My past two races have been unfamiliar territory - a feature race with the 1/2/3 men at the velodrome (a 20 lap scratch race), and the 3/4 race out at Floyd Bennet Field. Last night was my first time racing at Floyd Bennet Field, and it was unlike any other race territory I've seen. It was like a gigantic, four-corner crit, almost 2.5 miles around - which obviously eliminates the tighter way that even featureless crit courses shake up a field. In its place it adds other obstacles: rough turns that are difficult to navigate (tree branches on the inside, rutted pavement throughout), sandy inside corners, long strips of grass poking up through concrete slabs, and its most defining feature, the straight, hard, unidirectional, relentless wind that drags down the long straights and leaves everybody fighting for one position on one side and then flying along the other, flipping the pace from crawling along at 18mph to flying along at 33. An Amerikermis, I called it; the field echeloned, some people put others in the gutter for no discernable reason, and gaps were hard to close.
When I'm racing an unfamiliar race, one for which I have no experience that helps me decipher what is unfolding, one in which I don't know the racers or the course or how the caliber of racing informs the race, I race like a rookie. I stay at the front (which is good) and I try to cover moves (which is good), but I'm pretty unselective (which is bad), and even though I probably put myself into a few groupings that could have been the right ones (which is good, but I didn't know, which is bad), I probably don't have the motor to hold off the pack (which is bad). And furthermore, not knowing the relative strength of the field and the individuals on the front or off the front means that I sit up there, burning matches. And in Floyd Bennet Field, you burn matches fast, gaps easily open, and people can be quickly shed off the back if you're not smart.
Simply put, I race like a rookie because I don't know what works and what doesn't, who works and who doesn't, but more importantly, I don't know how I'll fare and want to be available for a race condition that I feel would suit me. The irony of this is that, by making myself available and being an opportunist at any available opportunity, I probably limit my options, both by wearing myself out, and by only taking options presented by other people, rather than making my own (of course... figuring out my strengths is a challenge unto itself, and I have yet to win a race).
I'd like to be able to read races easily, analyzing the webs at work, the connections, the causes and effects of moves, the alliances at play. But that's the kind of analytical ability that doesn't come with a packing a season full of races - more like, it comes with packing a decade full of racing seasons.
I guess I've got a lot to look forward to.