Monday, April 19, 2010

Bike race? Check.

I did the Tour of East Taiwan this weekend, which was 130 km down the east coast and then 170 km up. I finished!
I rode on a bus with a team sponsored by this factory in Fong Yuan. There were only 3 girls on the bus- me, another foreign teacher from my school whose boyfriend was doing the race, and a Taiwanese girl. They had meals and lodging all planned out and the organization was pretty impeccable- the hotels were nice and the food was great.
I ate a lot of this (delicious poached fish with lots of herbs), which I think is my favorite food in Taiwan.
This is a picture of my wave and me before the start. There were 5 waves (I think?) that left every 5 minutes. Mine was the last- all the women, and men maybe over 40 or 50?

As I mentioned before, bike racing is a different breed from running races and triathlons. I knew that there was a zone (I think around 15 km?) where the pack could only go a certain speed, and when that zone ended if you weren't with the pack you were pretty much sunk. It turned out there was a scooter in front pacing us and then all of a sudden it was gone and uh-oh, no one was around me. Well, there were a few people way behind me and a few people way in front. I spent about an hour going as hard as I could to catch up with some other racers. Ideally, in a bike race you'll ride in a line because for each person after the leader, you have to work less hard to maintain the same speed because of the draft. But at most I think I ever got working with 2 other people. Men generally let me draft them as long as I wanted but it never seemed to work when I tried to take a turn leading (pulling, it's called). Women seemed to want to stay the heck away from me, which might have been a racing strategy but since we were basically duking it out for last place in our division, that seemed odd. Also I don't know how to correctly express things like "Do you want to work together?" in Chinese. I tried to convince 2 guys that since we were always together we should help each other, and the one just said, "You can stay behind me if you want." Um, OK.
Overall though after the first hour it was fun and the scenery was absoutely amazing- mountains on one side and pristine ocean on the other. When I could look up!
I finished that day in around 4.5 hours. Had a great sleep and didn't feel too bad the next day. On Sunday I managed to stay with the pack a little longer and it was the same thing- sometimes finding people to work with, sometimes not. I kept chanting "I'm extremely lucky to have this guy's wheel" to remind myself not to pass people I was drafting. I ate and drank more the second day which helped a lot. I made 2 stops at 7-11 to get water and sports drink which was good- the team had vans that gave out water and stuff but I guess since I was by far the slowest member it didn't work for them to supply me. No big deal as a few extra minutes on my time didn't matter; I'm just glad I didn't pass up the few 7-11s in the hopes that the team van would come. I did fall off a nice pack of people to stop at one 7-11 but that's life.
The second day I feel went better than the first. I guess I had clearer expectations of what it would be like. It was also quite pretty but not quite as beautiful. I finished in about 6.5 hours, for 170+ km. Oh, yeah, and it rained pretty hard during the time we were all in the pack together so everyone got filthy. Here's me after the finish, and then later in a hotel room where we got to shower before the bus ride home, sporting my dirt uni-brow.

I finished 3rd or 4th from the bottom of my division (women 30-39) both days. There were over 30 women in my division. There were definitely men coming in after me, though, even men from later waves.
So, will I do another bike race? Probably not. I knew going in that it would be tough, but I had a weird obsession with doing this, mostly because I knew it would be a beautiful course. (And I'd still love to bike the east coast- taking 2 days between Hualien and Taitung would be no problem and really enjoyable.) But to improve- even to be in the middle of the pack- I'd have to invest a lot more money than I'm willing to invest in a bike, and invest a lot of time finding a team and training with them.
Also, I just didn't like the vibe of bike racing. In triathlons, you're competing but it's easy to chat with people as you're waiting to start and cheer people on whether they're passing you or you're passing them. I'd heard that bike racing isn't all sunshine and smiles but I wasn't prepared for how un-sunshiney it is. I'm sure it's more fun if you have a team you're friends with, but there wasn't much friendliness on the course. On the second day in the pack at the beginning, I overheard 2 people chatting in English and one said, "This is pretty annoying. If you have no chance at winning, why are you even up here now?" But you had to be with the group unless you were willing to go 12 km an hour and have no one to work with the whole race. I'm sure comments like that get made in running races and triathlons too, but there's a lot more positivity to drown it out.
And I guess I always thought that I don't really need cheers and spectators when I race. But the triathlon 2 weekends ago didn't have many spectators, and the bike race had almost none (at least by the time I raced around) and I realized I do need that- it really does make me smile and smiling doesn't make me work harder, but it does make me enjoy working hard. There was no one cheering as I crossed the finish at the bike race- not a soul, just a volunteer basically pushing me out of the way. Again, I realize that this isn't a problem with bike racing- real racers thrive off of that more competitive atmosphere- just a problem with me and bike racing. It's funny, on a triathlon forum and triathlate was complaining about a bad experience at a bike race and a cyclist wrote, "That's how bike races work. Suck it up, buttercup." It's a funny phrase but, you know, I don't want to suck it up. I guess I like the smiles and sunshine.
So, overall, I did enjoy that weekend but I see no need to repeat it. Also my team was very nice and supportive- I even told them that after the last person before me came in, they could drive out and pull me off the course so I didn't waste anyone's time, but they were like no, if you can finish, finish! It also turned out we had to wait a good while for the faster memebers to pick up their awards. But anyways. Back to triathlon.

No comments: