Beginning Racing! Wahoo! On bicycles! Oh, yeah! Exercising drafting and paceline skills! Zowie! At Western Speedway!!!
I was floored the first time I went out there to watch some racing. Grown men racing bicycles in skin-tight, baby-blue argyle really clashes with the asphalt, advertisements, oil, and testosterone-soaked atmosphere at the Speedway. But you get used to these things. The owners of the facility are really supportive of non-motorized use and it is a great place to learn how to race bicycles. Relatively flat, relatively smooth (corner 3 is a bit of an adventure), no sharp corners to worry about.
The crowd looked about as uneasy as I’ve seen them since the beginning of our first night together. Riding in a bunch has proven to be a source of Great Happiness, but the whole thought of racing had folks a little hunched up, a little concerned. We burnt off a lot of that nervous energy by practicing more advanced paceline patterns – I am so very proud to say that Brenna’s and my group can rotate clockwise and counter-clockwise like finely tuned machinery, and they can change rotation within seconds. That’ll give you something to think about besides being nervous.
Throughout the evening, the clinic participants worked in groups of one kind or another in loops close to the infield, while the leaders’ group circled just outside them, offering encouragement and ideas. Outside the leaders was another orbiting layer of great folks teaching us how to coach. Great, supportive, encircling energy, although now that I think about it, the leaders’ leaders were riding huge orbits alone in the wind, and, given the speed some of our groups cranked up to, must have been working mighty hard to look that casual.
The racing. We started by taking pacelines of four (sure, you’ve done this already – how hard can it be?) and turning them into a team pursuit. Two groups start on opposite sides of the track and try to run each other down in three laps… as a team. I’ve watched 14-year-old boys try this for the first time, and they blow up spectacularly, every man for himself, until they notice that the kids who stick together and rotate short turns on the front are winning every race. Women are smarter about this sort of thing. They came storming across the finish in tight bunches, absolutely exhausted. And keen as knives. “Gasp. Hack. That was fun. Oh, hey… Did we beat them? Awright!!!!”
Last week, it was little golden lights turning on as people figured out how much fun group riding is. This week? Little lights were going on again, but they were burning red, and appearing in narrowed eyes as riders started calculating just how much sooner they could have jumped.
The next races were big bunch races, 15 riders, 5 laps, first one over the line wins. One of our group turns out to be a huge talent. She has come to cycling from the rowing world and I’ll be damned if we’re giving her back. She also was Exhibit A in a sharp lesson on the value of working together in a pack. She broke away from the group half way through the race and spent two full laps out in the wind while the chase group slowly ground her down. In the final pedal strokes, a woman twice her age jumped to take the race. I’ve said it before: old age and treachery will overcome youth and beauty every time. Thank goodness.
We kept racing, women kept sweeping in off the track bug-eyed, saying things like, “ZOMG that was so much much fun it hurt so much it was so much fun!!!” We tried Kirin racing, where
a motorcycle Simon Pearson sat on the front and slowly wound the entire bunch up to a Great Rate of Knots over a lap and a half and then turned them loose to see who could keep it up. And there was a treat for the sprinters, a one-lap go-for-the-glory all-out. Experienced riders salted into the pack, helping stabilize things and support riders. Jennie, in particular, was most encouraging, with a fierce, “GO GO GO GO GO GO GO!!!!” that galvanized riders in the finishing stretch.
The ride home was wonderful. Downhill, no wind, and chatter throughout the bunch – lots and lots of interest in how to do more racing. We’ll be doing plenty with the clinic, but there’s also a great Intro to Racing series sponsored by Tripleshot out at the Speedway, open to all comers.
Next week – around in circles again, but this time, on fixies, at the West Shore Velodrome. Oh, I love the Velodrome. This is going to be a blast.