On Saturday I did the Drops to Hops bike race at Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY. It was great!
There were two races happening - the "A" race is 43 miles and is more competitive. The "B" race is about 20 miles and is also called a "citzen's race" - less competitive, can do it on any type of bike. There were still people on nice road bikes who were really fast in the B race, though. There were a bunch of people from Ithaca who went to the race. I did the A race with several of the women I ride with on Wednesday nights. Some of their husbands/boyfriends did the A race too. Nick did the B race and so did Joe, another guy who does TNR in Ithaca. The races start and end at Ommegange Brewery, which is my favorite brewery in NY -- really good beer, nice venue, lots of space outside. Even if the race didn't go well, you knew there would be good beer and food afterwards!
We left Ithaca around 6:45am and got to Ommegang with plenty of time to get ready. It was quite chilly and it was hard to get moving. I warmed up a bit with Nick and Kara then we gathered at the start line. The A race started at 10am. There were 91 people in the A race and we all started in one big group. I thought it was a neutral start for a while (meaning everyone rides together, not "racing" right from the start) but the pace picked up pretty much as soon as we got out of the brewery driveway. We lost the main group very quickly, and after a bit of shuffling around Kara, Tina, Michelle and I formed a paceline by mile 4 or so.
We went up a small hill around mile 5 or 6 and I got ahead of my little group. I knew that it was too early for me to go off on my own so I didn't go too hard and they caught back up to me after a few minutes, but I noticed Tina was gone. I guess she had dropped back pretty close to the start. Michelle, Kara and I worked together, with some other people who were near us hopping in our paceline when they could. There is actually a ton of strategy/teamwork involved in bike racing - it is totally different than the bike racing portion of triathlons. The obvious benefit -- you can draft in bike races. There's also some planning and strategy involved in knowing when you should ride on your own, and when you should ride in a group. You can save energy and move faster with less effort riding in a group....but if the group's pace is slower than the pace you could maintain on your own, when do you break off? You may be able to ride faster by yourself for a few miles, but usually the group can catch up. I like this strategic part of bike racing. I like making a plan and looking at the course ahead of time and deciding where to go harder, where to back off, when I think I can go off on my own, when to eat, etc. I stuck to my plan pretty well during this race.
Kara, Michelle and I stayed in our little group until mile 25. I had ridden this course once last year, and studied the elevation map before the race, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect and that factored into my plan. We eased up a bit around mile 23 and I ate a gel. There was a very big climb at mile 25. When I rode the course before it took me about 15 min for the climb - it's a little less than 2 miles long and pretty steep - average grade of about 8%. I broke off from our pack at the bottom of the hill and went off on my own. When I go up big hills, I think about riding up Whiteface - anything seems easier than that was! As soon as I got to the top of the hill I changed gears and pushed on, not wasting time to recover at the very top. There was a long descent, flat for a few miles, then another steep climb. I was by myself for all of this.
The next climb felt harder, but it seemed like it went by much faster (it was about 11 minutes). There were more people sprinkled around the hil but I was still riding alone. I could see people a way behind me but they weren't that close. Coming down the back side of this climb I saw something in the road ahead of me -- it was a porcupine! First time ever seeing one IRL. Unfortunately, no time to stop and look!
I knew there were no more significant climbs for the rest of the ride - a few little rollers but nothing crazy. I was feeling good so I planned to push pretty hard for the rest of the ride, I had less than 10 miles to go. 10 miles - that's just a short little post-work ride (that is what I kept telling myself). It will be over in no time.
I passed one or two guys, turned and headed up the last small hill. I leapfrogged a bit with one older guy and a younger guy. I passed the younger guy at the top of the hill - just a little more to go, and it's all flat. I made the final turn to the straight-away to the finish line and got hit with a big gust of wind. I thoguht "what an anticlamatic finish...I'm not moving very fast in this wind!" But, I kept pushing and saw the older guy a little bit ahead of me. I decided I wanted to finish before him and passed him not too long before the finish line.
I felt really good about how the race went. I paced myself well for the distance, rode hard but still had enough energy to push it at the end, but didn't feel like I held back TOO much. I rode by myself from miles 25-43. My nutrition plan went well. I prepared well mentally and kept a positive vibe going the whole race. Overall, very happy with it, and I had a lot of fun.
After everyone finished we changed and got our free beers. They gave out awards, and lots of people that we rode with won something! The awards were all bottles of beer, so that was pretty cool. The A race only had 19 women, so several of us placed in our age groups - Carrie got 2nd in our age group and I got 3rd (but there were only 3 people in it!!) Oh well - I'll take the free beer! Nick won first in his age group for the B race.
After awards we mingled around and got some food from the food trucks. It was the brewery's 19th birthday and they were having an event for that, so there were lots of people there. After a few hours of hanging out we made the 2 hour drive home. It was a long day, but fun!
I finished in 2 hrs 23 min. My strava pace was 17.6mph. I finished 10/17 for females and 66/85 overall (91 people started the race but only 85 finsihed). I'm pretty happy with that for a relatively long, competitive race.