Completely out of character, I did a road trip with Nate to the Blythewood Omnium in SC this past weekend. Hadn't been planning to race for a little while, certainly hadn't planned to drive that far to a race, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. The event was unique in that it all took place, save for about a .5 mile stretch of the circuit race, on private roads inside a gated community. A very large gated community.
The three events were a short (6 minutes, more or less) prologue, a 1k 6 corner crit, and a circuit race with laps that took a bit over 6 minutes. We raced the 35+, which had the usual dynamic of masters races wherein about a third of the guys are guns, a third are pretty reliable but maybe not sharp end of the pile, and the other third are kind of hanging on for dear life. As always, there were plenty of lessons to learn.
1. Pre-riding prologues is absolutely mandatory. I took turns slower than I could have, went the long way around a traffic island, and spent about one minute thinking I was off course. Who knows how much time any of it cost, but none of it helped.
2. To race well, you need to race often. The guys who were really making an impact in this field have been racing for many years, and this wasn't the season opener for any of them. The few laps it took for me to get up to speed in the crit, and then again in the road race, cost me precious energy that in both cases definitely made a difference. In competitive fields, you need to be ready to race and race well from the whistle.
3. Racing in a different pond is really fun. I didn't know anyone we raced with except one other guy who made the drive. Not knowing your competition throws some curve balls at you in that you have no idea whether the guy who just rocketed off the front is likely to explode in ten seconds or pedal off into the sunset. The other side of the coin, though, is that you don't automatically think "oh, that guy always beats me" and plant yourself into the pecking order. They're all just dudes, and you're trying to beat them.
4. Looks count for nothing. Yesterday, I lined up behind the guy who had a few extra pounds, a bit too much clothing on, and a lot of gray hair. As I was bemoaning that I'd have to get around him at my first shot, it became clear that everyone who knew him gave him plenty of respect. Turns out it was Kent Bostick, who raced track in several Olympics, including the '96 Games when he was 42 years old. He was never in a position I'd describe as other than perfect, he was plenty strong, and yes - he beat me by a place or two.
5. Racing is great testing. I'd spent a bunch of time on the frame I used, and not as much time on the wheels I used (the wheels are a set that acts as sort of a construction dummy for the Rail). Going out and riding and thinking about what you're riding on is a very necessary step for us, but there's nothing like pointing the stuff into corners at absolute max tilt to see what it can do.
It's always a tough balance between racing too much and not racing enough, a line that, except for cross, I've been on the "not enough" side of the last two years. Maybe it's just the being able to ride in bibs and a jersey that's talking, but now I'm all wicked up (by the way "wicked" in this case is a one syllable word, rhymes with "kicked" - it's a sailing thing to be "wicked up") for road season to start.