Loving the RACE: Aaron’s First Road Race

We rounded the first turn without a hitch and all of us rose out of the saddle together to accelerate out of the turn. I have only been riding Sally, my Specialized Allez Comp Apex, for about a month.  The compact gearing had taken a little to get used to, especially the big ring.  I was shocked to notice that as we accelerated out of the first turn I was already in my top gear, mashing comfortably at 32mph.  I hadn’t expected the group to push that fast that early on.  After a couple more sharp turns and about 5 miles, my strength was fading already.  I got nervous because at that distance, I still hadn’t even made my route to work.

Looking back, what I wasn’t prepared for was the sprint out of each turn.  I was fine on the straights, cruising towards the front with the pack, but after several turns, my power was weakening.

At mile 7 we rounded a sharp turn onto a narrow road and I heard the shouts of “crash” from in front of me.  Suddenly the line right in front of me parted and I saw the carnage of 4 riders on the ground right in my path.  Without thinking I braked and successfully maneuvered past the wreckage.  Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and while I stayed upright, I looked up to realize I was off the back already by about 25 feet.

In a moment of clarity, instead of standing to try to sprint back to the group and dumping my remaining energy, I looked behind me to see three other riders that had also been dropped.  We still had 25 miles to race and I had read enough to know that some of the guys pushing hard now wouldn’t be able to hold up at the end.  My endurance was where I felt I was strongest, so I pedaled easy and waited for the three behind me to catch up. We worked together and eventually caught back up to the field with just a couple of miles to go before the end of the first lap.  It took a lot to get back in and I was fading fast by the time we mixed back in.

Two more sharp turns followed by quick accelerations and I was off the back again.  This time I didn’t think I could chase back even with help from others.  Unfortunately I wouldn’t even get the chance to find out because a quick glance back revealed nothing but empty roads and the follow car behind me.  Suddenly the fear crept back in… I let off the pedals for just a second to breathe a heavy sigh of disappointment.

Seeing this, the follow car passed me, knowing as well as I did that I had been dropped.  My heart sank.  I watched the field slowly pull away until they rounded a corner and passed through some trees and out of sight.  I was alone with nothing but a strong headwind and Sally.  My legs were already aching, and I hadn’t even completed half the race.  I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t know how I could finish.  I thought about just giving up… But then I thought about what would happen if I gave up.

I had my phone and I would have to call my wife and my daughter, waiting at the finish to cheer me on, and tell them I couldn’t do it. I thought about having to live knowing that I had given up.  I thought about all the people who had told me I could do this.  I thought about all the hours I had spent on my bike, and why I was riding in the first place.  Finally, as I began to push the fear and pain out of my mind, I thought about Jens Voigt, and I growled “SHUT UP LEGS” and began to mash.

I have probably watched way too many movies in my life, because sometimes I feel like I am not living my life, but am watching it . The rest of the race felt something like that.  I mashed across the wet finish line, up the road, and back around the first corner.  I immediately was greeted by a group of riders that were just getting up from a nasty crash.  This time I didn’t brake, I just leaned a bit and slid around them.  The first half of the route was with the wind and I knew if I was going to move up I had to take advantage of that.  I lay down on the bars like Wiggo on his TT aero bars and kicked back into the big ring.  I mashed up to 30mph just like I practiced on my lunch rides at work and powered on.  I rounded the next turn and to my surprise could already see riders in the distance.

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