Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Though I’ve ridden my bicycle tens of thousands of miles and I’ve entered well over one hundred running and triathlon races I have very little experience with actual bicycle racing. Yesterday I got a chance to peek into that fascinating subculture by competing in the Mercer Island Time Trail. As part of The Senior Games the race was open only to those forty and over, and while you might think that would limit competition this really isn’t the case as some of the most competitive athletes out there are in the forty plus age categories. My theory on this is that you have to be over forty to have the time and money to seriously compete in these races as they take a lot of both.
I really enjoy being a fly on the wall: just sitting back observing the common traits and characteristics of different subcultures. I discovered that the dress code for showing up to a bike race is knee length, typically plaid, cotton shorts, some sort of slip on shoe (flip flops, Birkenstocks or Crocs) and either a tee shirt or polo – no serious contender showed up in their bike kit.
I thought triathlon was an expensive sport, but it’s nothing compared to bicycle racing. These guys were rolling ten and fifteen thousand dollar rides out of their VW turbo diesel Passat wagons. Funny thing was that these probably weren’t even their primary bikes as I’d assume most of the team riders were road racers first and time trialists second.
I learned that when you start a time trial you roll off the starting line clipped into both pedals. This requires the assistance of a couple of guys who hold your bike up. This is a strange sensation, and I was simultaneously nervous and jacked up. I was nervous about falling over the second the guys let go of my bike and I was jacked because the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown had my heart rate flying even before I took one pedal stroke.
I live on Mercer Island and have ridden the course dozens of times and that initial three mile climb never gets any easier. I hit the hill at full speed and by mile two I was seriously considering pulling over as I feared cardiac arrest. I couldn’t get air and was sucking and puffing hoping for some relief ASAP. Cresting the hill didn’t offer much relief as it rolls for another three miles before hitting the final insult: a ten percent grade with little to no downhill run-up. I reluctantly dropped my chain into the small ring and powered up the hill.
With the hills behind me I began to see light at the end of the tunnel as I entered the grand prix curves portion of the route. This is why bikers love Mercer Island: the road twists and turns like three miles of human intestine. An orange sign marked the final kilometer and dang that wasn’t the longest six tenths of a mile in my life.
I did fine considering this was my first experience with serious bike racing. Crazy how my brain works though; I wasn’t five minutes finished before I started plotting ways to do better next time. Are aero wheels in my future?