My riding this year has been a bit like a cycling cha-cha: two steps [pedalstrokes?] forward, one step back. Rinse and repeat. Things will be going perfectly, until I hit some hormonal or non-cycling life wall, and then I'll spend a week recovering. You could say it's almost like East German training where you're purposely overtrained, but mine has been without the supercompensation benefits.
Still, I had registered for a JCRC race this past weekend. Despite the fact that I didn't feel super strong or ready, it seemed like it'll be good practice. Never mind that I had quit my team a few weeks back and couldn't even hitch a ride to the race. I figured that I'll figure it out, because that's what I do.
Saturday afternoon, instead of some hardcore napping so I could wake up at 3am to get a ride down to Izu prefecture, I was experiencing the muscle-draining pain of traveling to a race solo. This meant hauling my disassembled bike, plus about 10kg of gear and clothes up and down flights of stairs and across two of the largest train stations in Tokyo. Three hours later, my sore shoulders crawled into a cab that drove me up to the Nihon Cycle Sports Center and where I'll crash for the night, the Cytel [as in, the Cycle Hotel. Get it?].
6,900 yen had purchased me a small room with a sink [communal bathrooms in the hallway and communal bath/showers on the third floor], plus two meals. Dinner in the dining room on the second floor was a truckload of food, with a Kazhak junior cycling team plus Singaporean Wai Mun and two Hong Kong track cyclists taking part in the UCI Continental Cycling Center training camp. Thankfully they weren't racing the next day, but the four middle-aged guys I shared a table with, were.
They came to breakfast the next morning full kitted-out [I was still in yoga pants]. I ate breakfast with a lump in my throat, told myself it was a good sign that salmon was on the menu, and got dressed.
Though the predicted rain had held off, wind was gusting around the course. Not a good sign for a non-climber in a climber's race. The women's [open] field was assigned a scant 10km [2 laps around a 5km circuit], with a total of 285m of climbing. Those sound like pussy numbers, but I never met anything over 3% that I didn't at least dislike.
Climbing to me has always been like the slightly creepy coworker who's always trying to hang out outside of work. "Look, I don't mind working with you because I have to," I always want to say when the grade starts to pitch up, "but that doesn't mean I'd actually choose to spend time with you." That's probably the point, and my tolerance has gotten better, but not quite race better. I was optimistic, though, because I did better than I expected at the same race last year.
Until, of course, I saw the field. Only two women [myself included] were racing unaffiliated [and coincidentally, on the only two steel bikes]. A pair of Zipp 404s and 303s would race for 1st place; that was almost painfully obvious before the gun even went off. My heart was rattling in nervousness and a touch of dread. In a field of ten, all save one other woman on carbon, all with Dura-Ace, I suddenly felt very alone. ["Did you at least have the best bike?" Josh would later ask, and price-wise, even with the used pair of Dura-Ace C24s I bought off Tobias a week before, it was a resounding "no."]
You know how last year I didn't make too many mistakes? Well, karma continues to be a bitch, because this year when the gun went off, I made every single mistake in the book. I fumbled [a lot] clipping in, managed to stay with the group and out of the wind on the first climb but got dropped like Wiggo on the descent. I was taking the S curves and hairpins so fast it felt like I was on a track, getting pressed into the corners, turning right, then left, then right again. They were in sight, but I couldn't bridge the gap, and on the second lap, I dropped my chain like a proper noob.
I came in a miraculous 8th [out of 10]. After changing and packing up my bike, I killed time waiting for my cab ride talking to a friend online, trying to laugh off my disappointment. "Top ten!" he said, adding, "I got a top ten at a pro race once, so we're like the same!" I laughed, and shook my head, because he's the strongest cyclist I know and he had won that race, too. We joked around and shot the shit for a little longer and between the typed out words there was a pulse of relief, the banishment of my silly fear that my friends would somehow like me less because I wasn't anywhere close to winning.
Dehydrated, exhausted, and sore, I spent the rest of my Sunday sleeping, watching TV, and mulling over lessons learned. Maybe next time, I've been telling myself, assuming I can afford it [the trip, including the race fee, cost me a touch over 30,000 yen]. For right now, though, I figure there's nothing wrong with little stumbling when you're learning the [cycling] cha-cha.