Lanterne Rouge

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.

4 Responses to “Lanterne Rouge”

  1. Kristen says:

    Hey Dr. Gathman,

    It was great to see you yesterday. Hope I didn’t freak you out too severely. We have something in common–I was the lantern rouge in my category too. I got into bike racing after I left SEMO and then I had two kids. I always said I wouldn’t bike race after kids but I can’t seem to stay away. It’s really hard to get back into shape though, and I still have a long way to go, but I have come a long way so far.

    It’s interesting to read what Cabell’s up to as well as Hannah and Sophie, though they were pretty small when I babysat for them. We always knew they would be headed for greatness. I think Caball would remember us (Gwen & I) as the ones who took her to see They Might be Giants in St. Louis, shortly after she shaved her head.

    Just so you know you were the best teacher I’ve ever had and remember my time at SEMO fondly.

    Warm Regards,

    Kristen (Diehl) Meshberg

  2. Allen says:

    Thanks for the kind words. I remember when you and Gwen took Cabell to that concert — that must have been a great time for her.

  3. Cabell says:

    It was very exciting. I felt unspeakably cool. :D

  4. [...] When we got to the big climb at mile 20, I gained quite a bit on Bert, and after all the work (max heart rate: 186), I was unwilling to give up any ground.  So I kept riding alone for a few miles, until we got to another big descent.  All of a sudden, there was Bert, along with another chase group member he’d picked up.  The three of us worked together for the last few miles, and then I pulled ahead in a sprint at the end.  I wound up finishing well behind Don and Cody, the only others from Cape Bicycle in the race, but at 34 out of a field of 40, it was a major improvement over my Lanterne Rouge performance in the Hillsboro Roubaix. [...]

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