|Click the picture for a tutorial on sandbagging|
Saturday morning, I woke up nice and early. I had the hardest time sleeping due to the excitement of entering my first road race. I loaded up the truck, checked to make sure it would start and headed off to Lewisburg, Tennessee for the race. I showed up just shortly before 8am and there was quite the showing already. Made it through registration where yes, they checked my road license to make sure I registered in the correct category. I then suited up and did a little warm up with my team mate, Chris W. Everyone was talking about the gravel section of the course. As Chris and I warmed up, we found a little gravel area and tested our skills. To my surprise, my road tires handled the gravel chop pretty well. Anyhow, we finished our warmup, hit some energy gels and lined up with the rest of the Cat5 racers.
At the start line, the officials went over a bunch of the race rules. Many of these I'd never heard before, because I've never raced in a road race. After a long introduction, we were given the ok for a rolling start. As soon as we crossed the start/finish line, the group was still chit chatting with each other. The pace was around 17-18mph. I just kept thinking through my head that this would only be a 28 mile race. Why were we going so slow? Before the race, I had heard from some guys that raced last year that the group led out a really slow pace till nearly the gravel section (mile 6). Instead of me hanging around and chatting, I decided it was worth the effort to go ahead and make a breakaway since I figured no one would take it seriously off the start. When I started my break, I was in a full on sprint. About 200m into the break, I looked back and realized that no one followed! This partly excited me and also somewhat concerned me. I now knew that I would be riding by myself for some portion of the race at the very least.
About 2 miles into the course, the road was a little rough and started to cover some rolling hills. At the crest of each hill, I would give a slight glance behind me to see if anyone was in pursuit. Still no one. The lead vehicle was keeping a great pace and never allowing me to get too close. I have to admit, I was trying to catch the officials vehicle as best as I could. I considered the officials vehicle to be like a dangling carrot. Around mile 6ish I was descending pretty fast and noticed "Slow Down" painted on the road. I told myself, "Hell no, I ain't gonna slow down!" This turned out to be the section where the road turns from paved to gravel/dirt. Luckily, my CX instincts kicked in and I made the transition turn perfectly. My heart started pumping out of excitement for being on a dirt road. I picked my line which turned out to be flawless and made it through that section with no problems.
Following the dirt road section, there were more hills but the roads weren't as bad. At this point in the race, I was starting to focus on ways I could keep the pack from catching me. Each hill I hit, I hammered it. On the descents and most of the flat sections, I made sure I was down in the drops. I concentrated on my each and every move. I also concentrated on giving myself a little recovery when needed. When it was time to drink, I drank. When it was time to eat, I ate. Even though I was by myself, I was still racing.
Finally, I came across what was setup as a neutral feed zone. As I passed the feed zone, I heard a few cheers from some familiar faces. I knew the feed zone was placed near the close of the loop and was intended for the Cat4's and higher. This gave me the signal to really gun it to the finish and not allow any gap I made to be closed. I gave one last look back and still didn't see anyone. On the last stretch to the finish, I gave it all I had. I was seated in the saddle, hands in the drops and sweat pouring from my brow. I saw the 2k mark, then the 200m mark. At the 200m mark, I was filled with so much excitement that I nearly teared up crossing the finish. I won my very first road race!!
I waited around the finish to watch for the 2nd and 3rd place finishes. 8 minutes after my finish, a group of 3 came riding in. At the 200m mark, you saw a paceline break apart and a sprint ensued. This did not look like a Cat5 sprint finish. This looked like these guys had some experience in what they were doing. And to be honest, I'm glad I wasn't in that group because they probably could have beat me if it came down to a sprint finish. Anyhow, they crossed the finish nearly wheel and wheel. It was a spectacular finish!
After the race was over, I stood up on the podium and accepted my trophy and some prize winnings. I was elated by the experience. I was also proud with the showing that our team made. The Harpeth Bicycle Race Team had 3 spots on the podium between the Cat5 race and the Cat4 race! Of course, I've got the heckling from all my friends calling me a sandbagger. Again, if winning your very first race makes you a sandbagger, than slap me and call me Shirley! Somebody has got to win!