Friday, April 22, 2011

How It All Started

Sophomore year. I have my 2008 Raleigh Supercourse that I've begun my cycling career with and I'm scared of what this whole racing bicycles thing might be. I've always been squeamish to this point in life about competition in general. I would tell myself, "So many people have been put through this and survived.. what makes you think you won't? It's only going to be maybe an hour and a half of your life." I have not had and formal training or real understanding of what bike racing is about and how I should go about riding and racing, but I guess everyone starts somewhere. So let's go to my very first race.
Post-race-picture from my first race.
Tuesday night. It's April 21, 2009, (I think) and I am lost in Pittsburgh with then IUP Cycling Club president, Duane Corbett. It's raining, cold, and we are trying to find the cycling Oval that I have come to love. We stop at a gas station and ask for directions. Though they didn't help us much we eventually made it to the Oval and sign in. I was so confused, so cold, and so scared/ready to not even race, but I wasn't about to let too much of that get out verbally. After the sign in we head to the car and get ready as fast as we can. The race starts with us, and probably everyone else, shivering. The race is off and I am as sketchy as they come. All of this was new to me. The pace-lining, the speed, the turns, the work, the sprint at the end. Duane ended up winning, saying that he felt like no one else even wanted to win. I believe I took 8th (probably got worse) after getting pinned on the inside while everyone else swung wide with ample room and speed to find their lines. I was excited we came there and took a win as a team though and the weekend ahead.
Front flat tire Sunday morning before the crit.
The weekend. Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference Championships at Penn State University would provide a big venue for us to get after. At this point, IUP Cycling was in a young form. This big weekend was going to shape my cycling in many ways. Although some of the other IUP cyclists had race their bikes before, I was just a bit too scared to really get into it before this and I wish I had stepped up before. With confidence from his tuesday night win, Duane was pushing for him and me to head to PSU registered to race in the "C" category (D-A; least experienced to most - to put it simply). Category D is what we should have raced and we learned it the hard way. Let me not forget to mention Jon Yuhas and Steven Brewer were joining us at PSU as well. They were appropriately racing the D category as, again, we were all fairly new to this intense kind of road racing.
Saturday morning. Everything was apparently going as planned. We got to Black Moshannon State Park with ample time to warm up for the team time trial. We had never done a TTT before let alone really worked a paceline together and it showed. We each took turns blowing up and going way too hard, losing wheels, missing turns... it was a mess. The road race to follow was and will be the toughest route I have ever raced. It is forever scarred in my mind and legs. I could never have guessed cycling would be this difficult. I know I wanted to puke and stop pedaling. A a certain point, I did get over the climbing and thought how I could make this race that I've been so clearly dropped out of more comfortable. I guzzled down my gels and tried to set myself into a rhythm. Duane had been in a lead group, but was wearing too many clothes and was burning up in the worst way having to stop to strip layers off. He was behind me and I crossed the 1 lap to go line before him.

Funny thing happened when he was making his way to cross the line... Again, we were both in the C race and this meant that we would have to complete a second trip around the Black Moshannon State Park. I pulled myself out of the race. It was all too much. Duane, not knowing that I was already on the roadside decided to make the best of all that pain and the disgrace of pulling oneself out of the race. I saw him approaching the finishing stretch and he actually went no-hands, zipped up his jersey like he was soloing to a win (he was in the middle of a pack for sure too) and he raised his hands in perfect victory salute form. I couldn't stop from laughing when I saw this and hearing the race officials yell at him to firstly, keep the hands on the bars and secondly, remind him that he had another lap to do. We got back to the car in good spirits as we waited for Brewer and Yuhas to finish their races (one lap that began after ours). We packed up and got out of there yapping on about how difficult that race was and how weak we all felt compared to everyone else around us.. but laughing nonetheless.
weekend shirts - how very appropriate...
Sunday morning was met with a certain unease having just undergone a real cycling shock to the system. The night before we all were incredibly hungry and shared one of those pizza hut pasta dishes and we were just ready for anything that would happen during this 6-90 degree corner crit. Again, Duane and I were in the C event. Having witnessed Brewer's crit, we knew this was going to be a sufferfest of a different kind. Duane and I pulled ourselves out of the race before they could pull us. We felt really demoralized after that and the weekend was done as far as we were concerned.

That first weekend has shaped so much of my cycling career thus far.

Everything was changed and an entirely new insight to bike racing was witnessed and experienced by me and all of IUP Cycling. Jon Yuhas was announced that weekend as the second president of IUP Cycling and changes to everything we focussed on were in place. Everyone who went to PSU that weekend has been driven by the experience at IUP. We are a stronger, specialized few now.

This past Tuesday, David Watkins, next year's (and the two years following) IUP Cycling Club president and I went to the Oval and did work to put ourselves in a lead group that established a half-lap lead on the rest of the field. We were feeling strong and comfortable. unfortunately a rider in the peloton went down and didn't get up. She was eventually declared to "be alright," though an ambulance was called just to be sure and the race was thus "black-flagged." I absolutely felt like I was the strongest in the field and would have taken the sprint for first (none of the regular "favs" were there). No finish line reached. No winnings. No worries.
This weekend, David and I, the current IUP Cycling club president for those who didn't know, will be going to Penn State for the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference Championships. I will be racing C for revenge and David will be racing D for good measure. The routes and races are all the same. The stage is set. I will not only be completing each of my events, I will be looking to ride for a placing. I have no idea what to expect, but pain, suffering, and a good relapse to where I was two years ago. I was initially shying away from considering this race as one I wanted to do when I saw it on the ECCC schedule, but this could not be a better way for me to "pass the torch" to David and for us both to represent IUP at the collegiate races. I know this will be a great experience and I know that I have never been stronger as a rider. I am motivated and ready to destroy myself for this. I will give it my all. That you all can be sure of, readers. Everything I have experienced will be put to the test here. I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform at my best. I have no doubt this will be a good experience and I wish to make the best of everything that happens.

Thanks for reading.

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