Things got more serious this weekend with racing on both Saturday and Sunday in Sabadell, a sub district of Barcelona. I had heard that these races were the first real test for a rider on the Catalan cycling scene – when I saw the starting list of over 200 riders, including some representations from Belgium and France, I knew to expect a tough weekend.
One of my favorite things about cycle racing is meeting new people. Granted, in a tough race we don’t talk all that much, but exchanging battle stories at the end of the race is special to cycling because everybody has been through their own personal battle and surely experienced near misses, breakaways, pain, tears and all the rest.
This weekend I was lucky enough to meet Brian Canty (editor of Sticky Bottle) and Eoin O’Connell, top class guys from Ireland. Brian has been living out here in Girona for a year longer than me and is truly living the dream, working writing about cycling and riding his bike whenever he wants. Eoin is an Elite racer from Ireland who turned up to the race on a hire bike and with ambitions to disappear up the road – legend! So we strapped the 3 bikes to the back of Brian’s car, put the wheels on the back seat and headed off into the sunshine.
Anyone who races knows the routine: unload bike – change – load nutrition and bottles – sign on – toilet – warm-up – start line. We were a bit rushed and I missed my team talk (we had a strong representation of 12 riders) and the warm-up but hey-ho! To the start line! The start was fast, I mean really fast. It was a constant fight for position and I was red lining on the flat whilst on somebody’s wheel. Weaving through the streets and round the corners in a 200 and something peloton of fresh-legged continental riders was crazy but fun at the same time. When we hit the first climb it was full throttle and riders were already being shed. I positioned myself in the front 30 riders knowing the elastic could break at any time. Over the first climb we went and at the summit we were met by the first cheering crowd. Descending was rapid and these guys knew how to descend alright, flying around my inside and outside at practically double my speed.
I’m not afraid to admit that the first hour was pure suffering and my face showed it. At one point somebody shouted from the crowd “esta es la buena cara” meaning that’s the good face, in other words he is pulling a stupid suffering face. When I looked down at my garmin I was horrified to see only 40Km done, but this was in under an hour. At around 60Km (several climbs in) I started getting the danger signs (buena cara, puffing and panting, legs on fire, etc) and finally the elastic snapped. I literally gave it all I had, they beat me. I continued to chase with Eoin who had suddenly appeared by my side but it was too little too late. Rider joined from behind to form a chasing group which we eventually took to the line for a bunch sprint. Of the 204 riders 112 finished and I pulled in 86th. As Louise so rightly put it my worst result yet in Spain and after all that suffering!
In true cyclist fashion I put all that behind me and focused on Sunday’s race. Because we had started late, 15:30, by now I was starving and stinking so it was straight back to the team hotel for rollering, showering, compression tights, dinner (pasta, chicken and mint tea), stretching and straight to bed.
“Oooh that’s a strange noise from my stomach…”
“Oooh I need the toilet…”
And so started the diarrhea. One trip, two trip, three trips, four to the bathroom. I didn’t sleep much. I blame it on a dodgy gel that I ate on the Saturday – I will never eat a gel past its sell by date again. I didn’t make it down to breakfast and ate my plain porridge in bed. After one last trip to the bathroom it was time to head to race start with fingers (and legs) crossed.
The 200 riders pulled away and immediately I could see tired legs from the first day of racing. My legs actually felt quite good. It was a little slower than day 1, but then it was to be a longer 120Km race. At around half way a break went up the road. My team had riders in there and when I looked around I could see some strong guys holding back so I decided to hold back too. It was really cold dropping down from the climbs due to the early start. I couldn’t feel my fingers and had a really tight back and sore mouth from gurning!
Finally the finish line drew near and I put myself near the front, I got a bit boxed in but came in around 10th in the bunch sprint, 41st overall. Much better than Saturdays performance but a bit frustrating because I had more in my legs to give. The lead group was only 1 minute ahead, I think a lack of race info combined with team tactics led me to not do some work to try to bridge that gap.
All in all I am happy with the first big weekend of racing. A show of some form but I need to work on the top end to hang on in multiple attacks. I am also coming back from being ill so should allow myself some slack for that (I know, excuses, excuses).