Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - Tom Vehe, (on far left in red shirt with black stripes), a cyclist from Pahrump who recently took up racing, gives it his all in a recent cycling race.
So biking is your thing and you can’t get enough of it and you want to shed some pounds. Then perhaps bike racing is something to take up. Tom Vehe is a local cyclist who wanted to share his passion for the sport.
I am Tom Vehe and I live in Pahrump and last year I decided to get seriously into bike riding. I am 38 years old and since I started I have ridden over 9,000 miles in training and racing around Pahrump. This is my story and how I got into the sport.
I bought my first ever road bike in April 2013. I just wanted to ride far and fast in relative comfort. So a steel frame Raleigh 20-speed bike was just the ticket. I was excited right away when I rode 20 miles the first day. I kept riding another 20 and another 20 until I had 100 miles in a week. Then, I rode further, 30 miles, then 60, riding up to the fire station at Mountain Springs. Eventually, I worked up the courage to ride down the other side to Las Vegas and back.
I went down to visit Mark Tuscnak at the Bicycle Warehouse on Blagg to ask how I might learn to ride as fast as he does. Mark does 128 miles a day. He said, “Ride your bike. That’s the best advice for a new cyclist. Just ride your bike.” I asked what else I could do to go faster right now. He told me if I wanted racing equipment, I should buy a carbon fiber frame race bike. So I did.
The first bike race I entered was the Mt. Whitney Stage Race. It’s in two stages. The first stage is 34 miles with 7,300 feet of climb. The finish line is at over 10,000 feet in elevation. Then, a crazy fast descent to ride back. Speeds of over 50 miles per hour are common in mountain descents. We camped out overnight near Lone Pine, California. The second stage is 30 miles with 5,800 feet of climb. It finishes up on Whitney Portal. I will be racing that same stage race again August 23-24.
Here is how my second stage race went:
At St. George, Utah during the Tour Del Sol, was only my second race. I was fighting to keep my position at the front of the peloton (main group of riders in a bike race). The wind was at our backs as we approached the first turn of a 40-mile road race. I felt strong and came to the front enjoying the lead position in a group of 39 guys. I like the front. It is the best spot in the race to enjoy the landscape. Then, a fast right turn and the crosswind hit. The attack happened as three riders zipped past and put a gap on the group.
The road curved uphill and most of the peloton passed me to the left. I’m out of the saddle, determined to stay with them. There were three groups now and I was in the middle. I’m “tongue on top tube” as we rounded curve after curve. I saw trouble ahead in the form of a 12 percent winding incline, literally disappearing into the clouds as it started to rain.
On my way up in a 39/28, my easiest gearing, I watched stronger men than me cruise past. The climb finally ends just before my heart explodes and now, faster down the other side. At 40 mph in the rain with a 30 mph crosswind, I found myself in “no man’s land”, in front of the guys who cracked, but behind the lead group. The bike plays with the wind, leaning into an invisible wall. Unexpectedly, I was passed again by another rider still racing hard. I got revitalized and passed him back. We continued this rotation moving faster as a team for miles until the final turn, 90 degrees into city traffic and a strong headwind. I took the turn too wide and, bam, ran directly into a traffic cone that skids forward under my front wheel almost bringing me to a dead stop before it pops out.
By the time I had looked up again, my help had gone 100 yards up the road and directly into the wind. I gave everything I had to catch back up, but my efforts were not enough. I gratefully crossed the finish line in 21st.
I am often asked, why do you do this? For me, it’s about maintaining an overall health. For me, better food choices follow aerobic training. I want to give my body quality fuel for more training. The spirited energy of competition keeps me mentally and physically strong. All my senses are sharper and sleep is refreshing.
I would like to compete in an iron man triathlon someday. I also want to move up the categories in cycling to experience racing with the best. Most important, I want to keep competing as long as I can, like some of the 70- and 80- year-old guys I see at these events.
In general, to race, people don’t need a license. One only needs a license for races licensed by USA Cycling. One day licenses can be purchased at most events by new cyclists. To see a list of races, visit www.USACycling.org. Unlicensed events, also known as fun races, are great and often support charities.
There are different categories for people in racing. In fact, there are five categories for men and four for women. Category five is my category, and that is for new racers. Category four and category three are also for newer racers. Category two and one are reserved for professional racers.
As a cyclist gets better results in their category, they can move up. To change categories, a cyclist must get approval from USA Cycling, the organization that ranks all licensed racers.
Races are also separated by age groups and different start times are established based on category and age. This keeps groups of riders of similar skill and strength together making for a safer race.
Obviously I don’t race for the money, but that is possible. Unlicensed events, fun races, usually don’t have money prizes. A rider needs to race licensed events to win prize money. I don’t win prize money yet.
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