Fellow racers of Le Raid des Alpilles 2012, please don’t take this personally, but I’m not sure about your general fitness level. Let me put it another way; how is it possible that I finished in 59th place (out of 304) overall and 23rd (out of 97) in my category? This result puts me in the top 19% of the race and I’m nearly on the verge of calling myself ‘good’, I’ll have you know. Before this gets out of hand, up your game, fellow riders, or my wife will never be able to live with my ego.
Riding buddy Anne taxied John and I to the race this morning and we got there nice and early thankfully because it took me about 30 minutes to figure out what to wear (11C is difficult). John and Anne had it more together and patiently waited while I stalled for time by pretending to want to take photos from my blog.
Today’s course, other than being through one of the most beautiful parts of southern France, started immediately with a 4km climb (1st photo below). This was the first time I had ever experienced such a dastardly thing in a race and I wondered at the malignant nature of the organizer who came up with that idea. This meant, obviously, that everyone was red-lining from the get-go and that hurts, it really does. However, looking back on it, I was helped by this hill because, as usual, I got stuck near the back of the starting pen, with the knowledge that I was going to have to chase down group after group after group (if I could) till I found one I liked (read just about any of my race articles for this repeated story).
The hill is the great equalizer of any race and pretty quickly will show you who’s been doing their step intervals (or Coach Rob’s version – World of Hell) diligently. Well, I have it appears because I could make up many places in those 4km; much more than I could have on the flat, I think. So, thanks evil course planner!
The Importance of the Group
Yet again I realized how essential it is to find yourself a fast-moving bunch of riders in a race, but luckily I was on the right side of this realization for a change. After the uphill battle that started the race I was fortunate to hook onto a good-sized group near the top and smart enough not to blast past them in search of the next one down the road (not that I had the energy to do that..). This meant that I was comfortably tucked into the middle of a bunch of guys, sometimes taking my turn on the front (but not too much – another lesson learned the hard way), and going at a clip that it would have taken super-human strength to achieve on my own.
Unfortunately for John, that’s what happened to him. After not attaching himself to our group on the climb he couldn’t find one of his own that was big enough or fast enough to chase us down and he was doomed. He explained the frustration of being tantalizingly close to a bunch for mile after mile and just not being able to get to the tail end, no matter how hard he tried. For me, I had a similar experience, but my little peloton was big enough to eventually catch the next one on the road after 1.5 hours or so and that made us even faster.
The bunch. It’s all about the bunch.
I didn’t take any photos of the race, but I thought you might like to see what we raced through (I know I certainly didn’t on this occasion!). Thank you Raid des Alpilles site for the photo loan. These are some of the many little climbs we had on the route.
I’ve written about this before, I think, but I was hit again today by the amazing variety of riders you find in a peloton of any decent size. I had, in various manifestations:
- The Rouleur. This is the guy who can really hammer on the flats and false flats and can’t seem to stop himself from charging to the front of the group when things get horizontal.
- The Grimpeur. The Rouleur’s polar opposite of course. This rider appears out of nowhere when there is even the hint of a hill and dances by The Rouleur, usually without even a ‘merci’ for the free ride he’s been given by him.
- The Descender. This is often The Rouleur, I’ve found, since it’s usually a lad with some weight to him. Not always though, and it’s really the fearless and ambidextrous that makes good descenders.
- The All-Rounder. Needs little explanation, but I really appreciate these riders because they just have the whole package.
- The Slacker / Wheel Sucker / Wool Eater. Again, no introduction necessary. This is the guy who will hang 3 spots back in a paceline and NEVER take his turn. He is oblivious to name calling and disdainful leers, so is hard to get rid of.
- The Unshaven. These creatures, I am coming to learn, cannot be trusted. Some guys with hairy legs are often are strong, but many don’t know the rules of the road, or they sometimes make sudden erratic movements that put those in their proximity at peril. Stay away from The Unshaven (early season is the exception since they could be seasonal shavers.).
A first for me today was having to ride in a strong crosswind in a group. The phenomenon you see below is called an echelon and I discover that it is naturally formed in such a wind because, as you can guess, when the wind is coming in from the right (to the riders) like below, after the lead guy the next rider will want to shield himself from it, forcing him to tuck in behind, but at an angle. I was surprised how quickly the echelon was formed once we turned right into the wind and also surprised how fast I got gapped when I found myself outside of it once! You can see from the photo below how crosswinds can destroy a peleton. Once you are caught out it’s very hard to get yourself back in. I hung on for dear life after that little faux pas and made sure I found a big-shouldered rouleur to hide behind!
After the race ended and we got changed into our civvies, John came up to me with an excited look, saying that my name was on the first page of the results. And right he was – the very last name on the 1st page. I took this photo in case I never see the first page again.
As always, our race ended with a nice group lunch where we could share war stories and complain about the Wheel Suckers – this time with a great pile of paella with chicken and seafood.
I might be taking April off from racing because I’ve got a little trip planned that will hopefully produce a few blog articles, but we’ll be back at it in May, French riders. You have been warned. Get out on the bike or you might have an unwanted Canadian on your first page again!