Last weekend I attended the BikeClicks Racer Chicks clinic in Louisville as a quick and dirty attempt to hone my road racing skills. Until last spring, I was terribly afraid to try road racing, both because I was afraid of crashing and because I was afraid of getting dropped. Of course, both of those things happen in mountain bike racing, but they tend to be less painful on the dirt. Last spring I finally decided to try my hand at a couple of circuit races and survived unscathed, despite some rather glaring tactical errors on my part. I expect that when the early spring, tiger-in-a-cage feeling hits again this March, I will once again be compelled to race on the skinny tires while I wait for the trails to dry, so I should make some attempt to look like I know what I'm doing next time.
As it tends to happen lately, I was too caught up in the activities to capture them on camera, but if you want to see some pictures, they are here.
So Saturday morning I was up at 5:30 with a plan to leave by 7:00, but my stomach was feeling rebellious and insisted we stay in the house until 7:15. The continental breakfast portion of the clinic was supposed to start at 9:00, and I crossed the river at ten 'til. I so far was successfully reaching my exit on I-64, but I managed about 5 or 6 wrong turns and a restroom stop after that, and I arrived at the clinic around 9:30 completely stressed out. Fail.
The morning portion was pretty informal. We spent the morning talking about our racing experience and what were hoping to learn and the instructor, Nicola Cranmer talked about how she went from horse racing jockey, to mountain bike racers, to road racer, to founding the ProMan Hit Squad professional women's cycling team. It was very interesting, especially since the participants ranged from complete beginners to Cat 1 or 2 women.
After devouring a sort of huge sandwich for lunch, we set out on our group skills ride. The first order of business was to have the more experienced riders pair off with the less experienced riders and run into them. Okay, okay. We just rode really close side-by-side and practiced likely bumping arms/shoulders so that we wouldn't freak out if it happened in a race. I willed myself to be okay with it at 7 mph, but I still can't confirm that I won't freak out if it happens in a race.
Then we practiced out paceline skills, it wasn't too bad when we were riding two-abreast and each pair pulled at a pretty easy pace for a few minutes each. However, once we got to more open road, Nicola had us do a single paceline with ten-second pulls. This was a lot harder on me since I was having a terrible time keeping the right space between myself and the person in front of me. I kept letting the gap get a little too big, accelerating to close then then getting too close to their wheel and having to coast or alter my line to keep from hitting them. The pace was actually not that tough, but I was wearing myself out mentally and popped before we reached our destination.
That was bad, since I didn't know my way around, and just allowing myself to get dropped wasn't an option. Things got pretty ugly inside of my head during the final grueling miles out to the crit course where we were to have more skills practice. A week of hard training, stressful work, and an early and exhausted exit from my bed were not playing in my favor. I was not loving "road racing" at that moment.
Luckily, we got to the crit course, everyone else ate some gelato while I recovered, and the crit skills portion of the clinic was easier on me. I even attempted to ride in the drops a bit. I was able to pull it together on the ride back and do okay in the two-abreast paceline.
Despite being more challenging than I had expected, the clinic was a good experience for me. However, by the end of the day on Saturday, I had hit a mental and physical wall and had no desire to get up early and return for the Sunday race. Instead, I slept in, did a couple of hours of Zone 2, and got an early start on my much-needed recovery week. I'm trying to get myself pumped for the last three weeks of hard training before tapering for Pisgah.