With one season of sportive racing under my belt and a new intense training program taking up my free time, I went into this first test of 2012 with a touch of (self-imposed) pressure to perform. I’m happy to report that I don’t need to stand in a corner and flog myself in penitence – skip to the end if you can’t wait for the results!
This race, around 2 hours north of home, involved more complicated logistics than normal because joining me (more correctly, I was doing the joining, I guess) were John, Erik and his wife Anne, cycling friends from Le Sud. Because of the early start and earlier wake-up, I stayed with Erik and Anne the night before and was well carbed up with pasta, apple crumble and 11% beer (‘because beer has the good carbs’, John informed us). Their place is in a small village and is completely silent. That fact, along with the beer, ensured an unusually good pre-race sleep. Thanks again for your hospitality, A and E!
A few chilly before-race shots: Anne and Erik.
Your author, before the strip down.
John, braving his first race with a chest cold, I might add.
My goal for this race, other than finishing, was to get as close to the front as I could in the beginning. I found out the hard way last year that it’s nearly impossible to escape from a bunch that is too slow for you to one that is faster and down the road, since, as you all know from watching Eurosport, it is at least 30% easier to ride in a group than alone.
The strategy worked fairly well for a while, but there was an unexpected obstacle (a truck transporting a building of some sort) after a few km and it funneled the peloton so that the first ones through had a good gap on anyone left behind. I tried getting back up, but not good enough because I never really saw those front guys again. Sound strategy, though, so I’ll give it another go next time. The same effect separated me from Erik, John and Anne (who were behind me) and the next time I saw them was at the orange slice station after the finish line.
But the race must go on and as I turned right onto our first climb I found something nice; I ‘had the legs’. I remembered the 1st two climbs well from last year and in particular how much they hurt. This time I was tearing up the first at a decent speed, with pain in the legs, but they just kept working…how novel! The same thing happend on the 2nd climb, which was a substantial 7km long. I never once thought that the hams would just give up the ghost, like just about every climb early last year. I could count on them. On the flats, too, when I needed to sprint to keep up with a group, or maybe bridge a gap, it worked also. It’s fun to ask your body to do something and find it responding positively. Maybe I wasn’t using the right tone with it before…?
The last climb was the one I didn’t get to do last year because my race ended in the broom wagon, and I was a little apprehensive about it, even with my new-found obedient legs. This climb, the Côte du Rocher du Sampzon, is a short 2km, but at an average of nearly 8% it’s still scary. But there I was, hitting the bottom with a group of 20 or so riders and I found myself passing most of them! Again, it hurt, but the pain didn’t result in a complete breakdown; it just hurt till I got to the top. Amazing.
Last year I ended my first race in the bottom 20% of my category. This year I finished 101/251 overall and 33/77 in my category, or around top 40% for both. I think the program is working and I take back all those awful things I’ve screamed at you, Coach, while pounding out those World of Hell intervals.
Done and dusted, the group settled down to the best part of any race. Food.
And although I nearly never partake, I love the fact that wine is always on the menu in French races.
The view outside the food tent. Notice the guy in the shorts. It was well over 20 degrees today. Finally, Le Sud is back to normal.
So, although there won’t be any teams knocking down my door to recruit me just yet, it’s been a promising start to the season. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back on the bike and start cursing.