After training and racing seriously for several years, I decided to scale it back after Masters Nationals a year ago to focus more on family and work. The plan was to continue to ride but in a less structured way, and get back to more riding on the dirt. I’d jump in a few events and try to maintain enough fitness to help the team on the few occasions where I could race, but the plan was to take training much less seriously. I wasn’t sure how I'd feel watching my fitness slide over time and how’d I’d feel watching my team mates race but I was excited to try out the new trend in cycling, gravel racing. As it turns out, I have enjoyed riding much more over the last year as mountain biking and gravel riding have replaced intervals and I can use group rides more to get in some intensity. But the most challenging part was this spring as everyone’s fitness started to return and I was just maintaining. It sucked to not be able to hang, or even attack like I used to. But I’ve known I was going to do the San Rafael Sunset Crit for a while so it was time to try to get some form back. Part of that prep was needing to dust off the race legs and I found an opportunity last weekend at the Brisbane Criterium. Our team had a decent turnout as did the rest of the field so it was a good test. Maybe it was the time off from racing or just one of those reflective days, but the experience gave me some clarity around why road racing is so rad and why there’s nothing else like it.
Over this last year, I’ve done some “alternative events” like grasshoppers, the Lost and Found Gravel Race, and one day of the Haute Route. All very hard and very fun events but races where you can finish just about anywhere and still have a good day out. But there’s just no other style of racing that matches road racing. The teamwork, intensity, tactics, split second decision making and talent of the NorCal masters scene separate this racing style from all others. We like to joke that it’s like playing chess while at your physical limit. And while I get the draw of fondo’s and gravel racing, it’s just not the same. Yes, road racing is harder, and you have to put in more work in order for it to be fun, and getting dropped sucks. But when you’re fit enough to be up in the mix and participate in the racing rather than hanging on for dear life, there’s no better competitive experience on a bike.
But what really separates road racing from other styles is the post race get together. Maybe not all teams do this but our post race gatherings are one part race recap, one part top notch beer tasting. And yesterday was no exception. It certainly helped that Dana won and we didn’t have to dwell on what we did wrong, but I was struck by the experience and how it differed from the other events I had done. Those alternative races are generally a series of individual stories and it’s certainly fun to swap them around the campfire or over a cold beer. But with road racing, it’s a shared experience. We spoke about what we saw each other doing, and explained what we were thinking when we did what we did. We asked questions about what was happening in the break or back in the pack. We had all been in the same race but had different thoughts and experiences within the race. Our competitors would stop by and we’d chat with them about how the race played out. All of our stories were interwoven and made up the entirety of the race. And that’s what really makes road racing so special and unique. You experience it with others and each of us out there impact and contribute to the experience of the rest.
I’m a huge supporter of the new trend in racing and I love that these “alternative” races are so inclusive and can help introduce the competitive aspect to cycling or rekindle the fire in a retired racer. But I hope road racing never dies and maybe these new events will help newer riders catch the competitive bug. I can’t wait for San Rafael, my favorite race of the year. Now just need to get some intervals in...