Yep, no crashes, no road rashes, no broom wagon this time. Feels good to make it to the finish before the lunch hall closes! Sorry to ruin the ending, but if you care to know how I got there, read on.
Average Speed: 30.54 kph
Category Placing (40-49 yrs): 167 out of 263, or bottom 40% (my first race was bottom 20%….slowly, slowly..)
Firstly, this race was in a whole other category, at least compared with the other two I did in February. There were over 2000 riders in 3 different race distances. This is start, looking towards the front…
I’m learning new things all the time in my new hobby. For one, every race seems to have different ways to herd riders into their pens and get them on their way. The first one I did had corrals for each and every age group and we all started at different times, with the youngest (and presumably the fastest) leaving first. The 2nd had no age groups (except on paper), but the two different distances started separately. This one had a mass start, with the 2 main distance groups all beginning together.
Other than trivial knowledge I learned something valuable here, I think. When you are late to start for a race like this, even if in theory your time should not be affected (it is timed electronically), you have to pass a lot of slower riders to find a bunch that you can ride with at your own speed. This means time alone on the road searching for Mr. Good Peleton, which must slow you down, since riding in a group is easier and faster in general. I think this makes sense. If anyone would like to put me in my place, I’m all ears. Anyway, next time I’m heading for the front of the line, just in case.
To show how serious this race was, they even had a wheel car. Don’t ask me how this system works, but in pro races this car (usually supplied by Mavic) hands out wheels to riders who need them, if their team cars are up the road already. How they get their wheels back at the end of the race is a question I’ll need answering.
And then we were off! Well, more like on-and-off. There were so many riders that it took a few minutes to get just to the start line. We were so far away I didn’t even hear the gun. If you’ve read my accounts from the two earlier races you might remember the frantic pace set at the beginning. There was none of that here, which leads me to think we were surrounded by mere mortals like ourselves – not very motivating. The pace was reasonably fast after a while, but nothing like the 40+ I had in early February.
Ups and Downs
But now the nice thing about starting at the back – you get to pass lots of people, giving you the feeling that you’re going fast, even if you aren’t. On the first climb I’m not sure anyone passed me. Here’s Karsten, in front as usual when things get vertical.
Something else I learned today was that I might be an OK descender. I’d like to think it’s my fearless nature and awesome coordination, but it could very well be that the extra weight I’m carrying pulls me down faster. In any event, I can say that it’s a whole lot of fun flying down a mountain and not falling down.
The 2nd col of the day was pretty high (725 meters), but very gradual and I was sort of surprised when we got to the top. On the other hand, we continued to pass lots of others on the climb, so I’m hoping that the 900 or so kilometers I’d done since the last race was paying off finally. This shot is the beginning of the steepest part of the climb.
And of course, ahead of me is Karsten’s behind.
Shortly after this photo was taken Karsten’s afterburners kicked in and he galloped up the rest of the mountain. The last time I saw of him he was already two switchbacks ahead of me. I figured that’d be the last I saw of him…and I was right, but not how I imagined it.
This is how it went down.
Somewhere before the first climb there was a food stop and I decided to get some cake and water. Karsten kindly slowed down enough that I could catch up with him, several km later. We then rode together till the aforementioned afterburners. In the back of mind I was thinking that I would return the favor to him after the next stop. But here’s the thing, when we did reach that stop I didn’t even realize it. I saw some banners and balloons and stuff, but I was in a big, fast bunch at the moment and my mind didn’t register what it was all about. According to Karsten, I even missed the brass band they had playing there!
So, although we don’t have any evidence of this, I must have passed him while he was stuffing his face at the stop. In the meantime my group was totally ripping up the road and I was certain we would catch him. I’m sure there was a 3rd climb, but it’s pretty fuzzy now, except for the rain. Oh right, I haven’t mentioned the rain. Somewhere on that last climb, or maybe before, it started pissing down…and it was cold. Another lesson: bring rain stuff when they call for rain. But the meteo was just saying ‘millimeters’ – I thought we’d just have a drizzle. No, it poured and poured for the last 40 or so km.
Anyhow, I stayed with this group (or segments of it) all the way to the end, going very fast and trying to avoid too much tire spray up my nose and in my eyes. I got to the end and looked around for Karsten, only to realize he had taken off (or so I thought). I figured he thought he had waited enough for me that day and took off to warm down or find some food. I went after him, riding up and down the main road a couple times, going to the tent village and the bike parking lot, before calling it quits and making my way to the food hall. Of course, in the meantime, he had finished 3 minutes behind me and waited in the cold, driving rain at the finish line, worried that I had met with some disaster. Our reunion happened here, as I was bringing my tray to the garbage can…
1. Lazy is smart. I’m of the mind that you should pull your weight when working as a team, so when I’m in a bunch and most riders are hiding in the middle, letting others do the work for them at the front, it irks me a tad. As a result, at least in this race, I spent (and I think Karsten did as well) an inordinate amount of time at the front of my groups, pulling them along.
Well, seems they are being wise and efficient and I’m burning myself out for no good reason. It’s tricky though. If you don’t pull hard the whole group might not speed up (or even maintain their speed). I experienced that a few times. On the other hand, if you do pull then you tire yourself before the inevitable next climb, allowing the slackers to pass you on the mountain. It all feels so unjust.
I’m going to think about this a while and formulate a strategy for the next race. I am definitely not the type to laze around in the middle of the pack, so I’ll need to try and find a balance. Tips from seasoned vets are welcome.
2. Find a peloton that fits. this might be a recurring theme, I think, since I’m pretty sure I mentioned it in at least one other article. Bunches are funny things. If you get in one that is too slow, you might think you should take off and find another one, and that’s what I ended up doing for the first half of today’s race. However, if you’re already going 28 kph, for example, even though you know you can ride faster, and you fly off the front of the group (assuming nobody follows you) you will be all alone on the road, with possibly no idea where the next group is. It’s a dilemma. To stay means riding below what you think is your limit, but to go means a much harder ride (for those who don’t know, you save anywhere from 20% to 50% of your energy slipstreaming other riders in a bunch) that could be for nothing.
This brings me back to my first lesson. If you start at the beginning of the mass start you are probably already amongst the best riders. If you can’t stay with them then you can drop back to the next group. When you can’t keep up with them, drop back – so on and so forth, until you find your pace. This seems infinitely more efficient than going at it from the ass end.
Up Next: The 133 km Gran Fondo Colnago in St. Tropez in 3 weeks…yikes..
For Karsten: 105 more training days before l’Etape du Tour, bud!