I don' think that since I got my racing license (way back in 1995), have I raced this early in the season. The reason why?, weather!!. You might know me as a warm/hot weather type of rider. Nothing like heat to keep the legs and lungs burning. But when the mercury decides to drop, so does any thought of riding. That was until work had me spend some time in the mid atlantic region (Washington DC) and later on, and just for a nasty winter, up in the frozen tundra of Connecticut.
To ride when the temperature outside is 17 degrees took a bit of an adjustment, but it was better than spending weeks upon weeks inside the house, just watching the weather channel and feeling sorry for myself. So now when the temperature is in the mid 40s, and even high 30s, I don't think too much about it, just add that extra layer and out the door I go. But here in Texas we are very lucky that the winters are not as harsh as in other parts of the country and for the most part, we can ride year round without ever having to worry about frostbite.
After a solid November and December on the bike, just making sure the mileage was getting done without sucumbing to the tricks of the pack (ride hard all the time), I started to test the legs about three weeks ago and found a good level, thus I deemed myself fit to race early. Looking at the race schedule, I thought Walburg would be my first race, but then the Tour of New Braunfels (at least the Sunday race) was a good possiblity. And I'm glad I chose this race. Without a doubt, one of the best courses I have ever raced (in all the states I have lived). The wide section on the highway, with its hills and the wind took care of setting the pecking order in the Cat4 group. With 62 starters, and the first section on somewhat narrow roads, the pack soon found itself flying along and shedding those who hybernated for too long.
For me, it was an eye opener of a race. I spent quality time at the sharp end of the spear, not pulling, but in a good position, something I rather tend to do. I felt a little nervous on the windy flat sections, but again, that's normal for my first race. And I felt like I could easily move around the pack, as long as we were racing in the big, opened road. Once we hit River Road, the story was different. Half way through the first lap, a solo rider put an attack and spent a good bit of time all along, fighting the hills and wind. The pack gave chase, but kept him at a reasonable distance until we hit River Road, where the pace slowed down andtrying to move to the front was almost impossible. Still, towards the end of the first lap, I made my way to the back to grab a bite (Nutella and honey sandwich) and while enjoying my mid race snack, I hear shouts coming from behind.
Thinking I was the tail end of the bunch, I looked and to my surprise, six dropped riders were making their way back to the pack. They were high fiving and congratulating each other for their long hard effort to catch back on, only to be greeted by the hill at the finish area. Not soon had they rejoined the pack, that they were waving goodbye to it, for one last time. I don't mean to sound mean, this has happened to each of us at one point or another, but it was quite comical. The pace picked up and we ended up chasing down the lone rider, who made a few more attempts but was quickly coming to the realization that his early efforts were going to cost him dearly. As the pace continued to increase, another rider (dressed as if the temperature was about 30 degrees colder than it actually was) took a flyer and was dangling off the front, about 15 seconds ahead. Again, the pack sensibly kept the pace high and brought him back as we entered River Road for the second and last time. Again, here the pace came down and no rider, or team wanted to set the pace for the last 8 miles. So it came to the last hill, where basically the road opened up and the sprint took place. A slow one at that, but I was nowhere near the front and even with rockets attached to my bike, I don't think I could have made a move. But just for the heck of it, I gave the bike some stick and finished with the front group (22nd) and felt like I had done a decent race.
Now I have my eye on the weather. If things continued to look as good as they have (weather wise), my next event will be Walburg. Lots of winds, echelons and gutter.