MTB, Triathlete, Sasha Underwood’s First Ever Road Bike Race, “Tactics? My Tactic Was Not to Crash”

By Bill Plock and Sasha Underwood

If you want Sasha to do something, just remind her she hasn’t done it before and chances are she might try it–and if it’s race, there is a good chance she will crush it. Well, despite having podiumed countless times over the years on a mountain bike or in a triathlon, she had yet to ever try a road bike race.

Until last weekend at the Fountain Omnium. A seasoned racer on a bike, on her feet, or on skis, 303 caught up with Sasha and asked her a few questions about her first road race.

  1. Being your first ever road race, what category did you race and did you feel like you could be competitive?  

I was talked into signing up and racing Cat 4 because of previous experience racing Ironman and Mountain biking. Being a newbie, I was definitely able to be competitive but I felt out of place and should have positioned myself closer to the front of the group. There’s so much to learn about road racing. I’m intrigued with all the strategy, working with others etc. I had no idea how everyone knew to form two lines after the lead out – it was like the time I went to a Catholic church and everyone knew to say the same thing at the same time, kneel, stand up etc – I digress…. Back to the lines.. early on I’d say within the first few miles the group formed two lines, I was on the outside line on the left  with maybe 5 or 6 girls in front of me and there was a girl next to me in between the two lines so I let her in (I didn’t want to be super close to her – that still scares me). So, then I was on the outside of the group. I looked at her and said, “I’ve never raced before. Do we have to form two lines for the whole race?”  She explained, “um, well you shouldn’t have let me in, but because you did this is now my wheel.” Indicating the wheel of the person who was now in front of her. Then, the girl who was behind her pulled up and wouldn’t let me in.  I asked, “So, is there something I should do?” and she told me I could go to the back of the line. Then I asked, “Is there a rule against me staying right here?”  The girl behind me looked kind of annoyed so I just said, “there’s a hill up ahead I’m sure it’ll break up the group anyway.”  I laughed to myself, I thought I was funny. And it was true, the hill did break up the group. I unfortunately couldn’t catch up to the front of the group, but I wasn’t in the back at least.

2. Describe lining up for a road race where you know the people around you are at least as fast if not faster and how that compares lining up for a mountain bike race or triathlon where you don’t really know? 

I was nervous lining up!  They lumped the SW (which by the way means Senior Women, not Single Women as I originally thought lol) Cat 3, 4, 5 and Collegiate B and C girls together. It was more racers than I thought I’d have to start with.  In a way it was similar to triathlon in that sense, not knowing who was in which group and who I was racing against. All the women that lined up were strong riders it turns out. Had I actually raced in the cat 5’s I would have podiumed, so Cat 4 is a good spot for me to figure out how to race, how to work with others and push myself.

3. Being a road race, with teams and tactics so important, how did that affect your race decisions and overall race and did you find a group to work with? 

Tactics?? My tactic was to not crash – I’m pretty sure I annoyed a couple people asking questions, some people are very serious and do not want to talk during a race. After the lead group pulled away, I was alone for a brief bit. A rider came by and I jumped on her wheel and we ended up working together and almost caught the lead group (which we kept in sight for most of the race).  She was awesome to ride with! We were evenly paced and it really makes a difference working with even just one other person. And she was nice!

4. What was most fun about road racing

I love it when I can push my body to its limits – which I did, but like all things I try for the first time I’m not efficient. I’ve got a lot to learn. The novelty of it all was fun in and of itself. Meeting new people and making friends. Working with a couple women to try to catch back up to the front group. I loved the course; the views were awesome! And I liked riding past sheep.

5. What did you like least? 

Cramping up right at the end.

6. What was the hardest part? 

The fricking headwind!  It took us under an hour to go the first 21 miles and then it took 40+ minutes to go the next 8 miles. It was brutal. 

I was also challenged with figuring out how to pace myself.  With mountain biking I push hard but there’s eventually a downhill to recover a bit. Ironman and triathlons once I get on the bike I hold back at first, and then hold back a bit more for the first 30 minutes then build my pace up. This road bike race I felt like I had to go all out from very early on – I’m glad I got a 30-minute warm up in.

7. Did you find the category and sign up process a little challenging

It was a bit challenging getting the USA License sorted out to race in the 4’s, but I got help from USA Cycling – they were REALLY great helping me get it set up.

8. How did the overall experience compare to your expectations? 

Ultimately my expectation was to go out and ride hard, have fun and not crash. Secretly I always want to podium when I race. I’ll just need to race more and ride faster.

The Fountain Omnium had three days of racing: Friday was the Time Trial, Saturday was the Criterium and Sunday was the Road Race. In retrospect I wish I would have raced all three. The time trial was an out and back, the criterium was a four-mile loop of which 2 of those miles were dirt roads, and the road race was 39 miles with only 4 turns. Sanitas Sports did a fantastic job organizing it all. I really enjoyed the road race course. Turns out it will also be the same course for the road race state championship race in mid-August. 

9. Do you see yourself trying other road racing events like crits or circuits? 

Yes, yes I do. Crits scare me. Even more reason to do it in my opinion! Although I still prefer riding on dirt, I love trying new things.

10. What would you do different

  • Position myself differently so I’m closer to the front 
  • Learn more about these so-called “race tactics”  
  • Nutrition – I’ve got it dialed for MTB and triathlons and I thought it would be the same for this road race but I need to tweak it a bit. 8 miles to the finish my stomach cramped up, I only had taken in one bottle of scratch and a gel. Because my stomach was not happy, I stopped taking in fluids. At the finish I stood up to sprint and my quads started to lock up; presumably from dehydration since I only took in 16 oz during the entire ride.  
  • Coaching – I need a coach if I want to train for a specific event. All the races I’ve ever podiumed was using a coach.  I still prefer and love riding dirt and racing for Tokyo Joe’s so I may just dabble in road racing here and there to keep life interesting ?

11.  What would you say to people who haven’t road raced but are thinking about it?

Do it! Jump in a race and try it out! And remember, don’t let other riders in your line but if you do just smile and don’t worry about going to the back of the line, there isn’t a rule that says you have to ?

If you want to learn more about Sasha check out this interview after she rode the entire Colorado Trail solo

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