An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Thursday, June 25, 2015

On being an ex bike racer

It's been a lot of years since I lined up for a bike race. Sure, I've done some fast group rides that turned competitive, and ridden some fondos and a triathlon or two since then, but it's not the same at all.

I love to push the pace on the bike, and I'll even give a spirited sprint now and then. I've still got some decent cruising speed, and can find my way around a moving peleton and stay in it long enough to see the final line-up, but frankly I've lost that pointy end. The mind still knows how to get in there, but the legs just aren't gonna cash that check. I can still be the big fish in a small pond on most shop group rides. Most of the folks who show up have never done a true bike race. But when any regular racers show up, they can hand me my hiney on a platter pretty much at will.

And I'm okay with that.
There is a certain respect among racers that never goes away, even long after the race wheels have been sold off. And a mystique from non-racers.

I realized in spades just how okay I am with not racing after I had lined up for my last race, the local Tuesday Night World Championships at Pacific Raceways back in... 2006?

Some people joke that PR (Pacific Raceways) actually stands for Pretend Racing, and likely many people hold back on those nights. I never did -- when it came to racing, I was always drilling it, no matter what the event. It was racing, after all, and as a racer, if there are accolades at the finish, by thunder I was gonna race.

Okay, so mainly my team role was first lead-out man. Meaning that unless there were a lot of hills, especially with a hilltop finish, or this was a stage race that included a time trial, it wasn't my turn for personal glory. But I was good at my job, and did it with joy, ushering my second lead-out and sprinter to the fore more often than I can count, and watching the pack stream by as I gasped my way across the line, long-since spent.

ANYway... So back to that night in 2006 (I think). My last racing year prior to that was probably 1996, the culmination of years of racing an average of 4 days a week from May through August (with it starting around 2 days a week as early as February). Track racing on Wednesdays, full calendar of weekend events, Tuesday nights every week, Thursday crits... I took about 5 years off everything but weight training, and bulked up to... a lot. Got back into triathlon for a couple years, and stupidly thought it'd be cool to drop by the Tuesday Worlds for a taste of the peleton again.

Since my racing license had long-since lapsed, I decided to race the 4/5's instead of the Masters (which included many local cat 1's and 2's, and a few National champions). Lining up, I noticed all the deep section carbon wheels, high-end rides... I just wanted to make it through the end on my semi-aero rims and old Softride. I got more than a bit of ribbing over that. Plain red jersey, as I wasn't on any team. With a blow of the whistle from my good friends who run the event, we headed out.

At a dead sprint.

Hey, this isn't a crit!

I charged ahead as the pack as it slinkied up the first mile, reforming into the less-strung-out version it had been before the whistle. I hung around the back of the pack, just getting the feel of the large group again. Down the chute to the chicane turns, a long shallow uphill to the top straights... I was there, but suffering. Another lap, and I was mentally just throwing in the towel. I hung out for one more time up the hill, and then just let the pack drift off. Kept pedaling, and when the masters pack came by I jumped in the back to finish my workout.

That is when the real assault started.

You see, the 4/5 pack is used to seeing new blood. The masters, not so much. I got derided handily for jumping in a pack that I didn't belong in. Maybe the rules for this event had changed over the ensuing years, but back when I was doing this regularly, it wasn't a problem to jump in but not contest the sprints or affect the breaks. But I think the real issue is that no one knew who I was, that I had done this a LOT (though several years prior), and that I wasn't going to pose a danger to anyone.

Maybe I should have worn my old kit anyway.

But I essentially got flicked off the back by one of the designated generals of the pack. Sure, well-meaning, but the kind of move that enforces the elitist reputation of the upper categories.

I called it a night. And I realized that, really, I was fine with not racing in the peleton any more. I'd made the transition from triathlete to good bike racer once, and it was quite painful, thankyouverymuch. It was a good run. But I wasn't interested in putting myself through that again, in my mid-40's.

I like the events I do -- gravel rides and fondos are keeping me focused enough on riding. And it's fun, even putting on a few low-key events.

And my wife said she'll disown me if I shaved my legs.

Though lately I've been hanging around some active racers. And when the group winds it up, I get that itch...

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