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Tori’s Race Report: CRCA Central Park Race 4/21

Cyclists are a unique breed. When I tell my fellow colleagues that I get up during the week in January at six AM to ride my bike for two hours before coming into work they look at me like I am nuts. When I tell them that I count my calories to make weight despite the incessant bicycling, I think they want to have me committed. And forget about when I say that my husband and I have over 10 bikes between us. I can see the gears in their heads furiously turning in an attempt to compute the enormity of this obscene number (Which I have to say could be worse. So many more bicycles to buy and so little timemoney). If any of my non-cycling friends thought I was crazy, then last weekend might have proved them right. Last Saturday 47 other crazy women and I woke up well before the crack of dawn to descend upon Central Park for the Century Road Club Association (CRCA) Cat 3/4 women’s road race in Central Park. This is the beginning of a new developmental series put on by the CRCA to help cultivate women’s bicycle racing in New York.

My race day began at 4:30AM. I was fortunate in that I was able to stay with my mother who lives on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. My fellow Long Island race-mate Ellen Reichel (Babylon Bicycle) was not so fortunate and had to wake up at the gross hour of 3:00AM to make the race. Surprisingly, I was excited to race despite the early hour. After a long groan in response to the alarm, I forced down a granola bar and apple and headed over the park. I was a little nervous as this was my first race of the year. Between you, me and the internet, I am not a great road racer. My goal for this race was to simply hang onto the group and try not to lose sight of the front of the field.

I arrived at the park just in time to find Carol-Lynn Mills of team Houlihan-Lokey and Ellen warming up in the pre-dawn glow of the park lights. We headed down to the race registration to find over 100 of men and women cyclists preparing for the race. Crazy loves company, right? There were many CRCA teams well represented in the women’s field including Innervation, Houlihan-Lokey, Radical Media, and Asphalt Green. I felt lonely in my East End Cycling Kit but I knew Ellen and I could represent Long Island well enough.

At 6:15AM we lined up at the start line close to the 72nd street entrance. We were forced to wait for 20 minutes at the line while the race coordinators finished setting up cones. I used this time to eat another Gu and pick out the riders I would try to follow. After an unceremonious ready set go, we took off.

The pace was steady to start. I immediately found myself in love with the gently sloping turns of Central Park. I quickly realized that my bike handling skills obtained from hours of mountain biking would allow me to conserve my energy in this section as I leisurely carved the corners. This optimism was short-lived. As we approached the notorious Harlem Hill for the first time the pace surged, my heart rate soared and my legs screamed. I thought ‘if this is how we attack this hill every lap, this will be a very short sad race for me’. Luckily, the first lap jitters were expended and the pace remained steady from that point on.

The race was 4.5 laps around central park. Some teams attempted breaks. The longest lasting break was performed by Radical Media who sent a rider off the front for most of lap 3. However, it was clear no breaks were going to stick and this would be a field sprint finish. Despite my best intentions to remain toward the front of the pack I kept drifting towards the back of the field where I remained until the end. Ellen and Carol-Lynn held their places in the front third.

The sadistic race coordinators decided to finish the race at the top of Harlem Hill. As we approached the final climb up, teams jockeyed into position to get their riders towards to front. I didn’t actually see the sprint but I am told that Carol-Lynn Monster-Mills tagged onto an Innervation leadout and was able to sprint into 2nd! Ellen finished with the front in 21st place and I wound up somewhere in the back but still with the field.

After the race during my cool-down, I reflected on the morning’s events. I realized that I had been a part of an iconic fixture in the New York’s cycling landscape. I mean, come-on! Its Central Park in NYC! How can you resist? Somehow, after all is said and done, racing at dawn in the the greatest park in the middle of the greatest city in the world doesn’t seem crazy at all. It just makes sense.

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