Welcome to Road Racing – The Santa Catalina Criterium
I was lapped three times in thirty minutes.
Even when the group would catch me and begin to roll by, I could not chase back on to try to ride some wheels. Though in hindsight, I should have just soft pedaled for a lap to recover a bit and then just gone into the red to get a little draft and maybe I could have recovered a bit, and ridden with the group and would not have been lapped two more times. Instead, I rode at red line, alone, and in my head. The stream of riders storming past matched the stream of thoughts and questions racing through my mind.
I know that a group can ride much faster than a lone rider, but still I wondered, “How can these guys go so much faster than me?” “Why can’t I get back onto some wheels?” “What must I do to be able to compete with these guys?”
A little truth.
During the event these following ideas were nowhere present in my thoughts, but a day later reality visits and assuages, somewhat, my disillusionment.
I’m riding with the “Masters Men” in the 55+ age group. These gents are masters because many have been road racing for many years – some for 20 years or more. I’ve been racing on the road for about 30 minutes. Everyone in this race was a Category 4 or above. I’m the only Cat 5. Of the 18 starters, only one has a USA Cycling “one day license,” which suggests these guys race regularly. Adding to the possibility that these guys race often? Every single rider is affiliated with a club or sponsor. And only 3 racers were as old as or older than me – the rest are a bunch of youngsters, mere 55, 56 or 58 year olds, still wet behind the ears!
A lot of truth.
A criterium is a very spectator friendly event. From just about any vantage point on this particular course, one could see every turn and straightaway. So I was out there, churning away as hard as I could turn those pedals, right there in front of God and everybody. I was “that guy,” the one we see and then say to a fan next to us, “Well, at least he’s not giving up,” or, “At least he finished.” Me. Damned with well-intentioned, but faint praise.
Earlier in the day, the announcer commented enthusiastically about a guy that had shown up in gym shorts, a T-shirt and an ancient skater’s helmet to enter his first race. Each lap he would roll by, the people picked up the announcer’s admiration of this intrepid gent and they cheered and they applauded and they urged this first-timer on. Most spectators exhibited wry smiles and quiet chuckles and looks of shared surprise and wonder each time he rode by. I joined in, clapping and urging him on.
Later in my race, like him, I rode alone. Lap after lap, alone in my thoughts. Lap after lap, alone. Legs and lungs on fire. Lap after lap. Questions and wonder filling my head. Incipient tears filling my eyes.
And no one clapped for me.