Last year, after my triumph* in New Zealand, I was all hot to try my new-found fitness on the bike racing circuit. I was a bit stymied because the one race I wanted to do, Conquer the Canyons, was canceled, and it seemed like everyone else from Triathletix had taken a quantum leap in skill. Next year, I said. 2009 will be the year of the bike.

This morning, the year of the bike got its official start. I took my new rig, Vita (named after that first ride because she has vitesse and vitality), down to Long Beach for the first in a series of criteriums, and I got spanked. Not as badly as in the first two crits I did, but enough to get pulled after sixteen minutes in a thirty minute race.

Still, I improved in a few small ways. First, I actually worked with a group of guys for the first time in a race, which is really the best part of bicycle racing. I dig time trials, yes, but getting into a paceline and hanging on for dear life is fun. I think I did my share up front, too, though I’ll have to look at what my Powertap recorded to confirm that.

Second, I didn’t feel all that freaked out in the mass start. In fact, I should have just got to the front of the line and let the rest of the peloton overtake me rather than spend sixteen minutes trying to catch up. It wasn’t as much a matter of fitness as it was nerves, and I’m working on tamping those down.

Third, and this is going to sound so incredibly stupid to everyone who’s ever raced, but, dammit, it’s not like you get a manual with your USAC license (and, if you do, where the hell did mine go?) that says, “Hey, if you want to corner more efficiently, start on the outside of the lane, cut across the inside, and pop back out on the outside.” After watching the Masters and Cat 4 races and seeing how their peloton lines made these beautiful arcs instead of hugging the curb all the way around and tapping on the brakes, I get it. Stay loose, stay in control, and let physics do its thing.

Dominguez Hills is in two weeks, and Valley of the Sun is right after that. Let’s see if I can get it together before then.

* By triumph, I mean that I finished under seventeen hours, and without throwing up.