I didn't always want to be a Bicycle racer, careering around in a high-speed pack, risking life, limb and skin grafts while sporting tight shorts and shaved legs. But two things changed that. Several months before I took up cycling, I visited an orthopedic surgeon. I had spent years of running and racing on the roads, and my left leg's shinsplints had become chronic. I loved running, but I loved walking more.
The other thing was an incident that took place in New York City's Central Park early in the spring of 1990. While out pedaling around the park (noncompetitively, honest), I sensed someone coming up behind me. The person, sitting atop a painfully beautiful Pinarello racing bike and sporting a jersey that seemed to advertise all the products manufactured in Italy, swung out to pass me and nearly clipped my rear wheel.
I let him go for 100 yards before giving chase. He tried to pull away, but I caught him, then passed him. Ha!
Clearly, I had started something. After getting the green light from my orthopedist, I decided to try bicycle racing. I missed competing, but I was also curious. As a 35-minute 10K runner, how good a cyclist could I be?
Unfortunately, becoming a bicycle racer is nowhere near as easy as getting into a local road race. Races for beginners (public races) do exist. But the thought of riding in tight formation with 30 or 40 "racers" who were as unskilled and inexperienced as I was, was pretty terrifying.
Instead I joined the U.S. Cycling Federation and then my local club, the Century Road Club Association, so that experienced riders could teach me the ropes. The CRCA has 300 members and offers a full racing schedule. From March through November club races are held at seven o'clock on Saturday mornings in Central Park. To learn as much as I could about basic training I picked up a copy of Greg LeMond's Complete Book of Bicycling. From my road-racing experience, I was able to get into the training routine of endurance, speed and rest days. I also picked up a heart-rate monitor and began training with the New York Cycle Club. It is technically a touring club, but its "A" group tours at a healthy speed, often in a pace line or some other racing-style configuration.
During my two-month training period, the man I relied on most often for help was CRCA member Arnold Fraiman. Fraiman, 66, is a Category 3 racer who had also been a runner (one of his 43 marathons was a sub-three-hour at age 51), as well as a state supreme court judge. He agreed to help me be all that I could be up until race day.
"Bicycle racing is far more tactical than road racing," he explained. "There's a lot of strategy involved."
"O.K.," I said.
"The feeling of riding in a peloton [pack], caught up in the draft, creates an amazing, exhilarating feeling. Nothing quite like it."