My first race of 2013 is under my belt and I can see now that the road to the Haute Route will not be as effortless as I was secretly hoping. This year I thought it prudent to enter the ‘long race’ in all the ones I’m doing this year, since I really need the miles under my wheels for the HR. See, in France at least, each cyclosportive usually has at least two distances, and possibly even a 3rd randonnée for the more touristic among us. For the last two years I was doing the shorter versions for the most part, and especially in the early season, like now. Oh, where have those halcyon days gone?
Herr Kaa Comes to the Le Sud
Endurance readers may recall this very race (albeit under a different name) back in 2011. My racing buddy of that year, Karsten, came down from Paris and, after one wrong turn for both of us, ended up painting the gravel shoulder of one particularly fast corner with his ass. You will also remember that we finished that race as guests of the broom wagon brothers. Well, Karsten has a long memory and he wanted to come back and set things straight, so he hopped on the TGV and came down to the warm south for the weekend.
Only thing is that it wasn’t really warm. The temperature at the start of our race was 2C and it didn’t really rise much past there by the time we finished. We should count ourselves lucky though, because I think that nearly every pro race in France was snowed out this weekend except for La Classic Sud Ardèche – the pro version of our race held the following day.
Forget About It
Following tradition, I forgot some essential equipment at home for this race (although not quite as essential as my wallet, which I left on the car roof a couple years ago), but fortunately for me, those around me come better prepared. Therefore, I ended up with woolen socks from Karsten and some fabulous booties and toe covers from John. Given the temperatures on the day, these were life-saving (or toe-saving) loans. Thanks guys.
The Roll Out
This was my 3rd time starting this race and I think the first time we had a real neutralized roll-out from the start. It certainly wasn’t slow because many were left behind right from the beginning (Like Karsten, unfortunately), but I could see the front of the bunch and it was being controlled by a car until we turned right onto our first climb, the Côte de la Fontaine du Cade, an ‘easy’ 3.5 km climb of an average 3.3%. But, as Greg LeMond correctly stated many years back, ‘it never gets easier, just faster’.
Possibly because of the elongated neutral zone, or more likely because of the tougher field I found myself in today (more on that later), I was red-lining it after just a few hundred meters. I wrote in my article last year how gratifying it had been to demand the legs to work and they obeyed willingly. This climb proved the opposite can be true, as I helplessly tried to force myself to go fast up this damn false flat. There I was, heart rate well over 170 (a range I know I can’t hold long), and guys are flying past me like I was still on the indoor trainer. Demoralizing. It was at once an extremely anxious moment (like when you find yourself dreaming you’re running away from somebody, but you realize you are just spinning your legs) and a wake-up call like a slap upside the head – “you have much to learn, young Jedi”.
But I got to the top and even managed to pass a few riders in the process, and warmed up on the bumpy plateau that followed.
Climb #2: Coming to Grips
By the 2nd climb – the 7 km, 4.6% Côte du Razal, I had long ago said good riddance to the fast guys I’d never see again and found my level of riding partners. When you ride with those of equal or less strength suddenly the world looks brighter, and this climb was not as horrendously sad, since I could hold the pace of those around me.
The Gorge and The Wall of Wind
After the top of the Razal we had a long, wind-aided roll along another bumpy plateau before diving down – and up – and down – the very impressive Ardèche River Gorge. More importantly though, we turned around and started riding back towards the west, the direction the wind decided to rocket down the gorge. 4C and 50 kph headwinds (I’m guessing. They could very well have been stronger) make you thank the God of Rouleurs if you have enough luck to be able to tuck in behind one, like I did…a lot. I took my turn on the front, I’ll have you know, but I was never out in the wind alone, unlike Karsten, who ended up doing the whole race that way, pretty much.
Just a few kilometers before the end of my 100 km is the menacing Côte du Rocher de Sampzon, a 2 km climb of 7.8%. I won’t complain about this climb because the pros had to do it 4 times the following day, but it’s a tough little bugger after 94 km or so. I had dreams of ‘attacking’ Sampzon and taking it all out of the saddle, but reality took hold on the first ramp and I spent all the climb, outside the hairpins, on the back of the saddle, surviving, rather than attacking. Still, it’s short and over relatively quickly.
After this it’s a straight shot north (right into the wind) back to the finish line.
I finished this year’s race 170th out of 319 finishers, and 48th out of 92 in my age category – or solidly ‘average’.
I didn’t have good vibes from any part of this race, I have to admit. But I am the type who needs to feel good about himself, so I have sat down and worked out a few justifications, some of which might even hold water.
- This was a step up in terms of competition, I noticed. I don’t know if this is the case with all races, but with this one the stronger riders (overall) were doing the 100 km race. I used to do martial arts long ago and I remember well going from, say, green belt up to blue belt, where each level up I went I had to be beaten back to reality. I had the same distinct feeling with this race. I’m a green belt racing against blue belts.
- Climb Times. Thanks to Polar I have my times from the last two years of this race and after analyzing the climb times I don’t feel too bad. I was 10% faster this year over last on the 1st two climbs, then slower on the Sampzon climb. I’ll chalk that up to the longer distance and wind fatigue because I’m an optimist, okay!
- My kind coach also pointed out that last week we had a tough few days of intervals before the race and I didn’t do much in the way of tapering beforehand, since these ‘unimportant’ races are supposed to be built into the training program for the Haute Route. I have discovered something about my personality, though, that I of course knew already: any race is important for me once I’m in it. Don’t tell Rob, but I’ll be taking two days off before the next one!
Overall, this was a sobering experience and one that I am glad I had. I now have far lower expectations for my hair-brained idea of qualifying for the UCI World Cycling Tour Finals, for instance. I’m still doing that race in April, but finishing top 20% seems like a pipe dream, if the field is as tough as it was yesterday. There’s always next year.
Karsten finished this year’s race, which was his goal. He didn’t have a good start, unfortunately, and found himself out in the wind and cold nearly the whole race, finishing a ways down. Good effort for a hard-working Parisien who has little time to train.
John and Erik decided to do the kids race (did I say that?) of 73 km; one crushing it to end up 9th in his category and the other 21st. Excellent results, you two! Now read Rule #5.
In 3 weeks we are heading over to Provence for a replay of the Raid des Alpilles, where I had a good result last year. I’ll be doing the longer version this time around, however, so…well, you know.