Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Alaska Bike for Women - Race Review

Last weekend, I raced in the Alaska Bike for Women. 
I mean that I really raced.

I started cycling two years ago and the events I’ve participated in since have been more about distance than speed.  For example, I’ve ridden in the Fireweed 200-mile relay and the associated half-century (fifty miles) and last summer, with two of my sisters, I took on the Chelan Century Challenge.  In a fifty or one-hundred miler, you have to pace yourself so that you can make the finish line.  In an event like the Alaska Bike for Women, though, you just hammer it, my sister Saree instructed me.

The Bike for Women is an annual race that follows a 9-mile out-and-back course which starts and ends in the Chugiak High School parking lot.  It’s a hilly route and takes you around twelve 45⁰ to 90⁰ corners.  Oh, wait, did I say twelve?  I meant twenty-four since you hit those corners coming and going.  The ever-organized Saree took me on a familiarization ride across the course the day before the event, thus, we were able to spot hazards (broken pavement, pot holes, gravel on the road), strategize our approaches to the hill climbs, and scope out the porta potty locations.

We agreed on our plan for race day:  Pedal around the corners.  Ride hard.  Over do it.  Rest at Mom’s house afterwards.  My nephew gave Saree a final piece of advice:  It’s okay to vomit at the finish line – it means you pushed yourself to the limit.

Some riders warm up on their trainers prior to the time trial

The race’s starting process was something new for me.  The 500-some racers were given specific start times and, instead of a mass or wave start, we queued up in order and launched off the line 20-seconds apart.  Saree was slated to go right before me and I cheered her on as the gun popped, then watched her disappear up the first hill and around the corner well before the race official started my count down. 

I pushed off, clipped in, and was off.  “I’ll catch her,” I thought, glancing ahead to locate Saree’s bright orange jacket.  But, soon, I was solely focused on keeping my cadence high.  The corners came up fast – faster than I remembered from our trial run the day before –and, because I knew I had to hammer it, I squinted, grimaced, tucked, and kept pedaling as I took the first corner wide, leaning away from the yellow line.  Surviving the first corner at high speed gave me confidence, so I pushed on.

Corner after corner, the racers sped forward toward the turn around point.  A hundred women aboard bikes, darting, passing, sprinting, sucking air.  Volunteers sprang up at the tightest angles waving orange flags to keep us on the road.  Cars passed, always cautiously, as we spread out across the lanes along the entire distance.  Finally, I could see the railroad tracks and the cop standing in the middle of the road to mark our pivot point.  I sprinted toward the cone, pulled my brakes, and made the tight turn, then rose off the saddle to regain my speed.  A woman came up from behind and passed me.  That just made me mad.  I surged forward, trying to catch her.  I caught a glimpse of Saree, then she disappeared around a corner again.  The woman just ahead of me started up the first hill back to Chugiak and I could see she was losing speed, so I shifted down and kept my feet spinning.  I gained on her and within seconds was on her tail, then I stood up on my pedals and left her in my dust, or so I thought.
One tired leg

As I raced toward another corner I glanced over my shoulder to make sure the road was clear and there that woman was again, and this time she was on my tail.  I sank down over my bike and cranked out some additional speed to keep my lead, then we hit the second hill and she overtook me.  I stayed on her (though, dear race organizers, I was not drafting and I was trying to heed the 30’ rule) nearly to the finish line.  As I crested the hill, I saw Saree enter the finish chute ahead of another cyclist, then, exactly 20 seconds later, I crossed the finish line, too.

I caught up with Saree back in the high school parking lot where we inhaled water, regained our lungs, and finally congratulated ourselves for having properly hammered that course.

Alaska Bike for Women Website (Arctic Bicycle Club)

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