The adventures of a typical MAMIL, who late in life forgoes normality to take up bike racing .....
Race 1: Alphutte Classic Handicap, The Range, 9th April 2011
Held by the Norwood Cycling Club, the Alphutte Classic is an annual event with an illustrious history. The course centers around The Range / Willunga / McLaren Flat and Pennys Hill Rd - great cycling country in this fine state of SA.
The course is shown here :
As with all MapMyRide routes, the elevation profile is averaged out, so it really doesnt show how nasty the final climb is.
Preparation and Training :
Leading up to the 9th April, prep has been really poor. Couple of weeks off the bike with a severe flu, and then 1 1/2 weeks of base training in the week leading up to the race.
31 Mar : Light spin up to Norton Summit, rest, then attack the slope with some ferocity. Absolutely flying up Norton, but overcooked it by a wide margin, and ended up stopping the ride by Valley Reserve. Head pounding. Limped the rest of the way after that. Coming back was good fun - raced a P plater in a skyline from the top of Magill Rd as far as the parklands in town ... that was probably a pretty silly thing to do, but was a great blast.
4-7 April: Around 8 hours on the bike, concentrating on holding a steady fast pace in the drops with high cadence. Really good disciplined workout. Happy with that. Holding an avg of 140W at 100rpm cadence and breathing easy. Best I can do with the limited time. Only one day off the bike for a rest.
So coming in to 'race day', not exactly race fit, but with clear lungs and a bit of confidence.
Pre Race :
Oh God ! Talk about nerves !! Its a 1pm start, so the alarm is set for 10am. Wake up at 6am in a panic - nothing is ready.
I have no idea where my favorite socks are, and cant for the life of me find my favorite arm warmers. Not good. Cant find a clean razor without rust on it (I know they are there somewhere - just bought a new pack on Thur night) ... so not going to risk too close a shave this morning.
The night before, my roomy's son had a slight car accident (dinged up his Auntie's car and made a mess in someone's front uard) ... so it was a little challenging to get into race mode. Forget to eat supper, and forget to eat breakfast.
By 10:30am Im finally organised and on the road.
By 10:45am I do a U-turn and head home because I forgot to grab my transponder :( Wake up lad ! Back on the road, dying for a cigarette. Scratch around in the center console for an old forgotten packet - NOTHING there, and think all sorts of things to justify buying a new packet on the way. Nah ... not today laddie. Bad idea.
12:15pm : Arrive at the The Range Memorial Hall and get a park. The place is packed with cars and people and bikes. Excellent vibe - glad Im here at last. I fuss around for an obscene amount of time getting my bike put together and sorting out water and back pocket contents. Left glove will not fit on right hand! Someone has put the clocks on fast forward, time is ticking away much faster than it has any right to.
Check in with the race organisers, pin number on back, and head up Range Road for a warmup. Hardly any time left now. Lucky for me, Ive never raced before so I pull a 33minute time handicap for this race. If I am ever going to win a race, its TODAY ! Next time around, Ill be in the scratch group for sure, or they will force me up into B grade for the rest of the season.
Little block of foam that is used to secure my super dooper watch / interval timer to my handlebars comes loose and blows away in the wind. WTF ? That hasnt moved in all the years Ive been riding, and now the watch is banging all over the handlebars upside down. FFS - watch off, and strap to wrist where I can barely see it. Call me murphy. I look down at my computer / powermeter thing - the slope is reading -9.3%, and Im on an uphill slope. Thats not right at all - the mount must have been knocked off by a few degrees in transit. Need to recalibrate.
The Start :
Ding Ding Ding - the race organiser is calling the 33 minute group to the start line already. F$@k! Time is on fast forward still.
A small group of about 5-6 guys head to the start line. Thats ME too ! They look - experienced. "You can join us" they call .. "But only if you are over 50 !" they add. These guys look cool calm and collected - and well organised and warmed up.
So Im on the start line listening to the briefing, whilst I do this silly little tilt calibration dance on my computer.
Really simple to do - when you are not standing on the start line of your first ever road race, listening to an important briefing whilst trying to at least look remotely Euro Pro.
Anyway, a few moments to get head into gear and think about all the right things. I remember Daniel's words of advice about the race start from this board, and think calm and purposeful things. All good.
The Race :
I should really conclude this blog post here, as the biggest lesson I learned in my first race is that a bike race is just extension of the preparation. Once the pedals are turning, you are no longer in the world of mere mortals - you are in a different place entirely.
Tim Krabbe nailed it perfectly in his book 'The Rider'. Ive read it twice before this day, and now I am privileged to read it again and understand far better what he was saying between the lines of prose.
Off the line, not quite a drag race .. just a gradual pull to get up to speed and form the first unspoken bonds between the riders. That happens very quickly. All senses are turned up to 11, and you can almost feel where everyone's head is at. Its hard to describe - its like a saturday morning group ride on steroids. There is an overwhelming sense of non-verbal communication between the riders in the bunch. Its like sitting next to an old friend you have known all your life, and enjoying a beer and a good sunset together. Why havent I tried this before ?
I dont know how far we have gone - maybe 4km, and the road is tilting upwards ever so slightly. Ive been sitting in tight, taking my turn at the front, and holding a good line. But why do I feel so stuffed ? Feeling around with my ears, you can sense that the group has already started breaking apart here. The big lad at the front is taking enormous strides and you can hear a distinct whoosh-whoosh as he powers up the slight incline.
A wheel edges forward on my left, and I lift my cadence a little to hold my position in the group. But something doesnt feel right at all. My legs are not smooth, I feel like Im pedalling in squares, and I am starting to get the first flush of lactic in my legs. I know this feeling - its the first little push you make on the start of every ride, where whatever you do, it just hurts a little as the engine starts to warm up to operating temperature. After that first half an hour to an hour, everything smooths out and only then can you get into it properly.
Whats the computer saying ? A quick glance down. 168 watts, 112 rpm. Ah - that makes sense now. Im revving out like a 2 stroke engine, and Im still cold. Right knee is groaning in displeasure and lungs are not happy Jan. Up a couple of gears - ouch - knee doesnt like that. Get head back together !! 168 watts is fine, but its well out of my comfort zone. I know I can hold 260 watts like this for 20 minutes, but be dead at the end of it. Anything over 150W sustained and Im running a deficit.
2+ more hours of this ? You gotta be joking. Evil Steve who wears the devil's costume and sits on my left shoulder is getting heavier by the second. He is whispering all sorts of very logical sensible suggestions in my left ear, and all of it is making more sense that Id care to admit. Angel Steve on my right shoulder is nowhere to be found.
Up on the hoods, I sit back and look for my own pace now. I drop back to the concierge car and make some vague gestures towards my knee and give him a thumbs down. Poor excuse :( Its a testing run now, not a race.
On my own, at my own pace, having fun zooming down the descent on Meadows Road. There is a shocking, howling side wind blowing the bike towards the center of the road here. A lot of debris on the side of the road too. Glad Im wearing my SL's today and not the deep dishes. Most of the debris on the road is light bark that the wheels glide through - but some of it is as hard as rock. I get airborne a couple of times running over twigs and doing 68km/h. This is fun ? Yes. Madness ? Probably.
Sit up some more and wait for the next group to come through. Feeling much more relaxed now, yoga my way into a more sleek position on the saddle and get some speed happening. There is nothing at stake anymore. Sit on with the next (faster) group, and somehow the pace is so much easier. Cruising along, breathing a little hard, 280 Watts - feels good.
Pottery Road happens in no time at all. Sudden left hand turn, road is wet and covered in pine nettles and potholes. Thank god for DuraAce brakes. OK, I am committed to DNF'ing now, so lets see what we can do to Pottery Road.
Takes a short while to find a comfortable rhythm, but once you are there you are in heaven. Here we go - I can bring up the engines to 320 watts and hold it there, floating up the hill in comfort. Dont need to hold anything in reserve for the next 2 hours, so why not ? Now that feels good at last - legs are burning, lungs are burning even more, but the smile is burning bright too. Thats as it should be.
So I ease up back at the start line and have a quick chat to the race marshalls. Mark me down as DNF, Im off to have a spin down ride off the course for a bit. Great little ride after that - a good way to have a think about what just happened. Annoyingly, the knee feels perfect during this ride.
The Other Race :
In great contrast to my own experience this morning, I spend some time with some of the elite juniors who are getting ready for their race.
If you have ever sat in on the start of a TDU stage and watched the pros up close - well, this is almost exactly the same. Its quite surreal watching some of these guys warm up on their rollers. There is very little difference between a Pro Team support vehicle and coaching staff, and some of the Moms and Dads support vehicles - with their own small scale pro teams. The difference is only one of scale.
I remember a long time ago in the forces, being involved in training infantry units for combat readiness in dinosaur country in Qld. The finished product - not exactly men yet, but certainly not boys anymore. They look like finely tuned doberman dogs, greyhounds, and the odd hyena in the gun group. I remember thinking "heaven help us all if they ever get let loose on the world these young ... products of ours".
Cant help but feel the same way about the future of Australian cycling looking at some of these juniors. It wont be too many years now, and some of these cyclists will survive the coming years intact to take on the big races in Europe. Heaven help the world when these guys land over there. At least when we are too old to ride anymore, there will be plenty to cheer about on SBS.
Lessons Learned :
On the surface (and indeed in my ride diary entry for this race), I would describe it as a disaster. However, there are a lot of good lessons that I took from the day.
Obviously, preparation is a big part. I cant just rock up with half an hour to go and expect to race. To race properly, need to get there significantly early and go through a decent warm up cycle. Need to be at the start line with the muscles warm, hydration under control, and heart rate right in the zone before the first pedal is turned.
Goes without saying that having your kit sorted out is something that needs to be done days before a race, not on the morning of race day. Nothing worse than having your computer (or any other part of your kit that you rely on) playing silly buggers moments before a race.
Pacing is critical too, but there will be moments (probably quite early in the race), where you are out of your comfort zone and need to hold it there for a while. Trust in your ability to recover and suck it up.
Even out of my comfort zone, I may well have been OK for another 10km if I stuck in there. What did my head in was thinking about the whole of the next 2 hours instead of the just the current moment. Must make an effort in training and racing to only focus on the present. The next few Km is everything - the other Km after that will look after themselves. Race with your head, not your legs.
Training - patience is key. I cant expect to race harder than I can train, and I cant expect to train at a level beyond my fitness. Fitness will come - in time - with slow incremental steps in training. Anyway, by the numbers I am not too far off the pace at the back end of the race. Only need to lift my sustainable power output by 10% and Im good enough to hang in there with E-grade and be competitive. Thats actually quite encouraging.
So, there you go, everything I gathered from a first time out.