A "Racer's" View

1996 Louisiana State Road Race Championships

It is amazing how much fun you can have in less than perfect conditions! Sunburned, dehydrated, hungry and physically exhausted ....... with a less than perfect bike, is how I started the 96 Senior 4/5 LA District Championships. My lengthy explanation, in 3 parts, follows.

Part 1 - Bicycle Enthusiast = Race Worker

My lack of conditioning was the result of a number of factors. 1st, very little training time in the previous months set the scene. I so often hear, "Well I haven't had time to train.... so I can't race." People would be surprised what you can learn just by starting a race in whatever shape. Glenn Gulotta and I were very concerned about the race attendance because of the bad weather Saturday morning. We could reach up and touch the rain swollen, black clouds in the torrential downpour.... no exaggeration. We did not try because the lighting would have zapped us and we would have been washed into the lake near our hotel by the small flood that was occurring. I told Glenn that my windshield wipers were on full speed and we still could barely see the road. Amazingly, we saw 2 bicyclists on the road pedaling into Jackson, LA. . It must have been a sign #198# After some coffee & "butter biscuits" at Bob's drive in the skies cleared and the sun started drying the course rapidly. Racers began to arrive, registration was underway, and we had a race! I borrowed Jim's trailer to bring my XV 250 cc motorcycle to lead the bigger fields around the course. If you have a choice between a lead or follow vehicle, something to "sweep" the road in front of the racers is the choice....makes the race safer. It is unlikely the peleton will get smashed from behind. It could be a major disaster if they get hit head on or someone turns left in front of the group. You can do this job with a car but the motorcycle is smaller and much more maneuverable with cyclists on the road. Miller road is rather narrow and the motorcycle worked very well for this. I was motorcycling as a lead vehicle from 10:00 am till almost 3:00 pm Saturday. I did not bring enough to drink. I had nothing to eat. I did not even think of sunscreen.... OUCH! My picture is now in the encyclopedia under "redneck". When I finished I was beat. I felt much more tired than if I had ridden a race on the bicycle. I am sure part of this was the nervous energy involved in looking for obstacles and cars ahead and keeping track of racers behind. Glenn and I kept our novena candles going that no one would be injured on the course. I tried to stop at the corners when possible and inform the police of race progress. (Please do this when possible..... they often know little to nothing about what is going on in the race). I tried to give racer's time splits as well. It would be nice to have a few extra cc's to zip (65mph+) between the break and peleton. No one got hurt in any race I moto marshaled...... Thank you St. Jude........ I had some people say, "It must be great to watch the race from the motorcycle." It is great fun, BUT looking in the 3" mirror is rather limiting. In the future 2 motorcycles would be much better. Moto #1 could cover the corners and possible road entry in front of the race while Moto #2 could stay 100 meters in front of the peleton. When a break clears 1 minute, the 2 motorcycles could cover the 2 groups. Everyone could tell I was exhausted Saturday pm at dinner and later. While everyone was talking I just consumed my food. I began thinking there is no way I will race tomorrow. When we got back to the room, while everyone was watching football, I went to sleep before 9:30 pm..... the alarm was set for 5:00 am! After our delayed hotel departure, we arrived in Jackson to a beautifully sunny & brilliant, cool day. The race promoters were in good spirits from day one's success. They had nothing but positive feedback from all the racers. They told us they kept hearing " Great race course" from racers after their events....... " We will be back next year." With the main event, Senior 1/2/3, LA District Championship on the start line, we got underway with only a 15 minute delay. This slight delay was caused by the police covering the corners having to find some prisoners that had escaped from the State Criminal Forensic Prison near Jackson! We told the racers not to pick up hitchhikers. It is hard to describe the beauty of the racers climbing the "Miller the Killer " road in the beams of sunlight that cut through the crisp, cool air! One could have imagined this scene in any European road race with ease. The roads were clear of heavy traffic and the racers were ready for their 97 mile test of fitness and tactics. I will leave it to others to describe the race development.

Part 2 - Bicycle Enthusiast = Bicycle Racer

I knew I would be on the road from 8:00 am till 11:30 am. I only had time for some coffee and a power bar early. I thought, "I am so ill prepared for this race, I will just skip it." After watching the 1/2/3 race develop, something clicked. ...... Glenn calls it the "Cosmic Tumblers". I decided to start the race. I dismounted the motorcycle and loaded it on the trailer. I ran over to registration and got the last number before it closed. $12.00 to ride a 61.0 mile State Championship Road Race..... what a bargain! I quickly pinned my number on, dressed, and installed my race wheels. I knew I needed some food on board and downed a couple of PowerGels with some fluid. I was hoping they would stay down long enough to be absorbed. I heard Glenn say, "We will start your race in 10 minutes" .... better make sure my bike shifts OK. My warm up was 5 minutes.... not great but the bike worked. Our group of @ 25 started slowly.... those novena candles must still be burning. I knew I needed some time to warm up and get my food digested. I tasted my gels on lap 1 & 2 at the top of the Miller climb...... but not involuntary loss of stomach contents. (If you need to "pitch" or "hurl" please follow racing's proper etiquette and do so at the back of the peleton..... besides, it is a dead giveaway to your competition that you are not feeling at all keen!) I staked out my position at the back of the group with a couple of other Cat 4 Masters who were "double dipping" from yesterdays age group championships. We noted some "less talented" bike handlers in the much maligned Cat 4 group, but for the most part, the skills were more than adequate for a safe race. (only 1 crash into an soft dirt ditch, at slow speed, going up Miller climb, no injury..... he finished the race.) Lap 4, up the Miller climb, Maurizzio and Keith went away with 2 other riders. Time for Robert to go to work. I went to the front and began my "contribution" to the break. As the mostly Red Stick lead chase attempted to bring the escapees back, I kept my presence at or near the front just enough to delay an organized chase. I knew it was working as I heard the chasers in the hunt kept screaming "keep it smooth and pull through" as my teammates rode away up the road..... great. After a of lap of my confounding the chase effort, I heard the Red Stick team trying to organize, "Hey guys come back here". Plans were discussed. They were going to get past me by sending 2 or 3 guys to the front hard and sending a flyer past me. They tried, 4 or 5 times, but Ken, Gary, or Todd and I would cover these moves and shut them down....... NOBC teamwork was very effective. Lap 6,(I think) up the Miller climb, Gary & Ken rolled off. They were joined by a Red Stick racer (Tim) and a rider from another team. I made a point to tell the Red Stick team guys left, that they had a teammate in the 2nd break. Two of them were not aware of this! I said, " You guys and I have no reason to chase anything now." Lap7, (I think) up the Miller climb, Todd, Ken Dunaway (Mezza Luna) and I rolled off. I told them we had a gap and went to the front to work it......... just enough to get us away. I pushed the pace up a little and took longer pulls on Hwy 68 as I knew this was the critical point and probably the fastest section of road. We needed to get a real gap here or we would be caught. It worked. We were moving away by Hwy 10. I made the mistake of pushing a bigger gear up the LA 10 - 952 junction climb and I started to cramp ..... Big Time. I really wanted to stop. I kept moving my position on the pedals to prevent a total lockup. Thank goodness Traci and Brian were feeding me. I just kept telling myself..... "this too will pass". It did, not completely but enough. I kept the guys in our break motivated by telling them we were keeping our position from the chase. I did not want us to catch break #2 as I figured Gary and Ken had that under control. Lap10, Bell Lap, up the Miller climb, I felt much better. I took our group over the top and down Miller road. My companions were hurting bad and the thought crossed my mind..... "Last lap, less than 4 miles left.... I could drop these guys" . I thought for a second. Todd is a NOBC teammate, a new, young racer and it makes more sense for him to advance. Nope..... keep it together." I kept them going by telling them I could see the chase. I took longer pulls and watched Ken prepare for his finish. When I asked Todd how he felt he said, "Terrible." I said, "Just hang on." As we turned onto LA 10, I wanted to keep the pace high & position Ken to allow Todd a shot at 8th place. I motored strong and long. As we approached the downhill before the final turn, I said to Todd, "Get ready to come around me".... He said, "What?".... No time to repeat..... I had to make sure I moved along inside and then in front of Ken so I could take him wide in the final corner..... it worked. This time I yelled to Todd........ "Go!!!! " Todd took off the inside corner and sprinted to 8th place. I dropped Ken for 9th. Our teammates took 1st, 4th, 5th..... great results for the team! Smiles and congratulations all around. I rolled up to Ken after the race and said, "I enjoyed racing with him...... sorry I had to maneuver you out but Todd is a young guy moving up and we are having fun." He agreed and said he appreciated my effort to keep us away. Great Sport. The best part was after the race when Todd asked me about his sprint..... "Is that what you meant by going?" .... I laughed. Yes..... you got it ..... "Team Racing" NOBC style.... everyone is a winner.

Part 3 - Life is more precious with friends

On our way home Glenn and I discussed a number of things...... the race, people, next years race....... races of past. It is amazing how many good times people share in and around racing...... things you never forget. A question came up on the ride back. Why do so many of the talented area athletes...... sometimes 60 or more "Giro" riders, fail to show up for real races ? You know, real sanctioned, USCF, bicycle races. Real bicycle races, where you pay a small fee and are challenged by clearly defined, competitive conditions, athletes, and team tactics. Real bicycle races, where you can exponetially develop your bicyle performance skills. Real races..... not just training rides or imagined "race simulations"...... it is too easy to hide from your true potential in an "imagined race." Do they know what they are missing? ..... Probably not. The laughter, friendships, and intense personal & team experiences are some truly precious moments in our lives. We both agreed, the guys with the multi thousand dollar, latest whiz bang bikes, who never even try racing, are really missing out on some of life's exceptional "good times." Yes, my weekend race was a "lower level" Cat 4 race.... but I dare anyone to say I had a "lower level" of fun..... prepared or not. Ask anyone who saw my smile at the finish! This is all my long winded way of reminding people that "Racers Make Races Happen"...... write it down..... it is like a law of physics. That is why you see real "racers" out there just doing it, before and after their races. Thanks guys. I hope this article encourages others, particularly new racers, to step up, help work a race and then race it. Even if you are not "perfectly prepared", you will still be smiling with your friends in the end. See you at the races, Robert W. Massart

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