I decided (or got talked into) racing the Yarmouth Clam Festival bike race at the last minute. This was a women's open field, and our NEBC Elite Women's team was going to be at the race in force. For me, it was to be a test to see if I could manage to stay "attached" to a field of strong women (Cat 1, 2, 3 and 4) in my new status.
Michele S and I left Bedford at the crack of dawn to make the trek up to Yarmouth. It was awesome to have company on the ride up and back, and Michele also helped to show me [most] of the race course and provide pointers beforehand (there was a running race as part of the festival that used some of the same route as the bike race, and we followed those markings on our warmup instead of the ones for the bike race - that was my fault ;-)).
Although the Elite team was at the race, I didn't speak to any of them about their plans beforehand. My ONLY goal for this race was to hang on - as long as possible, and I didn't want them to depend on me for anything. On the start line, I was nervous. This was my fourth day of racing in 6 days - would my legs hold out? Was I really deserving enough to be a Cat 3? Could I hold on to the group?
On the line, they announced that the first lap would be a prime lap. Go figure - EACH of the 6 laps of our race turned out to be a prime lap! On the first lap, I ensconced myself at the back of the pack. I had heard descriptions of the course the day before, including things like "bad pavement on the downhill", "really sharp corner" and "brutal hill climb". I wanted to hang back and see what the real course looked like. Turns out, all of those descriptions were accurate ;-).
On the first and second lap, I went into the hill climb in my big ring, and grunted my way to the top where I had to work like mad to chase back onto the pack (I did learn later in the race that climbing in the little ring made this a WHOLE lot easier). Because I was in the back of the pack, I also found that I had to chase coming out of most of the corners, but that on each lap, there was a section where the pack eased up - I just needed to stay attached to get to that point.
Each lap I worked to stay on, noting that some of my friends and teammates were getting dropped. The pace was high, and it was a big effort just to remain where I was. As we came into the final lap, Tami was having problems with her chain/derailleur. I knew the Elite team would need her, so I dropped back a little bit to be able to bring her back up to the field. Unsure of what the issue was, Tami urged me to go on. At that point, Amy had also dropped back. Now the two of us had to get ourselves back up to the field. I worked as hard as I could to make sure that Amy got to where she needed to be for the team, and then just hung on...
In the end, I did manage to finish with the main pack! I was SO excited. I even passed a couple of people coming into the final sprint, and finished 25th out of 31 women. I know it's not a great result, but to me, this was more of an accomplishment than my finish at WMSR!
The Elite women included both Loraine and I in the debrief meeting, and it was heartening to hear that they captured most of the primes, and that we had 3 racers in the top 10 (Rebecca, Natalie and Cris). This was a terrific learning experience for me, as well as a bit of a confidence booster - maybe I can play with the big girls after all ;-).