19 October, 2008

First international race abroad…of many

Last Sunday, October 12th, was my first international bike race abroad. It was the “Copa Suzuki by Scott” bike race in Santiago, Chile. As of right now, I plan to race abroad regularly, so I figure that not doing as well as I would have liked in my first race was not all that bad.
I chose to race the Elite (Pro) race instead of the “Sub-23” (Under 23) because according to the website, UCI points were only awarded in the Elite category, as well as money (I admit that I had tricked myself into believing there was a chance I would win some money at that race). I now know that UCI points, along with the prize money, are awarded as if the Sub-23 and Elite categories were one category, so I should have raced Sub-23 so that I could have had a slightly better finish. My official finish position was 6th of 11 Elite racers, and I would have finished 4th of 8 Sub-23 racers, which put me in 9th place overall (of 19 racers). 2 UCI points for me!
The morning of the race was terrible. First of all, the time changed, FORWARD, the night before the race, so getting up at 6:00 AM felt like getting up at 5:00 AM. Then, my palm pilot, which I had changed the night before, automatically changed itself overnight so the alarm went off at what felt like 4:00 AM. This wouldn’t have been too bad, but I was so nervous about the race that I couldn’t go back to sleep and ended up getting somewhere around 6 hours of sleep. It wasn’t enough.
Once we got up at “the new” 6:00 AM, Victoria and I made breakfast, got everything together, and went out to meet Tito, the “Colectivo” (a kind of taxi) driver. Unfortunately, being a foreign bike racer living in San Alfonso, Chile, means that I have ended up taking quite a few Colectivos. Aside from being expensive, they are not big enough to comfortably transport my bike which is forced to hang out of the trunk with only a towel and bungee cords to protect it. Anyway, Tito picked us up, we got to the race venue, I got registered, and I still had a couple hours before I had to warm up so I decided to put on a new rear tire in place of the very-worn semi-slick I had on at the time. I checked with the Giant Chile team and they pointed me in the direction of the nearest gas station with an air compressor so I headed off.
Partway down to the gas station, my rear tire went flat. I was slightly annoyed, but concluded that as I was already on my way to change it, I needn’t let it get to me. Once I got to the gas station though, things got worse. Again. The air compressor at the gas station would not work for my tire. The problem was that it wanted to fill the tire VERY, VERY slowly, which was exactly the opposite of what I needed it to do. If I had wanted to fill my tire VERY, VERY slowly, I would have pumped it up by hand and saved myself the time and trouble of riding to the gas station.
At that point, I realized that there was no way I was going to find another gas station with a better compressor, so I flagged down a taxi, unceremoniously threw my bike in the trunk, and headed back to the race venue. At the venue, Jose Antonio Riquelme, the Giant Chile team manager, gave me a CO2 and I was able to get my tire mounted. Then I noticed my helmet was missing. I realized that I had left it by the air compressor at the gas station. I found someone to give me a ride down to try to find it, but had no luck. Unsurprisingly, someone had noticed it and picked it up. No more helmet for Macky...
By that time, I only had 30 minutes until the race, so I quickly got dressed, borrowed a helmet from another racer on the Giant Chile team (they REALLY helped me out) and got on my bike. I began to feel better and wisely decided that I needed to stop stressing about the morning and focus on the race.
My warm-up was fine. I actually got a slightly longer warm-up than I was expecting (30 minutes instead of 15) and got a front row spot on the starting line. When the race started, I immediately ended up near the back (I didn’t want to insult anyone or do anything illegal during my first international competition) and had to fight for position the whole first lap. I had not had a chance to pre-ride the course, so I didn’t know what was coming, and that slowed me down quite a bit. The climbs were all short and steep and some of them were barely ride able when you combined their pitches with the mud on some and loose dirt on others. Most of the descents were loose and twisty which was very difficult during my first lap because I wasn’t prepared for any of them and lost quite a bit of time simply from not knowing the course.
I did learn one very useful thing during the race though, the two words that you need to know for Chilean bike races: “pista” and “gracias” (pronounced “pi’ta” and “gracia” because of the Chilean habit of dropping the letter “s”). “Pista” translates loosely to “trail” and implies “get off the trail because I’m faster than you and need to get by”. “Gracias” simply means “thanks”. If you wish to get more sophisticated, you can always add “izquierda” (left) or “derecha” (right). These few vocabulary words served me quite well throughout the race and everyone was very nice about yielding the trail.
Unfortunately, my incredible mastery of Chilean-bike-racing-Spanish did not keep me from bonking and I realized on lap 5 of 7 that this was exactly what was happening to me. At that point, I had no choice but to continue on as quickly as I could (now that I knew the course) and try to keep from being lapped by the fastest racers. I was successful in this and finished all 7 laps, although I was the last person not to get lapped.
Overall, it was a great experience. I met a ton of great racers and riders who were friendly, kind, helpful, and supportive and got my first taste of World-Cup-Style international mountain bike racing. And I got 2 UCI points!

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