One benefit of waking at 4am to go racing is the lack of traffic. Heading east to Redlands from Pasadena, the roads were so empty you may have wondered if there was some sort of apocalyptic event you were unaware of in the night. Maybe it was just the coffee hitting my nerves. This was my second time properly racing my bike so I arrived a little over an hour early. By the time I registered, got my numbers on and my bike together, it was nearly time to line up! On my way to go warm up, I bumped into my teammate Mike Lee. Redlands is a decently technical circuit with five corners to negotiate, three of which take place on the downhill part of the course. We chatted tactics and decided it would be best to stay near the front, try to control the pace, avoid surges and any mid-corner sketchiness. As we spun around the circuit to warm up, the start time came and went. There was a vehicle parked on the circuit which led to our race being shortened. While unfortunate, the group was grateful to avoid dodging a car near turn two.
This was a mentored ride so the first three laps were led by coaches. There were also people posted on course reminding us to carry speed through corners and drink water. The coaches pace was relaxed in the beginning and ramped up by the third lap. I stayed on the wheel of the second coach so I could have good position when the race properly started. Lap three came to an end, and I was on the front.
Game time! We found a pretty good rotation with Mike and a handful of other riders. The pace was strong but manageable. Mike was doing a good job of making other riders work, taking strong pulls then letting off, forcing riders to respond. Right around five laps to go, the pace kicked. I was in the red, Mike was in a break, and a gap had emerged. I hesitated too much to close down the gap so I chose to stay with the group to save a match for the bunch sprint. I’m third wheel with two laps to go. The lead rider threw an elbow, the dude behind him didn’t go, and I didn’t either. He opened it up and we held on for a pretty spicy lap. With one lap to go we hit the 180 degree turn with good speed. The pace slowed so I hit it with a few corners left. I got a gap and managed to stay away until the last corner. The finish had a slight rise to it so I added a gear, thinking I would need it for the sprint. I should have downshifted or stayed with the gear I had and then sprinted. I gave it my all but the cadence just wasn’t there. A rider came around me at the line, leaving me with 6th place. Team mate, Mike Lee finished 3rd.
Given my lack of experience racing, this was a great result. I rode the post race high for a few days at least. Looking back, it might have been fun to see if we could have controlled the break more had I been able to close the gap and stay with Mike. For the next race, I will be more aware of those gaps and proper gearing for the sprint. I am thrilled to start the season with a top 10 finish.