Monday, September 21, 2009

My First Race Report - Ronald Reagan Criterium - 9/19/09

In March, I joined Spidermonkey Cycling, a local cycling club, because I had bought a road bike and wanted other people to ride with. Since I joined, I have become a much stronger rider and I have also gained a lot of awesome new friends. However, I did not realize when I joined, that six months later I would be racing.

At the end of July, while watching the Chicago Criterium and being asked repeatedly how my race went (I did not race that day) I started to have the mental realization that I was capable of going out there and doing what I'd seen many of my teammates do...race! With a little encouragement (and maybe some outright peer-pressure) from my teammates and girlfriend, I finally decided that I would take a crack at racing. I figured if I raced at the end of the season I would miss most of the Cat 5's that had already catted up and even if I finished last, I would have great motivation heading into the dreaded and all-important "trainer season."

On Saturday, the day of my first race arrived. I don't get a lot of performance anxiety, so luckily I was able to sleep well the night before and remain calm on Saturday morning. I made the two-hour trek to Dixon, IL, a place I had previously only driven by on I-88, with my fellow Spidermonkeys (and invaluable teammates) Zens and Bryan. We arrived at 8:30 and set up the tent. This left me an hour and half to prepare mentally and physically. I didn't really have any idea how to do either of those things, so I pumped up my tires, put on my kit and asked Bryan and Zens what I should do. Zens took me on a short ride to recon the course. While I haven't raced any other courses, I can tell you that this course was awesome! (and other more experienced racers agreed.) The course was 0.8 miles, 8 turns, 3 short uphill sections and a downhill finish. I decided which corners I would pedal through and thought a little bit about what gearing I would use on what parts of the course. I got back, jumped on the trainer for about 20 minutes to warm up and then got ready to race.

The field for the 5's race was small. Most of the races I had seen prior to this one had over 50 people. So it was comforting at first to pull up to the line with only about 25 other guys. Later I would find out that this was not as awesome. Once I got to the line, reality set in. The six months of training and learning I had done since buying a road bike were about to be put to the test. The race official was quick with instructions and didn't leave me a lot of time to dwell on what was ahead of me. With that, the whistle was blown, I clipped in, and the race began!

The first lap didn't really contain anything unexpected...I think. Actually, I don't really remember the first lap at all. I came across the line after the first lap middle of the pack, right where I planned and wanted to be. On the second lap, my mind kicked in and I started thinking about the race. During my course recon, I had decided that I would try to stay in the saddle on the first uphill section. On the second lap, I was in the gear I wanted to be and was still in the saddle on the uphill section. I was getting passed by a few people, but I thought that was ok since I knew, being bigger than anyone else, I would be able to easily make up ground on the downhill sections. We reached the top of the hill and began the downhill and long flat section of the course. My plan to make up ground was foiled by a headwind I had failed to notice during my course recon. By the end of the second lap, I found myself near the back of the pack struggling to stay on. On the next lap, I dangled off the back and was dropped during the flat section on the back stretch. I spent the rest of the race working as hard as I could and enjoying getting the chance to race. I spent the last 5 minutes being happy that I only had 5 minutes left. Around minute 20 (of 30) I got to pass a guy, so I at least got the consolation of not finishing last! Fellow Spidermonkeys Jason and Trent had a great race, both finishing with the pack. Jason even took home a nice grill set prem.

Overall, I was pleased with my first performance. The two main things I was worried about was being scared in the corners and crashing. I found the cornering much less scary than advertised and I didn't ride in the pack long enough to even have the chance to crash. I definitely need to work on my fitness, but that is not at all surprising to me. I have all of winter and spring to work on that.

I thought I was done after my first race, but surprise! there's more. Due to unwavering peer pressure, I decided to race the 4/5's. I was not at all excited about racing again, especially since I finished second to last in the 5's and the 4/5's was 10 minutes longer. So I think I came up to the line mainly feeling anger. Zens had told me to pick a target for how long I wanted to try and stay with the pack. Feeling pretty realistic at the time, I decided I would try to stay in until the first prem when everything was guaranteed to speed up.

The 4/5's race felt a lot different to me. The field was larger which provided for more of a draft and more of an accordion affect in the corners. Having experience on the course and knowing where I needed to be out of the saddle and where I needed to be in the drops helped a lot in the second race. As funny as it was, I actually came across the line in the top 10 on the first two laps. I was able to stay with the field for about 10 minutes and had a great time racing in the pack. My legs eventually gave out and I dropped out of the pack. Sure I got lapped by the leaders twice, but I finished and actually finished farther from last than I had in the 5's! I was even lucky (?) enough to have a couple people around me at the end to sprint against. I'm glad I did the 4/5's race because it gave me much more of a feeling of how fun and fast crit racing is! Zens and Bryan both raced well finishing top 10, with a 3rd place podium spot for Bryan! Jason and Trent also put in another great effort in the 4/5's.

I want to give a huge thanks to all of the people that made racing possible for thanks Ben, Zens, Bryan, Dean, Vanessa, Vanessa, Lil' V and all of the Spidermonkeys that I have ridden with and that have encouraged me. Also, special thanks to Abby for making the 2 hour trip to cheer me on!

I promise my next race report, or any future race report for that matter, will not be this long.

Lastly, here are the 3 pictures from the weekend worth posting (more to come in the future hopefully):

Bryan and I with Dixon's finest, Ronald Reagan (legend has it that he saved over 77 lives when he was a lifeguard in Dixon)

Zens getting Culverized after the races:

Bryan being interviewed after taking 3rd in the 4/5's (and repping our great sponsor, 312)


  1. Pics of the races are linked at Luke's CBR site. Enjoy! :-)

  2. Can't wait to race with you more next year Matt! Glad to share our first race together. You're a dude.