My Third Race, From Start to FINISH!

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.

Stats:

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…

…and the back.

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.

This first climb, which looked nasty and steep in the profile put out by the organizers, wasn’t much at all, and I managed to finish it just behind Karsten.

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…

Finally a mid-chew shot of Karsten (but better than his butt) and a part of my face at the dining hall, before we braved the wet once again to ride the 3 km back to our hotel.

More observations, for the record.

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!

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21 thoughts on “My Third Race, From Start to FINISH!

  1. A great report, as always, and congratulations on your improved finish. I told you those slackards would pay for not showing up in February! Your tips/lessons learned are very helpful to me. I wish I could offer some advice, but I have precious little experience to share. I must say your thoughts on descents mirror my own. I weigh about 60-80 pounds more than the more traditional riders and that absolutely is to my advantage when heading downhill -thank you Sir Isaac Newton!

  2. Great job Gerry! Sounds like you had a great race. By the way, if someone in your pack is sucking wheel all day, he better be breathing blood or be close to death. It’s the ultimate in bad cycling form to draft all day just to sprint past all the guys doing work up a hill or at the finish. And it’s a good strategy to ride a hard tempo with a group that are slightly faster than you and hang in with them as long as you can, because as you say, you can always drop back. Looking forward to your next race update.

    • Now that’s a good thing to know! In that case then half or more of the pack riders I saw on Sunday were bad-mannered wheel suckers. Usually three or four guys at the front taking turns while everybody else sucked!

      Thanks also for the confirmation on my little revelation about starting with faster riders. Sometimes my ideas only make sense to me.

      Now I just need to find the French word for ‘wheel sucker’…

      • Interesting. I just found the answer. I remembered reading these sorts of terms in a book I read a few months back, called “Need for the Bike”, and here they are in the introduction! It was written by a French guy and the translation included a few examples of these kinds of words (like ‘bonk’, etc) with their French equivalent, but in English.

        Therefore…

        A ‘wheel sucker’ is a ‘wool eater’, – possibly ‘mangeur de laine’ in French.

        ‘Bonking’ is ‘the witch with the green teeth’ (huh?).

        ‘Hitting the wall’ becomes ‘the man with the hammer’ (which makes much more sense!)

        Excellent little book, btw. Paul Fournel, the author, is obviously a real lover of all things ‘bicycle’.

  3. Long distance runners at olympic quality races, they always have a rabbit….the Rabbit never finishes…it is there to set the early pace…..Memo to Gerry, Bugs Bunny is not the job you want in a race….you learned a very good lesson…and wrote a very good blog for this race….Keep up the great work ethic

  4. I looked forward to this report and it was worth it! I appreciated that you were able to do a few pictures and also the description of pre-race line-ups and the post-race events, like searching for your friend, your thinking, and then the post-race meal all added considerably to my limited view of what a race like this is like. Thanks much!

    • I’m going to try and take more photos in the races, but it’s a precarious thing to do, as you can imagine. The next one is above the Mediterranean coast, so should have some excellent scenery.

  5. Well Done Gerry on completing the ride! and a great read again. Ticking a lot of boxes there, Mate, improved speed, no stacks, big hills, finding out about wheel suckers and rabbits!

    But the big question….what does the free jersey look like!?

    Oh and did you get to practice your wiping mud from your feet – thankfully figuratively speaking given the rain – pedaling style, or were you going too fast to remember : )

    • Good questions, Steve. The free jersey had a lot of pink on it and they gave me the wrong size (perhaps they knew I needed to lose a few more kgs…?), but it was free, anyway.

      I remembered to ‘mud wipe’ somewhere along the race, but I don’t remember where exactly. I think I might be doing a bit of it unconsciously anyway now, but can’t be sure. That one’s a struggle for sure.

      • Pink…….SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy) Jersey eh? haha!

        We have just found out that le TdF is going THROUGH our village! We are practically ready to burst with excitement!
        Possibly a dumb question, but have you witnessed a stage live?

  6. That’s amazing, Steve. Build something really big and Australian to welcome them!

    I have indeed seen a few live. 1 in 2008 when we moved here, 4 in 2009 and somehow nothing last year. We’ll be catching at least 2 this year though, I think.

    • Oh yes indeed! We are planning something bold and Australian! Sounds like a BBQ and some cold beers!
      If you’d like to make it 3, we would be very pleased to invite you and Shoko for a pre stage ride!

      • Funny you should ask…we are planning to catch the previous stage in the Pyrenees, so we’ll be in the area! Unfortunately we will be on the motorcycle, not the bikes, but if you’d like some help with those cold beers anyway, I think I could be of help 😉

  7. It’d be bloody unreasonable of me to knock back such a grouse offer! 1664….I can taste it now : )
    Play your cards right and I might chuck you on the old dually (alloy, but it’ll feel like cast iron) I have in the garage to lay down a couple of TdF stage K’s. You can also be reminded how far you have come on the carbon Bianchi!!

  8. I’ve spent a good amount of time in Australia, but obviously didn’t learn all the Aussie English I needed. I had to look up ‘grouse’ to make sure it was a good thing!

    After drinking 1664 I might need a long ride on a heavy bike to get rid of the aftertaste! Not shucking over any VB or Coopers Pale Ale, by any chance…?

    Whatever is on the menu, we’re looking forward to meeting you.

    • Ha Ha, is it any wonder that Canadians and Australians get on so well! Off for a morning river ride now! Woo Hoo!

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