When I first started racing bicycles, the first thing that came to my mind was "what the hell was I thinking? I'm never going to do this again!" This was because the first race I attempted was in July, the exact time of year when the fitness levels of most bike racers is peaking for the season; my fitness was still sitting on its ass on the living room couch. I left that race nearly vomiting. I had gotten lapped just a few laps into the thing. I made a promise to myself that I would come back, and that next year would be different. So in the coming months I did as I always do with new hobbies, I became obsessed. I read magazines, websites, and whatever books I could find (which actually amounted to only the Lance Armstrong book and a training guide cleverly named "Training Bible"). I learned what I needed to do in order to survive one of these marathons of torture called a bicycle race, and over the course of the winter I set about becoming fit. Towards the end of the year I joined a team mostly out of a want for company during "long" rides. Long to me then was anything in excess of two hours, whereas now I feel almost cheated if I don't get at least two hours in and will only call it a long day if the hour marker passes four. The team was great. The captain, who was also the most experienced on the bike, became somewhat of a mentor to me, giving me suggestions and most importantly, encouraging me and providing positive support of my efforts.
Eventually, it came time to race my bike again. This time, things didn't go so bad. They didn't go so good, but at least I didn't quit. It took about a half year's worth of races before things really clicked. The race, an annual July 4th crit, is one of my fondest memories of a bike race yet. It was at this race that I really learned what it meant to be IN the race, to be one with it. I think it was about a quarter of the way through the race that I decided that the way I had been racing was crap and that I would try to race up at the front with all the Big Guns. I made my way to the front but immediately found myself back where I started so I tried again. However, this time it was different. This time I got the feeling that there was some sort of flow to the race, that things weren't nearly as hectic as I had previously thought. Once I stopped worrying about all the folks in the middle that are just struggling to stay out of the wind and on the wheel of the guy in front, I saw the movement of the race clear as day. The pack was not as I had once thought, a static entity but for the few at the front, rather it was a completely dynamic group with an almost predictable movement. I learned how to "surf" the pack, essentially just drafting off of the guy making a move up the side so as to not use much of my own energy to do so, and managed to easily hold a top spot at the front of the race for as long as I chose to do so. I earned a second placing that day.
As the racing season went on, I became more and more aware of and in tune with the bicycle race. It usually takes me about five minutes to settle into any race and really get into "the zone". When I get there, nothing else exists except for the race itself. The only sounds I hear are my own bicycle, the wind, and the riders around me. So sensitive does my awareness of the race become that at times I can hear the sound of individual riders going a few mph faster than the rest of the pack and know that I either need to get on their wheel or get ready to chase them down. When I'm in this zone, pain almost doesn't exist. Effortst that would normally make me quit go unnoticed until after it's all over. Then I go vomit. As a race nears the end, if it is still all together as a bunch without any breakaways up the road, the fight for position becomes somewhat of an epic battle. It's the final test of the legs before those that can sprint do their business that those that can't tend to just get in the way. After it's all over, providing that I haven't crashed, I can't wait to be back at it the next weekend, banging handlebars, rubbing tyres, and bumping elbows.
That's what I know about bicycle racing.