Le Raid des Alpilles: Race #2

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.

Hill Start

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.

Photo Intermission

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.

Group Character

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.).

The Echelon

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!

24 thoughts on “Le Raid des Alpilles: Race #2

  1. great result well done you are
    moving in the right direction
    do you ever ride/ trainwith a club over there..it could be good to do

    • Thanks, Roan. I tried riding with a club once and it was OK, but I wasn’t enamored with the guys. There’s another one I’ve been meaning to try out, so might do that this spring. I’m sure it’d help get used to chasing down breakaways and riding in big bunches, etc.

  2. Awesome Gerry. Had to laugh at ‘the Unshaven’! They sound like the Undead of the cycling world. Whoever would have guessed hairy legs could bring so much unsavoriness with them!

  3. I shall be afraid to wear shorts this year and incur such contempt but as I will not be competing in any event like this, it won’t matter much. Well done. It’s good to see the winter hell paying off so handsomely. Keep the training going.

  4. Well done young man……group sprints are your ticket to even better times…..you are no longer a bike rider you are becoming a racer !!!

    • I thought about sprinting at the finish, but nobody else seemed to be interested, so I just held my place. Also, the volunteers have an irritating habit of motioning you to slow down when you hit the finish line!

  5. I have decided that I shall lead an advocacy effort for those with unshaven legs. They are clearly a persecuted minority in the cycling world.

    Much like the Descenders, I enjoyed the benefits of excess body mass on several descents this weekend. I must say that it is MADDENING to have to tap my brakes in order to stay in line behind some pip squeek who will shortly drop me on an upcoming hill.

    You’re clearly showing the benefits of your very hard work and you deserve to reap those rewards. Well done!

    • I had the same thing happen several times on my descents. The trouble is, as you said, you drop the guy on the way down and he either catches you on the next climb or finds a group and blows by you on the flat.

      Yes, I think the training is producing results. If anyone else would like my patented training program, send your checks to me and I’ll ask Coach Rob to make one up for you 😉

      The legs. It’s only a matter of time before you come around, Steve!

  6. Whatever self-doubt you exhibited during your pre-race clothing conundrum was quickly eclipsed by your confident performance on the bike yesterday. Well done partner.
    Erik and I have our work cut out for us, but we’ll be gunning for you. You’re a marked man now!

    PS. What, no love for putting an end to your indecision and telling you to wear Rapha, both a practical and esthetic choice, which most likely had an important influence on your performance…A little credit please!

    • You’re absolutely right, John. Credit where credit is due. You were the one who made that fashion decision for me (I think I detected some admiring looks from the peloton). Who knows where in the starting pen we’d have begun if you hadn’t pushed me off my fence!

      About results, like I said, it’s all about the bunch. You would have easily rolled along in the one’s I got into.

  7. Well done Gerry. No surprise at this result over here. In fact, I would have been more surprised if you didn’t kick a little butt out there. Anyway, it’s always nice to see all those hard intervals beginning to yield good results. Just wait until later this season after a few more months of structured training! Better yet, just wait until you have a full season or two of this kind of training and pain tolerance under your belt. You’ll be fighting it out with the guys in the lead pack.

    Next race, don’t be shy and position yourself up near the front at the starting line and just for fun (if you call feeling excruciating pain, FUN), hang in with the leading pack as long as possible. I think you’ll really surprise yourself how long you’ll ride with them. Who cares if you get dropped, it’s only a training race for Etape where you can experiment with pacing and pain tolerance. Just go for it, you’ll never know how good you are until you fail.

    • Thanks, coach. I’ll do my best to squeeze up to the front line next time around. Of course you’re right that I really should be making progress (after all, what’s all this training supposed to be doing!), but it’s still surprising to see hours and hours of riding on the indoor trainer translating into better results in a real race. Who would have guessed.

      ‘Pain tolerance’. I forgot to mention this in the article, but as I was passing people on the first climb I could hear and see the suffering of those around me (mostly lots of gasping for air..) The fact that I wasn’t (at that point anyway) too much was very gratifying and I was thanking you for those Worlds of Hell (don’t worry, I’ll be cursing you again soon once I get back to training).

  8. Gerry,

    Kudos … super job and inspiring. After a rest day yesterday your post makes me actually want to go out and ride hill intervals. Right now. This very instant.

    Congrats again!


  9. Hi Gerry, So did you do ride the complete route?
    Did you try to miss the final climb going up to les Baux ?
    In fact your timing of 2.37.54 is a really good one !
    Hope to see you next year!…
    Raid organizer.

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