Old Pueblo Grand Prix

19 Mar

I had planned to do my first race in April at Boulder-Roubaix, but after scanning the cycling calendar for Tucson, I saw I could race in the Old Pueblo Grand Prix while on our unofficial spring break.  As for personal milestones, the OPGP would also be my fifth race of my amateur cycling “career”.  A fourteen hour drive from Denver to Tucson?  No big deal.  We stopped in Albuquerque Friday night, and I had a solid five hours of sleep.  We arrived in Tucson around 1 PM, leaving me about an hour and half to get ready.

The OPGP race ran on a rectangular course in downtown Tucson, 0.6 miles of criterium fury, and I was racing in the category 5 (beginners) race, which was 30 minutes long (the lead rider to cross first after 30 minutes).  I thought the race would help give me a solid interval workout while keeping the riding more interesting than just hammering away on some bike path.  I know crits are fast races, but due to my inexperience, they always surprise me at how fast they start.  Someday they will quit taking me by surprise, but for now it’s probably a good thing, because I probably wouldn’t enter if I knew how I was going to feel after one minute.

The peloton rolls out

Most racers were already waiting at the line when I finished a lap around the course, so I tried to move up on the outside a bit so I wouldn’t get caught behind a lot of other guys.  I quickly identified a dude in the group wearing a plain, billowing jersey, with cotton socks pulled up on very hairy legs as someone I should probably steer clear of.  I totally don’t want to sound like a snob, and know I have more than enough to learn about racing still, but certain clothing styles on a race course put off a strong smell, and it’s not one of racing savvy.

We started off, and I tried to gain some ground on the outside.  All good through turn one, a narrow right-hander.  From the first corner, we just went one short city block into turn two.  I had made it about halfway through when I realized I was getting bumped both on my shoulder and bars, even though I was definitely holding my line.  And who should it be? Baggy shirt guy!  He was fighting with his bars like he was trying to wrestle a steer to the ground, and bouncing through the group like he was in a pinball machine.  He pushed me off my line and almost rode into the curb and up onto the sidewalk.  By the time I regrouped and was hammering again, the main group was already pulling away.  We were riding south on the back stretch of the course, four blocks long and into the wind.  I was still moving up through riders, but definitely not the main pack. This would be the crux of the course, where I’d either hang or blow up my engine.

Watch out for this guy! Somehow Liz caught him on camera at a rather innocuous moment.

As we came around again on the third lap, I saw guys already dropping out.  While I was still pondering this, I rode through the first turn again and heard a scraping sound coming from my bike.  I thought that seemed strange, and then realized I had gone through the turn with my inside foot down.  I was really surprised that I didn’t feel more off-balance through the turn, and was very, very happy that I was still upright and cruising.  The best explanation I could come up with was I wasn’t thinking, but usually you don’t think too much about going through a turn the right way – you just do it.  How I managed to make such a potentially disastrous mistake, and keep right on going, I’ll never know.

Happily, I settled into a grove from that point on, and kept chugging away.  I was riding with a couple other guys, but we could see the lead pack pulling away.  Slowly the two riders I was with also started to pull away, and I just tried to ride as hard as I could.  I did keep checking behind me and not seeing anyone else, so I knew that I had outlasted the first “casualties” lost to the torrid pace.  A few laps later I suddenly heard a roar beside me, and it was the official on the pace motorcycle, telling me I had to pull off after I finished that lap.  I got as far left as I could, and started to coast as the lead group flew past.  From there I just cruised on in to the finish and checked in with the officials at the finish line.  That part of the race brings mixed emotions – part embarrassment for feeling unprepared, and part relief from knowing I can catch my breath, and that I rode as hard as I could for as long as possible.  What I felt the most frustrated about though, was that my day ended too soon.  Before we started, the officials had said we would get pulled if we fell off the lead lap, so I knew riding the race out was not an option today.  Despite feeling like I someone had kicked me in the chest, I was having fun flying through the turns, and the wind at my back made for a fun ride past the crowd near the finish line.

Riding a rail through turn 1 (I'm in the middle)

I left the course and went to find Liz and her parents, who spend the winter in Tucson.  They had a nice spot near the apex of turn one, giving a good view of the homestretch, and a closeup of the action through the turn.  We watched the lead group come towards the turn, when suddenly a rider cut across the group to leave the course, almost taking half of the lead riders with him.  Who was that rider?  Baggy shirt guy!  I’m not sure what I was more annoyed by: the fact that a lapped rider could have the bad instincts to take out half of the leaders, or that this guy who was way more of a Fred than I, had outlasted me by a lap.

So the OPGP was a great learning experience.  I had fun trying to show off to family and friends, and was glad to get over the first race jitters.  And I’ll never complain about having a whole car-free street to ride on as fast as I want.  What more could you ask for?

I’ll try to post more stuff throughout the week, but will just be pictures of scenery and general details of the day’s ride.  Hoping to log more than a few miles here in Tucson, but would first like the unseasonably cool weather to disperse and make way for the warm sun.  Hope everyone else is enjoying weather warmer than here!  Allez!

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