, not only from this race but from all races for the rest of this year in both Central Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Then the countdown. 20 seconds. 10 seconds. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and we were off. Immediately, I had problems. When I stop I usually take my right foot off the pedal to put down, so I have much more experience getting my right foot attached to the pedal than the left. Just before the start I'd noticed that my right foot was already attached and my left foot was down. Ooops. But it was too late, and I couldn't do anything about it. When we took off it took me alot of time to get my foot attached to the pedal. It would have taken me much less time if I'd just been going on a leisurely ride, but I was nervous as hell, and that made it much worse. Finally I was in and going.
(Author's note: my memory of the race is pretty disjointed. Everything that I've put here happened, but some things probably happened in a different order than I've put it down here.)
We went along. I found myself in the middle of the pack. Pete came up to me and told me he was going to get me out -- that it was much safer to be along the edges, since if someone goes down you can get around it. It's also better racing strategy, since if you're boxed in and the person in front of you slows down, you're stuck slowing down too, and when you're along the edges you can take off to follow people if they break away. I followed his instructions and got to the left edge.
We came to an uphill. Nothing terrifying for a leisurely ride, when I'd just shift down and pedal. But this was a race, and so it seemed big. Then came a real problem -- the downhill. This downhill goes thru' some curves. They weren't all that sharp, but at the speeds people were going down, they were banking alot. I got scared and braked before I got there. Still, when I went around it I felt that I'd never leaned my bike that much on a curve before. I was terrified by paint. This was pure irrationality. Randy had warned us the day before that if the course was wet, we should avoid the paint on the road since it's much more slippery than the regular road surface. But today it was perfectly dry and the sun was just coming over the buildings surrounding the park -- it was a beautiful day. So, even tho' I realized that I was being completely irrational, I was still nervous about the paint.
I lost alot of ground on that downhill. I fought to catch up to the group in front of me, knowing that if I didn't draft I was dead. I wasn't succeeding. I'd obviously gotten behind all the other Penn people, since Pete was with me. He came up next to me, put his arm around my shoulders, told me to breathe deeply, to calm down. I did. And then I found myself getting back to the group. Now here's the funny thing -- I had assumed that since I got back to the group soon after Pete put his arm on my shoulders, that he had pushed me back to the group. He has pushed me for short periods when I was having trouble in training rides, so this wouldn't have been the first time. But he says no, he didn't -- that would have been wrong in a race, since it would have taken away from my accomplishments to have helped in that way. And he's right -- I'd belived that he pushed me until the day after the race, when he set me straight, and I did feel very guilty about it... Anyway, when I got back to the group, thinking that Pete had pushed me, I told him that he was helping me too much, and he let go. I sat in the draft and recovered. At some point I dropped back a bit again, and Pete let me draft him to catch back up. From then on I was OK. I don't know why it suddenly got easier. Maybe the pace of the race slowed down a bit, maybe I was warmed up, maybe I was just less scared. After all, I'd done 1/4 of the race, and nothing terrible had happened, I'd found a group going a decent speed to ride with, and Pete was with me. I didn't see him, since he was off to the side and I was staring ahead, but his voice was there always, constantly giving me suggestions. It was very reassuring.
Then it was just concentrating on staying with my group. I rode at the back, and whenever I found that I was dropping off a bit I put alot of effort into catching back up, knowing that if I didn't I was dead meat, but then found that I needed to brake when I got back. It finally sank into me that they weren't going all that fast, and I didn't have to put everything into catching back if I slipped off a bit.
Going thru' the construction area was no problem, since there were only about 8 people in my group, and we were pretty much in one line already. I found that at some points I wasn't working as hard as I could, but I knew that I couldn't make it on my own, so I just sat in the line and pedalled on. At one point going up a hill I dropped off a bit and was having trouble getting caught up again. Pete said "Stand up for a few pedal strokes." I didn't think I could do it, since I was putting out maximum effort already, but I know from experience that Pete's advice is always good, so I just did it, and I caught right up.
We completed the first loop, and then we were going up the "big" hill again. People slipped back, and I found that it didn't take much energy to go faster then they did going up the hill, so I passed them. And then I found myself ahead of everyone in my group. Huh? What am I doing up here? I always feel nervous when I'm at the front of a group, never being quite sure that I know what I'm doing, where I'm going. But then a couple of people passed me, so I felt better. I got behind one of them and let him carry me over the top of the hill and down the other side into the turns. This time down I was more confident, and I wasn't worrying about paint. I either didn't brake, or I braked alot less. Pete said "Point your knee", and that helped to make the turn easier. Of course, I knew that you're supposed to point your knee in the direction of the turn, but my brain wasn't working so well. I noticed that everyone else in the group was on the inside lane, while I wasn't being too concerned about my position. Of course, I thought, the inside lane makes the distance shorter. I didn't notice people preferentially taking the inside of the curves the first time around, since there were too many people. I have to make sure I do this in the future when taking turns. I made up the lost distance and stayed with the group.
Pete said that this group was going at a decent speed, that gradually we'd catch people. And we did. We came on another group, and I noticed Lauren and Brad. Pete left my side and hung out with the other Penn people some. My guardian angel was gone. The riding got a bit more complicated, since there was often a choice of who to draft, and sometimes there was only one line, which I found myself off the side of, and I'd try to fit in someplace. I kept with this bigger group until the end. At some point Amanda and Brad dropped off, but Pete didn't notice them and stayed with Lauren and me. The finish line is at the top of a longish but pretty shallow incline, a mini-hill. Nearing the finish line, everyone stood up and started pedalling hard. I'm not too good at this kind of thing, and Lauren pulled ahead of me. I was hurting and wanted to ease off, but Pete kept on urging "Go, go, keep it up", so I did, even tho' I saw no one ahead of me that I could pass. I pushed it as hard as I could and crossed the finish line panting crazily. But I guess it did do something, since no one passed me at the end. And Pete said later that I did pass a couple of guys just before the finish line.
Lauren and I went around the loop a third time to let our muscles cool down, and we were passed by a couple of other groups of racers. It was kind of cool watching them whiz by, quiet, brightly colored, just the rushing of air and swish of tires. Pete joined the group, wanting more of a workout than riding with us could provide.
Back at the finish line we found the other Penn people, asked how they'd done. Of the people in our race, three had come in with the first group, placing quite well (Cary and Mike got 2nd and 5th, and Marcus got 11th). Lauren and I had come in with the second group, placing ahead of more than half of the riders in the race. We were the first women in our race! Amanda and Brad finished with the third group. We waited for the last race, the one that Randy and Pete were in, to finish. Randy placed 14th. We all congratulated each other, the people who placed picked up their medals, and we headed back to the cars. At 8am we were on the road home.
I felt really good. My goal for this race had been to not get dropped, to stay with the pack. I did this, but, I must admit, only with Pete's help. If he hadn't been there to calm me, to reassure me, to give me directions, and (at one point) to let me draft him, I would have been dropped for sure. And I know what I did wrong that made me almost get dropped, so it's much less likely to happen the next time. So I learned two very important things about bike racing: (1) I'm not bad at it, and (2) it's fun! I'm already looking forward to the next one.
A little note: I think I was the only person in the race with cantilever brakes and a granny gear. Despite this, I think my old touring bike, in its now stripped-down state (and with racing wheels and tires) works pretty well as a racing bike. At least, it will work well enough for the level of racing I'll be doing this year, when I won't really need the short wheelbase, high gears, and extreme light weight of a racing bike.
Here's Pete's official race report:
Well not exactly, but we did really, really well.
In their racing debut, the Penn Cycling Team (co supported by QCW and Bike Line) traveled to NYC to try their legs in a USCF race. This was to be preparation for the upcoming collegiate season (starts in two weeks at Bloomsburg, Pa).
The event was in Central Park, a rolling course with two hills and a number of false flats. Our guys and gals took on the finest NYC could dish up. Let me tell you, they are ready!
Riding in their first races ever, Penn's Brad Boetig, Amanda Fine, Cary McConlogue, Mike Riley, Lauren Slawe and Myra Van Inwegen all finished their event, a 12 mile Cat 5 race that was completed at faster than 24 mph ave speed [Myra notes: this is not right. Lauren said that she'd timed us, and we'd done the ride in 28-something minutes, but this couldn't possibly be true -- we simply were not going this fast.]
To state that they just finished is an understatement. McConlogue took 2nd and Riley 5th. Lauren Slawe and Myra VanInwegen finished 1st and 2nd women, respectively, 24th and 25th in the overall. Amanda Fine was 4th woman. Brad Boetig finished in the third group.
Randy Knarr, riding his second season on the USCF circuit, competed in the Pro 1-3, a 36 mile race which contained 125 riders. It was his first upper level race and the first against U.S. pro riders. He finished a very respectable 14th.
The team was accompanied to NYC by coach Dr. Pete Durdaller and Joe Defilippis, one of Penn's Mtn Bike Racers. And get this: since the race started at 6:30am....our valiant troopers left Penn at 3:00am. Whadda de nuts!!!!
Peter Durdaller reporting.