Last Saturday, I did the Bulldog Bike Race on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in southern California. It's the second year I've done it and despite having a lot of fun both times, it remains the only bike race I've done.
Saturday's results were pretty good for me considering I was riding on momentum from following the Tour of California and then just a week of training. In that week, the most I rode was 35 miles, and that was split in half between riding to and from work. However, this year I had a little upgrade in gear. Last year: tri shorts, tri singlet, and cage pedals with sneakers. This year: bike shorts, bike jersey and clipless pedals.
So the race didn't start off too well for me. I got there on time, rode a little warm-up, then went back to the car to unload my long sleeve shirt. As I was trying to put my car key back in my Bell bike bag, the zipper refused to stay locked. I kept fiddling with it, but no matter how slow I tried to close it, the zipper kept opening. And I had to pee. With five minutes until my wave started, I chucked the bag (did I mention it was a Bell? I've since upgraded to a Cannondale bag. Let's see how long that lasts) in the car, loaded what I needed into the pockets on the back of my jersey and rode hard over to the start line. With just over four minutes to go, I dropped my bike outside a port-o-potty and hurried in.
I jumped back on my bike with 2:30 left. Tried to get to the start line. Nope, wrong way. I finally found my way to the back of the pack with 1:30 left to go--heart beating fast. A few deep breaths later and the gun went off.
Based on my experience last year, I knew I needed to stay with the lead pack. Fortunately, there was another guy who felt the same and I proceeded to follow his lead around the slower riders who were dropping off the back. It required some butt-busting for the first 15 minutes of the race, but it helped. I stayed at the back of the main peloton until a sharp left-hand turn leading into a hill climb thinned the herd.
The turnaround was at the top of a long hill. To be honest, I thought it would be longer. I guess all the commuting up and down the San Diego valleys has been paying off. On the downhill I caught a few guys, but was trailed closely by another guy with a Nytro.com jersey. We formed a mini-pack and were later joined by a second Nytro rider.
Our pack eventually became a six-man group. A few of us were taking turns at the front. Every so often, I'd get bored at the back or feel like I could ride faster than the pace, and I'd try to take off. I was quickly reeled in and would eventually end up at the back. I'd like to note that the Nytro guys didn't take any turns at the front. They joked around with each other and seemed to be riding as if they were "stuck" with a bunch of amateur privateers. Also, I like to make those at Camp Pendleton aware that if they find an orange energy gel packet about the size of a IV bag, it was tossed by one of the Nytro guys.
That made me kind of mad. Take out what you take in, right? I kept trying to make breaks, but I didn't have the speed or stamina to really get away. Plus, I think I'm lagging on some tactics as well. (Time to hit the articles archive: +Making the Winning Break+ and +Race Strategies for Breaking Away+.)
With about a half mile or so to go, I tried one more time. Didn't have the legs. The Nytro guys did their own sprint with about 200 meters or so to go and beat the rest of us to the line. Can't say I was all that happy for them, I would have liked to see someone who put their time at the front of the paceline take our mini-race within a race. But I learned that in a road race, it's not your overall time that matters as much as riding a tactical race and having the legs to finish strong.
When I got my time, though, I was pretty happy. Here's a 2007 and 2008 comparison:
Time - 1:21:38, 14th out of 21 in Men 25-29, 268 out of 618 overall
Time - 1:14:57, 10th out of 22 in Men 25-29, 119 out of 542 overall
That's almost a 7 minute improvement. Nice! I'll definitely do this race again. The roads are pretty clear (though there are a few cars on it toward the end) and there are soldiers stationed everywhere in case you need help--plus plenty of water spots. Camp Pendleton puts on some good races.