Today was to be the first test of the season. Like you, I’ve been training a lot, about 2,000 miles now and a lot of it indoors. I’ve done some structured work but not a lot of it. Some sprints, some windups. Some long efforts. Not too scientific, but hopeful that when I show up to the line that I can factor in.
I am writing this near Boca Raton, Florida and staying near A1A. I am actually on A1A in a little town just south called Hillsboro. A1A is a wandering sort of beachside road that travels north and south on the edge of Florida’s Atlantic coastline. The weather is wonderful at 75 degrees and the scenery would be beautiful were it not for the massive condominiums standing like dominos in the sand. The wind is predominately out of the west. This week it was also slightly out of the north as well.
The group was assembling at Spanish River Park about 6 miles from where I was staying. I had done an earlier ride in the morning for about 25 miles, past this point with my wife. It was a reconnaissance ride (but she didn’t know that!). I pointed out the Boca Raton town side on the crest of a small bluff and secretly counted my pedal strokes to about 200 meters out in my 53×12.
When I arrived at the starting point at 5:45pm, I turned into the park and saw several cyclists milling about in the parking lot. Others came as if some secret signal had been given and within minutes there were over 70 riders congregated. I was on the periphery watching the interactions. I was close enough to the cliques to hear the bravado, but never invited in. This is often the case for ‘newcomers’ in this sport. Right or wrong, no one can say, but to be included in this bizarre ritual, you must be understood, or at least known. An unknown rider is suspect and must make his own way. I received a few glances but little acknowledgement. A lone wolf in turtle clothing. This was to be their first training race of the season and the nervousness of the group was palpable.
When you line up for a race and you don’t know anyone, you have to take your cues from other sources. Who is the best rider here? Who are the leaders? I counted 16 separate teams in the parking lot, but one had a majority. Also, there was a peculiar way that many hung about one or two riders, sort of like chairs around a dinner table. My strategy was simple: stay near the front and identify the sprinters. Chase and recover as much as possible (this was a training race after all), hold your position.
Reverence for star cyclists is not a unique phenomenon. A friend, not privy to this sport had recently asked me about why certain cyclists seem to win more than others, etc. We talked about team tactics, domestiques and setting up the sprinters for the finale. It was clear who the top riders were in this pre-social. These were the kings of the chessboard. These would be who I would react to. I was preparing for the fight and I had selected my Goliath’s! I had reduced the rabble from 70 riders to about a dozen and we hadn’t taken a pedal stroke yet!
At 6:00pm we were magically off. This was to be a short effort, just 25 miles. It would be dark after that. We were heading north toward Palm Beach for about 13 miles where we would turn and head back to the final sprint in Boca. A1A has a bike lane that barely fits 2 riders abreast in each lane of travel. I positioned myself in the top 20 and we strolled along for less than a mile, when the dominant team formed a neat line to the left and rolled past at great speed. I leapt from my position and latched on. We were racing!
I managed several attacks and accelerations on the way out. I kept my place in line and was a gracious and hardworking guest, chasing when I was on the point and a duo had escaped briefly, pulling through when it was my turn. We made it to the half way point and I was in a group of 10 that had been doing the lion’s share of the effort. We turned, made it through a group of 40 or so riders that turned just before us and were able to hang on and blasted off for home.
A couple of solo attempts were made straight away and I found myself in second position in one of the chases. A single file line formed behind me and the rider in front of me. He chased at 31mph for an eternity (about 45 seconds!) as I wondered if there really was a God! He latched on to the escapee and there was another acceleration from behind. I somehow found the form to get onto this missile, but just barely. 6 of us now were taking turns at 28 mph. We were joined by the group with about two miles to go when the fireworks began. We were tight enough that I felt it necessary on one or two occasions to reach out and tap a rider on the hip as we hurtled past. The lines were beginning to form in earnest with a mile to go at 33 mph! The lead group swelled to about 25 as the sprinters and those who made it (thanks to a regrouping at a traffic light 5 miles back) took on their roles. I was looking frantically for a wheel and made it to about 10th spot as the final selection began up the small hill toward the finish. I couldn’t find the additional speed to advance and accepted my fate. 25 miles in at 58 minutes.
As I rolled home, several riders came up alongside. One, an ex-pat Scottsman from that dominant local team. He won the event today and he and I had traded several pulls during this short event. I congratulated him on his effort. We were joined by several of his teammates who fell in line behind us. We talked a little. I discovered that he had also won the Masters 40+ national Championships in Louisville last year. “Are you new in town,” he asked. “Are you racing this weekend up north?” I mentioned that I was just visiting for the week, but appreciated the invite. “Good luck. It was a pleasure meeting you,” I said as I signaled to turn. “Likewise. We race again on Thursday night. You should come.”