Monday, May 30, 2011

Stage by Stage: Notre Dame de Lourdes Road Race

The cheese does stand alone. There is beauty in solitude. Especially when you are floating on clouds. 
I almost didn't go. It was that close.

First I went to register and the early registration had closed two days before. I didn't immediately see that there was a walk up option so I thought, oh well, I missed out. Then my kids were misbehaving after school on Friday and I uttered a threat that I knew quite readily I would follow through with if it came down to that:

If you you don't stop pestering each other, being rude and not listening, I'm cancelling the hotel with the pool for tomorrow night and we are NOT going. 

I hoped they'd misbehave. I hoped they'd test me. Of course, they did not. They really wanted to swim in that pool.

Why didn't I want to go? I was terrified. I can't explain why road racing scares me most of all when it is the type of riding I am strongest at. I'm lying really, I can explain why, and I have already in this blog elsewhere.

My parents were kind enough to come to my house on Saturday morning at 6 AM so that I wouldn't have to drag my kids out of bed to get to the road race on time. And a true testament as to how awesome my parents are, they then drove them out to the race for approximately around the finish time so that I could take them to the hotel.

The trainer folk and putting Jason Carter to use pinning my race numbers

As my Cat 4 Alter Ego teammates warmed up on their wind trainers in the parking lot, looking like the pros that they are. I headed out on the road to do mine. When Captain Rick told me the wind trainers were to prevent pre-race flats, I told him I didn't care. If I got a flat, I'd be dropping out of the race. This suited me just fine.

This remark, of course, came back to bite me in the ass later. Serves me right.

I chose to race Cat 5 regardless of numerous people telling me I was probably strong enough for Cat 4. No. Maybe yes, maybe no. But I had no experience. I was starting at the bottom. Which meant I got to race with the Provincial Kids who made up most of the Cat 5 peloton. These kids race Cat 5 because they have to for the rules but many of them could race higher levels easily. A large number of them winter train in that magical winter foil for cycling, meaning speed skating. Some of them cycle to keep their fitness for skating. Some of them skate to keep their fitness for cycling. No matter what, it is a combination that works.

Do I blend in nicely among the youth?
So being one of about 5 riders over the age of 18 in the entire Cat 5 race, I wasn't sure what to expect. I hadn't ridden with any of these people before. But we started off slow. Like really slow -- maybe 25km per hour. I ended up beside Willem who I think is about 15 and I remembered him from Cyclocross last year. Willem is a polite and talkative young guy who I had been "warned" (in a good way) was the one to watch out for. When I told him I'd heard this about him, he shrugged humbly.

And it stayed slow like that. I heard some of the stronger older boys mumbling about the pace. And soon we were averaging closer to 30 or 32. Still manageable but as the pace picked up the formation of the group disintegrated. What began as a double pace line turned into a hap-hazard jumble of riders jostling for a spot on the road. Some riders pulled more than others. I always pulled when I hit the front, always certain that when I did, that's when they'd attack. We hit the hills and the pack broke up a bit on every climb but always there seemed to be a slow down after an acceleration that brought most of the group back together.

My plan for the race weekend had been this:

1. Don't crash.
2. Be conservative in the road race.
3. Don't crash.
4. Be reactive rather than proactive. Go with the flow.
5. Don't flat.
6. Give'er on the TT
7. Learn as much as I could from people who know stuff.
8. Stay with the pack in the Crit.

Somewhere near the start
Well, some things can't be helped. Like riding through a cruddy broken up section of road. It was my fault really. There were two such sections of road both within the first 5 kms of the two lap race. One section you had to take entirely to the right. The second section there was a clear section on the right and a narrower section of good road on the left. I got caught trying to take the left route at the patch of broken road that had no left route, and I went right through it.

Thank God for cyclocross skills.

The hissing started shortly after. The kids heard it before I did. (I hate calling them kids by the way. It makes me feel patronizing and old. I'm used to riding with old-er guys who take care of ME... this was backwards). I think it was Willem who said, "Somebody's getting a flat tire." Then I heard it too. Then my mind flipped into denial.

Can't be me.

But I'm the one who rode through that crap section of road.

Nope. Not me... I don't feel like I'm dragging. 

Damn. It probably has to be me. 

And then eventually, but it took about half a km, I could feel I was on my rim of my rear wheel so there was no more denial. So I dropped back, put my arm up for the car that was following us. There was a spare wheel truck behind us but I had no spare wheel. I didn't even have a tube. I had already decided that if I flatted, I'd just DNF.  I put my arm up mostly just to signal that I was pulling over. I thought my race was done and they'd put me in the truck and carry on.

But Coach Jayson from the provincial team came out of the truck asking me what wheel I needed and brought me a replacement rear wheel. And this is what saved my race.

He told me after that if you flat you were supposed to put your right hand up for a rear flat and your left hand up for a front flat. Just like the gears. Front chain ring with the left hand, back chain ring with the right. Makes sense. Unless of course your using SRAM, then the analogy gets thrown out the window.  I had my left hand up because, well, I knew none of this, so I was inadvertently telling him to bring me the wrong wheel.

But the bottom line was that I wasn't expecting to be given a wheel at all, so for that I am grateful.

So I time trialled the remaining 25km of the race, by myself. Still managed to not come in last even though there were a couple of team girls who had got dropped on the first lap who were behind me working together. It was worth a bit of effort to try and catch up because the group was only doing about 26km per hour when I got the flat. It was also worth a bit of work to not get caught by the girls behind me.

I didn't catch up to the group. The cloud photo above was taken about 200m from the turn around so at that point they were no more than 500m ahead of me. You see the leaders coming over the top of the climb in the opposite direction. This is apparently when things started to get good in the Cat 5 race. Somebody attacked on the hill.  I was working hard by myself, harder than I intended to work in the road race. At about 2km from the finish I glanced over my shoulder and the two girls were no where to be seen and a question occurred to me, "Why the hell am I riding so hard? I have two more races tomorrow." So I slowed down and made a joke at the finish line asking the spectators if I should sprint.

And then it was done. I didn't get caught. It was anticlimactic, but it was still satisfying.

Then I was able to do a nice leisurely tube change while watching my kids swim in the pool later that night. Much better than a frantic tire change on the side of the road.

Yes, I can change my own tire, boys and girls.
And this made me all ready for the Time Trial the next morning, and my first ramp start. I think I handled it OK.

Thanks to Carolyn Campeau for the photos. More about the TT and the Crit another day.

No comments: