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Three at Last, Three at Last

June 29, 2009

rubber-stamp-approved-thumb1391108I had a dream that someday, I would graduate the ranks of the Cat 4 roadies and get a Cat 3 license. Today that dream became reality. After fininshing with the pack of the Cat 3/4 race in Fredericksburg this past Sunday, I got the final piece of the puzzle needed to fulfill upgrade requirements.

It was an interesting race to close out my career as a Cat 4, and transition into the 3’s. You see, I’ve never done a Cat 3/4 race on the road. I’ve raced Cat 3/4 crits on flat circles for about 45 minutes, but never on a true road race 52 miles long and lasting over 2 hours, not to mention on some of the most varied terrain I’ve ever raced a bike over before.

This course had a bit of everything. Gradual climbs, steep climbs, gradual descents, steep descents, cattle guards, low water crossings (1 of which actually had water that we hit at 35 mph+), roads that went from 15′ wide to maybe 8′. Then there was the blistering heat, that for many, turned the race into a matter of survival and just finishing the race rather than actually trying to place. I struggled on some of the steeper climbs and the very fast and sustained attacks. I should also point out that I was racing Suicidal Tendencies (ST), the newly named Bridgestone RB-2 that replaced the Ross as my new road bike. It is a beauty of a bike and very high tech for its time (1988), but this is 2009 and bikes have come a long way since then. On a course like thise with 1200 ft elevation gain per lap (2 laps total), weight does become a factor. I was lugging around an extra 5-6 lbs compared to the all the other carbon frames and super fancy wheelsets. My downtube shifters also put me at a slight disadvantage because I couldn’t always shift into a gear fast enough if the pack suddenly slowed, say because of a steep little climb. So yes, objectively, on a small scale, my equipment was somewhat of a hinderance.

Subjectively though, I’m a firm believer that it’s not about the bike. I don’t depend on expensive equipment to make me faster. Hard work, determination, heart, and good preparation are much more effective (and affordable!) ways to get the job done, so ST and I just hung tight with the pack.  A bottle fiasco in the feed zone dropped me from the group and left me digging for everything that I had for 10 minutes to catch the pack and try to recover far longer than that as riders kept attacking off the front. The incident was extremely frustrating ( another rider grabbed my bottle from Colleen, but dropped it because she wasn’t trying to give it to him-I needed water badly, so I waited for her to pick up and hand it to me), but I had no choice but to tell myself it was nobody’s fault and that if I didn’t bust my rear to get back to the pack my race was done, as was my chance to upgrade.

The effort paid off, but the damage was done. I knew I was vulnerable to anymore really strong attacks or punishing climbs. Placing well is always a thought in the racer’s mind, but I quickly dismissed it and focused on just finishing with the pack.  Luckily, the conditions were taking their toll on all the other riders as well, and no attacks made it out that didn’t get pulled back in. There were sections on the last 5 miles of the race where the whole field was just moving at a crawl. It felt kind of gloomy, like we were all sharing some kind of dark fate, but once we took a right turn back on the highway into town, it was every man for himself.

The record will show that I finished 32nd. In a pack finish, unless you are top 10, it doesn’t really matter where you finished-you finished with the pack. In a race like this, that is accomplishment in itself. Not a bad way to say goodbye to my Cat 4  friends, and hello to my new 3’s. Whenever one door closes, another one always opens.

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