Lower Providence Race (Race #7)

This past Sunday I went to the races in Lower Providence, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bicycle Club, the folks with the orange Flyers jerseys. The weather was cloudy and cool, but no rain around. Quite a few of the Quaker City Wheelmen/Penn folks came out, a good portion of them riding out from Philly as a warmup.

The races were held in the Valley Forge Industrial Park. This meant that the only cars around were those coming to be in or watch the races. It somehow seemed more than just a bunch of bike races, it was a local event. Some families brought their kids and picnic lunches (the races started at 1pm) and spent the whole day there, watching the bikers race around the course.

Except for the kids sprints, the races were criteriums; the course was a 1 mile loop, flat, rectangular. This is called a 4-corners crit course, and it's the first one I've been in. These kind of courses have their own special dynamics: one of the most important skills needed in racing them is to be able to accelerate quickly out of the turns. One interesting feature of this race is that we went clockwise around the course, whereas every other race I've been in has gone counter-clockwise, so that I'd begun to think that it was tradition that they should always run in that direction.

I was doing the Cat 5 race, 10 laps around the course. They ran all races separately, waiting until the previous one finished before letting the next one go. The first race to go was a collection of kids sprints. They started them 20 yards back from the finish line and sent them off on 3 sections: tiny tots with training wheels, then medium kids, then bigger kids. The tiny tots were fun to watch, as they pedaled along on their tiny bikes, oversized-looking numbers flapping in the wind. The next race to go was a Special Olympics race with about 6 riders. They did three laps, and people cheered them as they went. Then was the Citizen's race. One fellow, Chris, I don't remember his last name, did his first race in that race. He'd only joined QCW recently, and had ridden out just to watch the races, but he got talked into registering and racing. He got dropped from the pack but kept going, and finished his race as the next group was lining up, saying "Excuse me, pardon" to get to the finish line.

The next race was the Master's 35+ race, which a few of the QCW people participated in. The next race was the Cat 5 race, which a bunch of us were riding in: I recognized Lauren, Linda, Scott, Roger, and Don. When the Master's race started, I took my bike into a nearby parking lot to get warmed up. When it finished, I was unfortunately a bit slow in getting to the start line, so I was at the back of the people lined up at the start. This was a problem, because when the race started and the people in front of me got clipped into their pedals, I had to put on some speed to catch up to the pack. I didn't do so well at keeping up with the pack. I'd play catchup, getting them at the corners, which they'd slow down to go around, but then drop back as they took off from the turn. There were a few people who dropped off, so we rode together. Not too long after I dropped off, Lauren, who had started up at the front with Linda, dropped off the pack and joined the little group at the back, so we had about 4 or 5 people. I rode in the draft of the guys in the group for awhile, but then the guy I was following pulled off and signaled that I should go ahead. So, fine, I did. I lead us for awhile, then someone passed me. After awhile I felt that I could go faster, so I lead again. While I was in front I concentrated on pedaling efficiently and going a decent speed, but I didn't go all out -- I held enough back so that when people passed me I'd be able to catch their wheel and stay with the little group.

About 3 laps from the end, the main pack lapped us. The car leading the pack warned us that they were coming, and told us to get to the left to let them pass. Or, at least, Lauren heard them say to get to the left. I didn't hear exactly what they said, just got the idea that they were going to pass us, so I got to the right. They came by and I struggled to keep up with them. I didn't succeed for more than half a lap. Then I was on my own -- the rest of my little group had disappeared. Oh, well. So I did my final laps and finished the race much as Chris did. Except that there were so many people at the start/finish line that it looked hopeless to try to get across it, so I went up on the grass and crossed where it would have extended and called that good enough. The Cat 1-2-3 race took off soon after that, and after that, the Cat 4 race went. We had folks in both races, a decent number of them in the former.

Well, I have to say that while this certainly was not an outstanding performance in a race, I had fun anyway. I'd concentrated on not panicking, keeping my pedal stroke as smooth and as efficient as I could, and I spent a reasonable amount of time pulling, not just sitting behind people's wheels all the time. I'll admit that I really was not expecting the race to be as fast as it was. I think I like courses that have a bit of hill in them, since it slows the race down somewhat.