2009 Texas State Road Race results attached below.
GETTING TO SAN MARCOS:
Meeting time was 2 PM at the Bike Track. Met Yuekai (Baker Bike Captain), Jordan (Brown Bike Captain), and Thierry at the bike track, but had to meet Jason (Will Rice Bike Captain) and Peter at WRC due to a flat tire. Ian and Daniel Antworth (Jones) could not meet us at 2 PM and told us that they would leave Rice at 5-6 PM.
We stuffed 4 bikes into Jordan's Honda CR-V and 2 onto my miserable and annoying trunk rack. Yuekai sat in Jordan's and Peter, Jason, and Thierry were in my sedan.
Jordan and Yuekai got there about an hour earlier than us because I had to pick up my bike from Performance due to a faulty front shifter, which I clearly anticipated using on the "rolling hills" of the course. After about 3 hrs of driving and about half an hour of sitting through Galleria traffic, we got to Econolodge at San Marcos at 6 PM. We saw the Baylor cycling trailer stationed in the parking lot, and I suggested that we pull a classic Rice jack on it ("jazz hands!"). We quickly dropped off our bags in the hotel room and changed into our Rice team kits. We loaded our bikes back onto my annoying car rack and then headed out to the Tangier parking lot which would later serve as the Texas State base of the road race.
By the time we found the right parking lot (after making a wrong turn and going to one full of annoying shoppers), we finally were ready to head off to test out the road race course. It was probably 6:30 PM by the time we left, and the sun was just about to set.
TESTING THE COURSE:
The hills of the road leading out to the loop honestly caught me off guard, especially after 3 months of training on absolutely flat Houston roads. To avoid getting hit by rear traffic, we assembled into a line and made our way (about 1.5 miles) to the course from the Tangier parking lot.
As the sweeper of the group (and the only guy with a back light with a darkening sky), it was amazing to see the 6 of us in our matching white and blue team kits lined up in formation pedaling up the hill and towards the horizon: the Blue Rice R was lined up in a straight line, almost like something you see from watching VERSUS on TV. It made me insanely proud of the progress RUCT has made since being revived only two years ago, when I was completely uncertain of whether or not we would even get the chance to compete. Competition was more of a dream to me: something that was unattainable and simply wishful thinking.
The scenery was amazing: we saw green pastures with cows and their young munching lackadaisically grass. Riding with this scenery was a completely refreshing experience. As we headed south from the start of the loop, we encountered a 10% hill along with cracks and gravel on the right shoulder of the road. After following the road turning east we encountered a 10% drop: at first the setting sun obscured the road so that there was none; it was as if we had dropped and descended into nothing. Because of the team's inexperience with hills, people applied the brakes, and I had to take evasive maneuvers to avoid crashing into them. I thought to myself that this would be a tricky spot for beginners too timid about speeding down the hill - any sudden application of brakes would mean a dangerous disaster for the pack.
After another 90 degree turn, we came upon a sharp turn that was literally shaped like this less than sign (<), where we headed north and entered a shaded, woody area. After this curvy, woody area, we curved back east over some incredibly smooth roads (where literally felt like a 3 mph increase) and the last 5-6% hill of the course towards the start. By now, it was dark and we were trying to make it back without getting run over by cars.
By the time we got back to the hotel, we were starving. Ian and Daniel just got there, so we all headed out in search of some Italian food (anything with carbohydrates, really). We found a Chipotle and just settled on that. They were missing rice, but Ian, Jason, Daniel, and I were so hungry we just doubled the beans (probably a bad choice). The rest waited for rice.
We then went to a nearby HEB to procure our fuel for the next morning. We ended up getting instant oatmeal (Kashi), bananas, and bowls and spoons.
We then went back to the hotel, I attempted (but miserably failed) to enlighten Ian and Dan about course with my GPS data (Garmin application sucks w/o Internet), and we went to sleep around 10 PM. I'm surprised we slept decently considering we fit 8 guys into two small rooms (especially after horrible hostel experience for LIVESTRONG Challenge).
Click the link for recorded Garmin GPS data. Check out the elevation profile!: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/2843710
Check out pictures courtesy of Texas A&M's Chad Haga: http://chagaphoto.smugmug.com/gallery/7732360_Swruk/1/501533511_2XAFy
We woke up at 6:20 AM, made our instant oatmeal, changed into our gear, and packed up. It was freezing outside: it had to be around 45 degrees. We left for the course at 7:20 AM, and got there at 7:40 AM.
MSU and UT were already there. MSU has this ridiculous trailer and chartered bus. This isn't a surprise since cycling is a varsity sport at MSU (I'm damn jealous). We waited about an hour for registration to start (was supposed to start at 7:45 PM). In the meantime, we set up our equipment and got our spares ready (3 pairs of wheels from Will Rice, Jones, and Brown) for the spares support car that would follow each pack in case of accidents or flats. We got our numbers (2 each), but had no pins! The USA Cycling official ended up giving us enough pins for us to put one number sideways on our right back. I distributed Gu (electrolytes, sugar, and caffeine in goo form to enter the system quickly) to our team to help ward off bonking (literally running out of energy and electrolytes from burning so many calories on the bike). I would later consume one Gu per lap (about 1 every 45 minutes). I think this is what literally kept me going throughout the race.
Finally, it was time to gather at the start. By now, it had warmed up dramatically to the 60s. The teams we saw were: UH, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas State, UT, A&M, Baylor, and Stephen F Austin. Some of them had awesome bikes and wheels (we quickly learned though: it's really not about the bike).
We (Rice) gathered early near the launch line to try to make sure that we would be in the front of the pack as to avoid the slower, less experienced people that would ultimately congregate at the back of the pack. The people with numbers in the 300s started to gather, and there was in total 80 people in our C Category. As the Cat C's made it out to the loop through neutral territory (supposed to be 15 mph), I was starting to worry about my positioning. Daniel was to my immediate right, and Ian was getting close to the front.
Once we reached the loop, the pace picked up dramatically: by the time we were at the bottom of the first hill, we were at 25 mph. Within the first 5 miles, half the pack had dropped. Ian was still in front, and Daniel and I were side by side. Ian was pulling and leading the pack. Jason quickly came up to Ian, and he took his turn at pulling the entire pack, with Ian at his wheel. Yuekai was hanging out behind me and came up beside me a couple times. It was simply amazing to see the 4 Rice R's at all times near the front of the pack. Other contenders in the front included UT, A&M, Texas State, and UH.
For those of you who haven't been in a 30-40 person pack, the one word to describe it would be EXHILARATING. The draft makes such a big difference it feels as if you are being pulled by some sort of vacuum force. I often found myself cruising along at 25 mph often even while coasting. Because you are so close to other people, FOCUS is of utmost important: you need to make sure you don't run into the guy in front of you since you're so close to catch his draft. At the same time, you can't make unpredictable moves since there is someone literally at your rear wheel drafting you as well. In the pack, the mind is in a single state and is ultimately connected with the surroundings. Pedaling and gear changes become second nature when your focus is completely on being aware of what's going on in front of you. Even the simple acts of drinking became extremely nervewracking: it involves taking one hand off the handlebar to grasp your bottle, bringing the bottle up to your mouth while maintaining your balance, and then putting it back, ALL while cruising along at 25 mph dangerously close to cyclists all around. One wrong move, one wrong bump can lead to a disastrous accident. I guess being aware of being dangerously close to disaster at any point was what gave me this intense concentration.
The second lap was perhaps a bit same or slower with the first pack: 23 mph overall. It was often frustrating when in the middle-front of the pack to coast. Why coast when you can pedal and go FAST? This sentiment was shared amongst many: "KEEP PEDALING!" Whenever someone zoomed up on the left side of the pack, I would take advantage of this and zoom out of my position and behind this guy to the front, often without much effort at all (maybe 3 mph more than that average pack speed). This is what kept me towards the front of the pack. Being on the right side of the pack, however, was the worse, especially it felt as if you would get pushed off the shoulder of the road. It didn't help that there were often cracks and debris on the shoulder too.
By the time we got to the 10% hill of the 3rd and last lap, it was obvious that the pack was tired. We were not climbing as fast as we did the first 2 laps. However, as we descended back down, the pack increased its speed. I found myself behind a UT guy who was pulling single file for the entire pack.
Then we came to the < turn, and I overshot it, and almost landed in the gravel of the shoulder. I watched as the entire pack zoomed by in slow motion, as I struggled to maintain my balance. As the rear of the pack came, I started sprinting to get back into position. I felt a slight tinge in my legs as I did this, but continued pushing on and reached Daniel and Ian at the near-front of the pack. This was a STUPID move, because when it came to the 5% hill at the 34th mile, I just couldn't push anymore; it was as if my muscles were devoid of energy. I watched in desperation as the pack passed me, and I got dropped. I took a Gu shot and finished my second bottle of accelerade, which gave me enough to finish the race, although clearly behind the pack. A single rider is no match for the speed of the pack, unless that single rider is crazy fit, and in my case, I was fatigued and tired, while so close to the finish (4 miles left).
Although dropped, I finished probably in the 30s (assuming there were 20 or so people in the first pack). Jason, Daniel, and Ian finished with the pack (in that order), although the finish line was not clearly visible. Had the finish line been clearly marked, I'm sure one of us would have been in the top 5. I came in after Ian, and the rest of the team trickled in. I later found out that Yuekai had gotten into a pileup (luckily no broken bones), and the rest had unfortunately been dropped around the 1st/2nd lap.
I'm confident, though, that our team will learn from its mistakes. We will all be more aggressive, in order to breakaway together as a team AND to avoid getting shot out the back of the pack (accelerations are severely amplified from front to back). I need to learn how to corner better, and probably need to EAT better as well beforehand. Furthermore, we need to practice pack riding...50 mile ride on Saturday as a pack and the fast 25 mile in-town Bike Barn ride (w/ other racing cyclists) should prove helpful.
Overall, I'm proud of our team, especially of how well we did in keeping up as capable competitors at the top 20 of our category. With more group practice and long-distance training, I am confident that one of us will podium by the end of this year, and I can't wait for the next race!
We certainly showed the rest of the South Central Collegiate Cycling division that Rice IS competitive, and that when former competitors of Beer Bike join together across campus, we can truly accomplish great things.
PS. If anyone is interested in getting into cycling (doesn't necessarily have to be competitive), let us know! We would love to have you and help you get into the sport!