I’ll begin this entry with some photos of Saint Tropez because it gets ugly soon enough.
Okay, ‘ugly’ might have been a bit strong. The weekend was a great success for John, Erik, Anne, Karsten, Christian and even myself, simply because we all made it down the descent of the Notre Dame des Anges alive. More on that later.
Ever-generous Anne and Erik drove John and I to the race on Friday evening and we spent a nice, if soggy, evening and full day there, before the race on Sunday morning, finally connecting my Sud friends with the ones from Le Nord. Here is Erik and Anne looking fresh and smiley because they hadn’t raced yet.
Sunday, 8 am. John and I started together, with the other 4 just behind us in the ‘back pen’, but it was a mass start so we all rolled out of town together. The race quickly heated up as soon as we hit the main coastal road and, as usual, I was red-lining it right off the bat. This continued till the first left-hander and all the way up the little 2 km climb that followed. John and I were holding our own still, but plenty of riders flew past us. At this point I was at around 170 bpm, which is very nearly cardiac arrest level, so I couldn’t help to wonder what kind of genetics (or could it be training?) these guys had who were passing us by. Here’s the beginning of the race with the ugliest sportive jersey ever: La Marmotte.
And the only one of me this weekend, grace à John.
Losing John. Back to the race, the furious pace continued for some time and at one point I lost John. Now normally this would mean he had powered on ahead of me and out of sight, but, inexplicably, he was behind me this time. This is a true story – I actually thought, after a while, that I must have missed him pass me and he was long gone. You get used to things. I figured he’d catch up to me on the first real climb, if he was actually behind me, but I never saw him again till the finish line. He hasn’t been training like last year, for sure, but on our frequent rides together around Le Sud he can still haul some considerable ass. I’ll call it an off day till further confirmation.
Serious Riders: Lesson One. After around an hour of racing I think I had and average of 35 kph, which was encouraging because I thought I’d need nearly that much to qualify for the UCI World Cycling Tour Finals, but I also knew that the great equalizers in these things were the big climbs, which were yet to hit me. Soon enough they did and by the top of the first I think I was down to 31 kph.
But I just realized I should be talking about ‘serious riders’. Yes, so, it seems that serious riders have particular habits, skills and modes of logistics that I have yet to learn (because I’m not serious, it will be obvious soon enough). First of all, they NEVER STOP FOR FOOD. EVER. After 80 km I stopped briefly to top up my water and grab a little cake. Not one of the 10 guys in my group even glanced at the food station (the only one we had passed and the only one for another 40 km). I lost them, of course, but luckily this was just before the largest climb of the day – Notre Dame des Anges – and I made my way back into at least the rear end of the bunch by the top.
Side Note: The descent off of Notre Dame des Anges should be added to the CIA’s list of enhanced interrogation techniques. I know I would have been ready to tell all if they could make the pain go away. But really, in the end it’s just a typical French mountain descent with a whole lot of gravel and potholes added for effect.
This happened again (at 120 km) when I was nearly out of water. This time I totally lost my group and probably lost 5 minutes or more because of it. Actually, most likely much more because I ended up riding alone for 20 or 30 km till I was swept up by another bunch (which I hung onto for dear life!).
Serious Riders – Lesson Two: I had 3 stops in 180 km. Two for water/food and one for a ‘natural break’. I don’t think I saw anyone doing this the whole 6 hours I was on the road. How is this possible? Serious riders don’t pee.
Serious Riders – Lesson Three: I found out quick enough that I could have cut out two of those stops by having a water boy/girl/mom/dad strategically placed along the route (I saw the same people several times, which meant impressive logistical preparation). I don’t know how many there might have been, but some were supplying whole teams (or maybe groups of friends) and, like I said, I didn’t see anyone in my groups stop for sustenance. Serious riders have support.
What these three lessons add up to is a substantial amount of time because not only did I lose, say 5 minutes in actual stopping time, I lost those valuable groups I was nearly always in when I stopped (the natural break was the exception). The sad thing was I was holding my own quite nicely in those two great bunches and I think I probably could have kept that up, maybe.
Serious Riders – Lesson Four: The last lesson is really a confirmation, since I already had this one in my mind from our last race. Serious riders do ‘the long race’. Here are my stats for this race:
- Length: 179 km (111 miles)
- Time: 5:52
- Speed: 30.48 kph (19 mph)
I finished this race right where I did the last one – solidly in the middle. That doesn’t make me feel very good, considering I was hitting much more glorious rankings last year. But, here’s the rub. I’m simply in another world now. A tougher, faster world. A world where people don’t pee. I think I like the old world better.
A little test illuminates this ‘lesson’. If I had finished the shorter race that day with the same average speed (and I guess I would have had a faster one even, since it was 50 km shorter) I would have finished in the top 15%, just like a few of the races last year.
So, a little perspective is always important to have. As someone wise just told me this morning, ‘until you are racing in the Tour there will always be a category that will be better’.
And the UCI World Cycling Tour Championships? I don’t know for sure, but I am guessing that I did not finish high enough in my category to qualify. Anyway, I’ve got enough things to do this year…
So, not a bad day on the road in the end, and plenty of lessons learnt, so I suppose the only question left is, who wants to come to the south of France and hand me water bottles once in a while?