Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bike Racing Fernley Raceway - "Racing's Field of Dreams"

Tonight was the inter-club challenge with the Reno Wheelmen. People were disappointed that we couldn't race along Franktown Rd in Carson, which is lovely road but the Fernley Raceway was quite something else.


Fernley is quite a drive for most of us, about an hour and a half but the track is worth every bit of trouble getting there. When I arrived I was surprised to see so many Alta Alpina shirts and my regular racing buddies had made it out there. Great stuff to have so many keen club members like this.

A couple of the guys were chatting. One had promised 80 degree heat for the event, so the actual 98 degree heat with humidity was a bit much, but at least it had an '8' in it, said one.

A nice spot for the race director...

We headed out for a warm-up lap on this 4 mile race track. I almost had to stop myself making stupid motorcycle noises as I leaned into the corners. Being on a race track with no other traffic but bikes was awesome.

The 4 mile circuit (marked 1)...

Apart from the delightful corners, the one notable feature of the circuit was a big climb up around 3 turns. Getting the line right on the climb was tricky. Going wide meant you had further to ride but the gradient was easier - that was my favourite. Another critical feature was a very fast descent (40mph perhaps) into a sharp turn and a slightly dodgey road surface beyond. We practiced this a couple of times before the race but it played differently at full race speed.

The group C riders lined up about 6.15, perhaps 25-30 of us, ready for 4 laps. I coughed my way through the race briefing with my new found asthma (the Wheelmen must've not been too worried about racing me). Pretty soon we were off to a fairly gradual start, but consistently getting faster. By the time we hit the first climb we were moving and most people hauled themselves up it on fresh legs but even then the pack started to spread out. Some of the heavier riders in particular suffer on the big climbs but often make it up on the downhill and the flat by keeping the momentum going.

I was quite near the front of the pack at the end of the first climb but began to lose some ground on the fast corners and descents. Near the end of the first lap I could see a pack of 8 riders at the front, then a few more behind them. I coughed my way around much of the first lap before the chest calmed down and let me just ride.

At times I made an effort to catch the odd rider or two in front and draft a little. Rick was doing similar so we rode together for a bit. I'm not sure where we separated but perhaps on the second big climb.

After the second lap the odd rider ahead seemed to slack off a bit. This was very motivating because I got a mental boast from gaining on them, and then a little draft from sitting on their tail. Then I pulled ahead to take my turn for a bit. Sometimes I rode with another rider for a while but then looked back to see they had dropped back.

A one point I reeled in an Alta Alpina jersey. The guy was looking a little tired from hanging with the front runners but I shouted a bit of encouragement and we rode together for a while, taking turns at the front. He led me down the steepest, fastest corner with a brilliant line. I came off the hill so fast that I managed to shoot right past him and gain a lot of ground on the riders ahead.

By the end of the third lap I could see the front pack of 4 riders, and then another 2 riders following. I could hardly believe it but I was reeling in these two, one was Andrew H and the other was a Wheelman. I was starting to think, if I get past those two I'll get some real points for a 5th place. I was also starting to think that I'd be pretty impressed with 7th place given the quality of the people I was ahead of. Perhaps that was the wrong focus for my brain.

I finally caught them up just before the big climb on the final lap. I stayed with them for 2/3rds of the climb but then made a poor gear choice and was pooped and they managed to get a lead on me and then extend it, descending and cornering better than me and being close enough to draft off each other. I'm sure they rode the last part of the 4th lap much quicker than they had the 3rd because that's where I made up so much ground on them before.

I got over the line perhaps 20 or 30 seconds behind them with a time of something like 43:51. Pretty soon the coughing fit kicked in for 5 minutes or so but the tightness in the chest had relented a bit.

A race for the line...

UK Ironman Pike got pipped to the post but was philosophical about it...

Overall a good race for me. The Wheelmen are a tough crowd. The last time I raced with them was in a Crit and I was 13th. 7th place this time seems much more respectable, though I am left wondering how I could have raced differently to get that 5th place, or who knows, even win it.

As usual, I'm left feeling that cycling is a complex sport and I have a lot to learn but every race I learn a bit more. This time one of the big lessons was in cornering from one of the Alta Alpina guys.

Fernley is a totally awesome place to race bikes - the Wheelmen did great to get the track for the event. I hope I get the chance to race there again one day, despite the hill!


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