I line up today, more nervous than last Sunday, desperate for a familiar face in the field of 30 Cat 3 women. Holy smokes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a field of 30 w3s. I’m too busy keeping panic at bay to stop and think about how cool that is. There’s a sea of baby blue Tibco jerseys, with intimidating accents of polka-dot Metromints. Crap! Do I know anyone here? Anyone at all?…Bueller?…Bue…I spot two girls I met at Pine Flat, Kimberly and Lisa, and line up behind them. Making a mental note of people who look more nervous than I do. The whistle blows.
Clip. Pedal. Wait. How did I get here? Panic. I’m at the back of the pack, rolling through the neutral start. Okay. Don’t panic. Sure, the 30 mph winds are picking up riders and depositing them at random lateral intervals and there’s no one behind me but one or two nervous Nellies. No reason to panic. It’s just a neutral start. We’ll turn onto the course, where we can use the full road, and I’ll make my way towards the front. Get to the front, stay there and chase anything that gets away. That’s the plan.
How long is this neutral start, anyway? Finally the moto pulls off and we are released, into the gale. I make my way towards the front and try (rather unsuccessfully) to stay tucked in.
At one point in the first lap I’m a few wheels back, the field just having caught another break when I hear a noise, the bike starts to wobble. Have I flatted? I’m riding some old wheels that I haven’t been on in ages, they suddenly just feel funny. My hand goes up. Waiter, check please. I fall back, pull over to the side of the road, look my bike over, determine that my problems are mental, not mechanical and proceed to chase my field. I can see the follow vehicle and for a mile or so it isn’t getting closer. Push harder. If someone would just turn off this howling gale for a few minutes maybe I could catch them. But the howling continues and I pedal. One chasing thirty. Are they getting closer? They field is bobbing in and out of view on the little rollers. I can’t tell. The women bob. I pedal.
As I crest one of the little rollers I see them, just ahead. I will catch them. Swimming upstream I catch my breath. Someone breaks. I bridge up to her and keep going. We fly over the last leg of NorCal pave, around the corner and head towards the finish line with 3 laps to go and a wall of crosswind. I feel strong but I don’t know her. Sure, I only know 2 of these 30 women. Odds of knowing anyone in a break are slim but I’m not feeling cozy enough in my pain cave to hang out there with strangers. Not yet. She asks, “Should we go for it?” My only response, “It’s going to be a long race.” When I sit up and wait to be caught I feel a weird kind of remorse for my would-be breakaway. Sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m just not ready yet.
The winds are getting uglier by the minute. Today in Texas my friends are racing in Walburg, known for it’s WIND, just like Snelling. Is it written somewhere in the Race Promoter Handbook that popular early season races can only be scheduled in small towns likely to have post-apocalyptic winds in the spring? When buffeted with 30mph blasts of shifty winds, it’s hard for a green field not to be sketchy. Note to self: When I schedule an early season race with packed fields, I’m going to have it somewhere a little less windy…like the Metrodome. But whatever. Wind I can do. We’ve got nothing but wind in Dallas. I think about one insanely windy ride last spring in Dallas, my friend Mark was smiling and yelling across the tempest “I love the wind! The wind makes you strong!” as we fought to barely maintain upright speed. He was right. I try to channel that memory and love the wind.
In less than two laps we are neutralized about a dozen times, and it somehow seems like this always happens when a break gets off the front. Eventually halfway through the second lap Lisa and Metromint are getting smaller up the road. Kimberly decides to chase and I go with her. Together we bridge to Lisa and Metromint. I look back and am surprised at how small the field is. I’ve got a good feeling about our little group.
But just as we come around the corner towards the line, a gust gives wings to one of my contact lenses and off it flies, along with any hopes of my finishing this race. Really? Again?! Between people moving sideways in the squall and the Roubaix-worthy roads, Snelling had seen several bad crashes earlier in the day. I wasn’t going to be the reason there were more. Racing today was dangerous without depth perception. As I get up to the line I can hear my friend Kim’s voice from the side of the road. I pull over to keep her company while she cheers on her teammates in a few of the masters races. (Huge kudos to Kim for winning the w4s race that morning!)
And so my race ends, unceremoniously, at two to go. No finish for me this time. I’m trying not to act disappointed on the ride home but when I walk through the door, my fan club is waiting for me with nothing but praise. Talking to Brian about the day, I realize that even though my results were bad, today was good. I felt good….Zen.
Kimberly went on to take the win, with a sizable lead on Metromint, who in turn had a sizable lead on the rest of the field. Nice job, ladies! Props to everyone – the racers, the officials, the countless volunteers, and the small rural town of Snelling for a great day of racing in Northern California. See you again next year!