And like conversations between old compadres, the race intensity ebbed. Sometimes people would surge, stretching the pack thin, then it would slow and grow wide and comfortable.
This is how the race went for 40 miles. Sometimes we'd fly along at 35, sometimes at 22 mph.
A battle was taking place with strategies I failed to comprehend and techniques I failed to recognize. Mistakenly, I thought the 1200 feet of climbing in final 5 miles would do me in. I wanted to hang on until then, and then see who was best prepared.
The race was the Inaugural Nogales Bicycle Classic. This is the town's second attempt at hosting a cycling event. The first date was postponed due to low participation.
I was hesitant to sign up as it came on the heels of a big race and during a very busy time of the year. Beyond that, to put it delicately, I had an stomach bug for 10 of the previous 14 days. I hadn't ridden my bike in two weeks, and the few runs I had were amazingly slow and difficult, leaving me inexplicably sore for days. But I want this event to be successful, so I joined.
Being a small race, I could easily place or come in last. I had hopes of placing, but my real goal was just to finish in less than 3 hours, even if I couldn't keep with the fast group. As I mentally prepared, I visualized falling in with the fastest group and trying to conserve energy where I could. Fifty-five of the route's sixty miles cover my routine rides. I imagined where I could catch my breath and where I would have to push hard. But, also recognizing my lack of preparation, I told myself that if I was dropped, I'd just enjoy the rest of the ride and have a good time.
Like the last race, the day before race day this time was anything but ideal. I never sat down at home, save breakfast. I worked, had an emotionally taxing day, ran errands in the afternoon, and then attended my oldest daughter's final high school band performance. When that was finished, I got home, prepared my bike and clothes, took a shower and hit the sack for a fitful night of sleep.
In the morning I woke up tired and achey. The quick 15 minute drive to the race was a real treat. I usually have to drive 60-plus miles. Once there, I soon discovered my jacket wasn't needed for a warm up ride, it wasn't at all cold, even at 6:30 am. That concerned me.
As I sat in the chute watching the clock count down, I glanced at my heart rate on the Garmin. It read, 96, 97, 98 ... excitement!
Count down ... race.
As you can see, there's a pretty nice climb to start the race, then it's a nearly uninterrupted shot downhill for 25 miles! How sweet is that?
Down the first hill my Garmin recorded an average moving speed just over 40 mph on the first mile, and just over 38 on the second. The top speed was 58 mph! I'm not sure if that's accurate, seems incredible to me. But, it was definitely too fast to look at the clock!
the pictures) on the side of the road cheering! They'd let the group pass, then drive ahead and find another place to cheer and photograph. In fact, the public support and aid stations were superb! A lot of people came to watch.
Around mile 35 it grew warm. There was a headwind as we started to climb back up to Nogales. I made sure to slip to the middle or back of the pack, conserving my energy.
Then the eventual winners started doing something I'd not experienced. They would sprint ahead, spreading the pack. Some people couldn't match the pace would fall behind. After creating an insurmountable gap for those dropped, the lead group would slow down. The conversations died, the group tightened and dwindled from about 30 down to 15 or so. It was all fun for the first 40 miles, but the next 20 would be racing, no doubt about it!
Had I known what was happening sooner I could've been smarter and kept up without full out sprints. But I never tried to hang with fast guys before. I was ignorant of such tricks. I thought it was just foolish riders that would burn themselves out. I didn't realize they were trying to burn me. Falling into the trap, I'd ease in the back of the group hiding from the wind, then have to sprint forward, slipping between slower riders as the sprints continued. I should've stayed near the front and just tailed them when they left, instead of having to sprint alone.
Eventually there was a huge sprint and I got stuck behind some riders that were getting dropped. I crossed into the far lane and just slammed it, breaking 35 miles an hour on flat ground to catch up! That pretty much sealed my fate.
In the picture to the right you can see the first three placing riders employing this strategy. I'm stuck in the pack behind these guys about to make my sprint.
In the picture below I am moving to the outside to execute my biggest sprint.
Now knowing my chances of placing were now truly gone, I did as I practiced (mentally) and slowed down, trying to rest a bit for the big hills at the end.
I finished the last 6 miles alone. I worked through the rolling hills and then began the real climbs. I was very concerned on three occasions that I lacked the strength to climb the hills. I worried I was going to have to walk! Steady and slow I went, only standing and pulling hard when it was required by gravity. At one point I pushed so hard, at such a slow speed, I almost pulled a wheelie. My average pace through those hills was about 10 mph, sometimes dipping as low as 5 mph.
I came in at 2:57:57, in 11th place, just over 9 minutes behind the winners. My name was called out and people cheered as I crossed the finish line. A volunteer walked over with a cup of gatorade and ice for me and another came with a banana. I stretched, shook hands with the three people I rode with for a while and cooled down.
Everybody asked where I lived and then, after realizing I'm a local, commented it was strange not having seen me riding before. The winning rider came over and introduced himself. He complimented me on my form and cadence. He said he had been watching me during the race and liked how smooth and easy I was on the bike. That made me feel good.
It was certainly the best bike race environment I'd been a part of. I'm really hoping that the event is held again next year. All told, there were just over 140 participants for the three distances, 10, 40 and 60 miles. They organizers were very happy with this turnout. I hope that's a good sign!
The Nogales Bicycle Classic far exceeded my expectations. The support, both by sponsors and volunteers, and especially those just cheering, was fantastic. The participants were outgoing and friendly. The route was beautiful, roads in excellent condition, and it was very apparent that the organizers really cared about our experience.
I came away feeling charged and motivated to train harder this coming fall. I found out that I can hang! I will seek out other riders in the area and hopefully train with them. Until then, I am going to take a couple of weeks off to rest and recover.