To say cycling events are a different type of racing than triathlon or duathlon is a major understatement. This past weekend I joined several members of our Falcons’ club in le Tour de Terra Cotta. We had a great representation of our club in the two distances (27km and 108km) and among the incredible volunteers.
I decided to race the 108km category to test my mid-season fitness although it was a much larger distance than I am used to. I generally do not get over 60km in training due to time constraints so I knew this was going to push my limits. At the start of the race my fellow Falcons (Brian Hastings, Richard Westwood, Colin Moore and Chad Hunt) politely joined the back of the field as many of us have very little experience in these sorts of races and did not want to get run over by the pros.
As the crowd of riders set off, I remained calm thinking the first lap would be pretty tame and I would be in OK shape to hold at least mid pack. This was my big mistake for the day. As we climbed the hill on Heritage Road, the front of the huge pack started their separation attack. Brian and Richard responded well but I stuck thinking the riders around me would eventually string together with the whole line of cyclists. My lack of aggression for that split second was enough to cost me a lot of positions in the race. As I saw the huge number of riders break off the people around me I realized I was getting dropped already so I broke around the slower riders trying to close on the masses. As I hit the corner at Old School Road, the field ahead was drafting together and gradually getting farther away as I fought the killer wind alone.
I was in shock as to how quickly this had happened but remained focused and reminded myself that this was a long race and I would get back eventually. I looked back to see if I was still working alone as I arrived at Winston Churchill and saw a group of several riders, including Colin, catching up so I waited hoping we could work as a team to catch the groups ahead that included Brian and Richard. It took us awhile to get organized but we were soon in formation but still losing ground.
At the next visit to the hill, Colin pulled over half way up the climb as he thought he had a flat. This was tough as he was riding well and someone I was looking forward to working with to make our way back into the race. As I reached the summit, I quickly accelerated through the group and tried to work by myself to reach the larger group a few hundred metres ahead of me. I put my head down and was rolling well but it is so hard to close that big of a gap when they are working efficiently together. I ended up pulling one guy along during this break and he got out in front as we hit the big wind on Old School to give me a break.
For the next few kilometres we worked well and started to pass some other riders falling off the pace. Those that could join did and our numbers grew to five or so riders. As more and more cyclists dropped back from the groups ahead of us we started to feel better about our chances. I was so motivated to catch the rest of my team that I made sure we kept the pace up but this seemed to reduce our numbers.
With the course only 9km in distance we travelled the same roads so many times that I lost track of some of the details. In around the 4th lap I caught up to another rider in a smaller group in front of me and we seemed to click pretty well with our pace. It took a few laps of us working together before I realized it was Hans Porten. He was using the race as a training ride but I am sure his competitive fire got the best of him after a few laps and he seemed just as inspired to reach the larger groups in the distance as I was.
During the next several laps we stuck together and had a very respectable pace going. We were making some progress picking off one or two riders but the bigger groups just never came into view again. On the 7th or 8th lap we had the leaders zoom past us on the back stretch so we ended up losing a lap. The peloton then swallowed us up (they were running 40 seconds back of the lead 5 riders) as we made our descend into Terra Cotta on the downhill portion of the course on Winston Churchill. Those two groups were the only ones to pass us during the race so I am not sure where the next group was on the course (and the stats were not posted at the time of this report) so I am not sure if we managed to get closer to Brian and Richard but they must have been flying out there as I never spotted them once.
On our final lap (lap 11 for us), I unintentionally lost Hans just after our last climb on Heritage Hill. I had kept my pace consistent for the entire race which was a very nice feeling and ended up completing the final lap solo at 35km/h. I actually picked up a few more spots in the final 9km but due to the size of the peloton (there had to been 50 to 60 riders, or so it appeared as they swooped by us), I was quite a ways back in the overall race.
These races are very humbling to many of us multisport athletes. We seem to have very solid bike splits in our races but the true cyclists really teach us a thing or two about the sport when we race with them. This was my second cycling road race and I was hoping to place better. Thinking back on the race I am actually very happy with my effort and my work with the other riders, such as Hans. In my first experience, I ended up limping to the line in a much shorter race because I tried to work solo all of the race and burned out quickly. I definitely walked away from this race with a positive experience and very happy Mark (great race by the way!) talked me into signing up. It was a pleasure to mingle after the event with Colin, Hans and Chad as we caught our wind. To Ian, on the organizing side of the table, and all the Falcons that raced, volunteered and cheered during the course of the event, awesome job!