Before I get into the saga of my race today, a quick recap. Bike racers are divided into categories based on number of races they have been in, races they’ve placed in, etc. The lowest category is 5, which would be pretty much anyone who walks in off the street — i.e., me. Categories 1,2,and 3 are highly skilled amateurs or professionals.
When I went to register for the Hillsboro-Roubaix, I was presented with a choice. There was a men’s cat 5 division, and there was a men’s Masters over 50 division. “Masters”, of course, means “old.” The cat 5 men raced the loop twice, for 44 miles total. The masters raced the loop three times, for 66 miles. I might point out that the only other people who raced 66 miles were the men and women cat 1-3s.
I decided I’d rather race 66 miles with old fogeys than 44 with young cat 5s. In retrospect, maybe not the wisest choice.
The masters 40+ and 50+ all started together. The first 22-mile lap was insane. Interestingly, about half of those masters were cat 2 or 3, and they set a killer pace. Furthermore, there was a 15-20 mile an hour wind, with higher gusts. I hung with the pack for about 5 miles, and then picked up some people in a pace line for another 5. Then I fell off the back of the pace line like I was riding through glue. So did another guy shortly after, and we rode together a while.
The first lap wasn’t too bad, still. My time was pretty good. About 14 miles in, the cat 1-3 women passed me like I was standing still, and as they went by, a woman in the back of the peloton yelled “Hi, Dr. Gathman!” I was puzzled.
I caught up with her at the end of the first lap as we went through town. A former student named Kristen Diehl who used to babysit for us back in the early 90s, it turns out. She’d seen my name on the registration list and was looking for me. Otherwise it would have been REALLY puzzling how she recognized me in passing with a helmet and sunglasses on. I remembered her, but only after she introduced herself and provided me with some background info.
The last two laps I was alone the whole way. The guy I’d been with dropped back when I was climbing a hill, and I never saw him again — he had been talking about maybe quitting at the end of the lap. For a while groups of riders from other divisions that started after mine passed me occasionally. By midway through the third lap, I wasn’t seeing anyone else. I was also starting to get major cramps in my right thigh. I was determined to finish, though.
Almost exactly 4 hours from my start time, I crossed the finish line. My teammate Don was there with a camera to record my triumph. It turns out it was not merely a personal triumph, but a major cycling distinction. When I got off the bike and started back to my car, I realized they were taking down the scoring tent. I was the last rider to finish. As they say in the Tour de France, the Lanterne Rouge. I’m so proud.
I have a feeling I’m going to be really sore tomorrow. Next time I’m riding with the cat 5s, even if they’re 30 years younger than I am.