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Bicycle Clubs and Teams

Race: Pine Flat Road Race, Womens 3 (P1/2/3)
Course: 62 miles, 4150′ vertical feet (http://app.strava.com/rides/4328694)
Teammates: Misha (cat 3) and Emily (cat 2)

Today I lined up for the first time in Cali, shivering as much from nerves as I was from the cold. As there were only 11 women on the start line, five w3s and six P1/2s, we very quickly agreed to race together (with the 3s to be scored separately.) Duh. The 15% grade, quarter mile climb out of the parking lot seemed like a reasonable neutral start, although I did find myself wondering why we couldn’t have just started the race up on the road.

At any rate, once we turned on to Trimmer Springs Rd, the race began. Apparently womens racing in Cali isn’t all that different from it is in Texas, and I soon found myself chatting in a double paceline with everyone sharing the “work.” A few pulls were harder than others and I got the sense that some of the women were sizing each other up, but general consensus seemed to be that it was pointless to start actually racing until we hit the first climb – at mile 51. Part of me was a little indignant that the ladies had chosen to have a 50 mile social ride followed by a 12 mile race, but given that my front derailer wasn’t shifting reliably from the get-go, I haven’t raced in 8  months, the hub cone in my front wheel was loose by mile 5, there were women with impressive pedigrees in the small field, and I’ve never raced 62 miles before, I happily settled in for the promenade. Really, it was a good thing, because more than anything, I needed to start meeting the women who race in NorCal.

<girlie moment> OMG, they’re super nice! That was so much fun! </girlie moment>

About 30 miles into the race the strangest thing happened. We stopped for a pee break. Personally, when I race, I’m always wound up so tight relaxing enough to pee would be impossible. Apparently, that’s just me. Instead of watching the gals squat, I looked down and realized I was almost done with one bottle and my flask was pretty full still. Not good. I finished up the bottle and took a hit from the flask, resolved to drink more consistently. Of course had I been paying attention, I would have realized that I was already in trouble.

Promenading up Trimmer Springs to Belmont was getting really old. I watched wistfully as a few groups of masters stormed past us. <sigh> Oh yeah, that’s what racing looks like. Misha and Emily were riding strong, taking good pulls. On Belmont I started keeping towards the front of the rotation. I was beginning to fear, at our current pace, we’d be out all the live-long-day. Nice, except my calves were twitchy. We turned on to Riverbend, mile 40, and I realized there were no neutral water hand-ups. What the?! Shit. I was down to half a bottle and cramping already. Wanting to at least finish today, I decided we’d better hurry so I pulled more, each time a little harder. Clearly, for some of the group, my attempts to turn up the heat were child’s play. Misha came along beside me and gave me a heads up about the course – one climb coming up soon where people will start attacking, go hard, there’s a long descent for recovery before the final mile uphill to the finish. Not having done my homework, e.g. mapping the route in Google Earth before the race, I was incredibly grateful for her recon on the course.

By the time we turned on to Watts Valley Rd, the field was getting strung out. Emily, who had worked hard for the team the day before, was fading. Misha was toward the front still, in smooth pedals. We hit the climb and Tanya (RED Racing) magically disappeared into the fog, with Korina (Metromint) on her wheel. Taking Misha’s advice, I hit the climb hard. Awesome! Unfortunately, it would have been a good idea to ask her how long the climb was. I began to pull away from the others and hammered off in search of the two up the road. A few minutes (that felt like hours) later I caught Korina, my lungs filling up with congestion at the onset of effort. “Nice work” she says as I pass her. I managed some inarticulate vowel sounds and wheezed past her. Legs on fire, lungs struggling, fog obscuring the road ahead, I looked down to watch my watts drop even though cadence and heart rate weren’t. Stupid asthma. The motor needs oxygen. Going backwards now. Not so awesome. I heard Misha behind me, “Not much further” and I fought to keep her wheel as she pedaled pretty circles away from me.

Ultimately, on the long descent that followed, we became a group of five, with Tanya still lost somewhere in the fog. (Which in all honesty was really cool.) My big chainring proved elusive and by now both calves and my left hamstring were writhing, threatening to seize up entirely if I eased off the effort too much. With nothing left in my bottles, I took a quick hit of EFS and spun out my small chainring trying to keep up as best I could with the chase group that was now flying downhill at 35 mph. In the interest of just about everything going wrong, my left contact lens decided to fly out of my eye, it too now lost in the fog at mile 59.

Briefly I considered dropping out but decided I would profoundly regret it. We were so close to the finish. However, these ladies were now actually racing and I didn’t feel safe mixing it up without my good friend, depth perception. I fell to the back of the break and kept some distance in front of my wheel. I wasn’t going to jockey for position but keeping the group in sight was good motivation not to go fetal and cry on the side of the road until SAG came to get me. By the time we hit the final climb the distance in front of my wheel had grown. No worries, at this point I just wanted to finish this sufferfest. I stood and pedaled, trying to keep the cramps at bay just one more mile, pausing for a split second as I rode closer to Misha. After all, my race ended at mile 59 when my contact took flight, and the rest of the field was nowhere in sight. Maybe I should stay here, behind my teammate.

In that same split second my right hamstring started to twitch. I sat down. Time to finish this (sorry Misha.) Now on a 14% grade with cramps in both calves, both hamstrings, and in my right bicep (that’s weird) I turned the cranks over in the saddle, thinking I had a few choice words for the jokers that put the 200m sign five miles away from the finish line. I unceremoniously crossed the finish line and quickly pulled over to the side of the road and stopped before I fell over. Welcome back to racing. That hurt. A lot.

Lessons learned:

  • Bring a 3rd water bottle. Always.
  • Investigate vision correction options, although had I been properly hydrated, perhaps my contact would have stayed put.
  • Womens racing ain’t so different after all. There still aren’t enough of us, even here.
  • Eat more. Drink more.Duh.
  • Get routine with the FloVent, dummy. You’ve got asthma.
  • Upon inspection, Mark says my outer ring is warped. Look into options asap. That sucked.
  • Always recon the route.What were you thinking?

Currently, I live in East Dallas in an urban area. To get anywhere on bike requires navigating city streets with moderate to heavy traffic. This morning a friend (we’ll call him Joe) and I were talking about a group ride dilemma he’s facing. Joe, who is himself an experienced cyclist, has been asked to plan safe ride routes for A (experienced) B (intermediate) and C (novice) level groups from an urban starting point, Mockingbird and Central Expressway.

Mockingbird and Central Exprwy, close to where many of my friends live.

Joe wants to find a route that avoids traffic but, as you can see, where we live that’s not possible. My advice: Hold urban cycling workshops and make attendance a prerequisite for ride participation, preferably for all riders but, in the very least, for the novice cyclists. Rather than trying to avoid traffic, I think a better solution is to learn how to ride safely IN traffic.

Joe may be on the fence about offering urban cycling classes but, fortunately, there are several organizations in the Dallas area that do hold skills workshops and traffic safety classes, many of which have on-the-bike lessons. Below are links to the groups I know about. If I missed someone, let me know!

Cycling Savvy – An excellent program, originated in Florida, now being offered here in Dallas by friend and all-round great guy, Waco Moore. You can find out more about the DFW Cycling Savvy program by visiting them on Facebook and on the Cycling Savvy website.

Cycling Center Dallas: SMART Cycling Classes – Learn how to ride with confidence and competence in an urban environment. Develop basic skills and hazard avoidance maneuvers in a safe, friendly environment. For the current class schedule visit the Cycling Center Dallas website.

Bike DFW Traffic Skills 101 – Techniques and skills for riding in North Texas’ cities including: riding on multi-use trails, riding in bike lanes, and techniques for negotiating city traffic safely and comfortably. For a course schedule send an email to education@bikedfw.org or check their website.

There’s a lot of good urban cycling advice online, but there’s also a lot of bad, potentially dangerous, and just plain wrong information out there too. Use your common sense. Think of your bike as a vehicle; navigate intersections and traffic using the same principals as you would were you in a car. Don’t just ride your bike, drive it.

Here are a few trustworthy sources for information on safe cycling:

I love group rides. They’re a great way to meet new friends, learn more about cycling, develop bike handling skills, push yourself to work harder, and to just have fun. This is by no means comprehensive listing, just a few of the groups that ride the roads around Dallas and White Rock Lake. If you’re interested in finding a group to ride with, these clubs are a good place to start.

Mirage Cycling Club is a great group, with recreational and competitive cyclists on all levels, from beginners to seasoned roadies. You can find more information on The Mirage Cycling Club website. Mirage riders are very nice, very social and they do a good job of taking care of one another out on the road. You’re in good hands when you ride with these guys. They have several weekly rides that depart from the Bike Mart on Garland Road, check their website for details. The Sunday 8:30 ride is a good place to start.
If you live north (or don’t mind driving to Plano for rides) then I would also highly recommend Plano Bicycling Association. They’re a fun bunch. PBA as a club does a great job of structuring rides in a way that allows for rider development. It’s a wonderful club! Visit the PBA website for details on the group rides. PBA is primarily a recreational club, aspiring racers can find  like-minded teammates in PACC, the Plano Athletic Cycling Club. More info is available on the PACC website.
Easter Hill Country Weekend recreational rides with friends.

Members of Mirage and PACC riding together at a 3-day rally in Fredericksburg, TX.

Bicycles Plus in Snider Plaza has a club with both recreational and competitive riders. They have group rides but the schedule varies slightly in accordance with Day Light Savings Time so look online for the current schedule. Their website is here, check the Park Cities location for group rides in the White Rock Lake area.
Another Dallas group geared toward recreational riders is the Greater Dallas Bicyclists. They offer a lot of group rides throughout the Metroplex, many of which are well-suited for novice riders. Check them out online for a current schedule and ride reports. Their rides range from nice and easy to screaming fast so there’s something for everyone. The Tuesday/Thursday night rides are really fun and the pace is fairly tame.
There are a ton of great organized rides on the North Texas rally calendar. Rallies are organized rides that offer support and rest stops along routes of various distances. Riders pay a small registration fee which the organizers generally donate to charity. Rallies are a good way to do something good for your health and the community at the same time. Cyclists of all levels and abilities attend rallies so you’re sure to find a good paced group to hang with as you ride. A good site for information on the rally scene is on the  Bicycle Stuff website.
Be safe and have fun out on the road! In my next post I’ll include links to local bicycle safety resources, including some skills and safety classes that will help you ride with confidence.
Full links to the websites referenced above:
Mirage Cycling Club – http://www.miragecycling.org/
Plano Bicycle Association – http://www.planobicycle.org/
Plano Athletic Cycling Club – http://www.teampacc.com/
Greater Dallas Bicyclists – http://www.greaterdallasbicyclists.com/