I took some time off in the summer as I'd plateaued, big time. Then, just after one week of training I became very sick, not exercising at all for the next six weeks. I had to ease back into riding for a couple of weeks before having my first really good week last week, 231 quality miles. The problem is, I'd been eating like I was riding 15 hours a week the entire time! So, packing on the pounds I did!
The hotel was next door to the Border Patrol Detention Facility and we had read that announcements were made over the loud speakers all night long. We didn't hear any such thing.
A few nights before the race someone that remembered me from the Nogales Classic contacted me, asking if I'd like to help he and his friends out. He said they earned platinum status last year (a time of 4:20), but would like to improve this year. I was quite flattered. I remembered who they were and looked to fall in with them on the ride.
The morning was cold, just above 40 degrees. That's perfect running weather, but on a bicycle, a bit chilly. Turns out I couldn't feel my toes for about 3 hours! At the start of the race the national anthem was played and the announcer mentioned to keep in mind, while cycling, those who are suffering and dear to your heart. He shared the story of his niece who is likely to succumb to a long battle with breast cancer this coming week. I thought of my daughter off lonely in Missouri at Basic Training, and was saddened. I like the message though, these types of endurance events are a celebration, if not an exploitation, of good health.
|The Chubby Cyclist...fear the socks!|
I started the race out towards the front of the group. I wanted to use what I learned in the Nogales Bicycle Classic, which was, stay with the front as long as possible, but don't do any work!
I had no problem sticking with the group until we got to the climb...in fact, it was quite pedestrian. Everybody knew the climb was coming and it should've been an easy ride before that point! I saw the five or six guys that I was to sit in with pass me as they worked up towards the front of the group, but I was quite comfortable inside the center of the peloton, protected from the wind, so I let them go.
Once we got to the climb I realized I should've worked to move up towards the front of the lead group. That way, if I began to get dropped, which was likely, then perhaps I would end up at the back. But instead I was in the middle and by the time we were half way up, I was out the back and soon dropped, over heating and nearly sick. I dialed it back and just eased up the climb in granny gear. I didn't see any of the Nogales group on the climb, so I figured they moved right on ahead.
I desperately wanted a break, but no rest for the weary! I remember thinking that I was intensely happy that I've been riding hills a lot, knowing that I'd be suffering far worse if I hadn't been. I also remember thinking that this was the race right here...if I had been able to stick with the group, I'd probably finish with the lead group.
Eventually a few people caught up with me as I was sitting up and not pushing anymore. I tucked in behind them. When we finally reached the top my extra weight shot me down the mountain! That was cool, several miles of fairly steep decline to allow me to catch my breath.
|A typical echelon is strung out, a sign that the group is going fast.|
And while this makes the group go way faster than they could alone, make no mistake, rolling along at 24 to 30 miles an hour, having to surge forward as the riders in front perhaps start descending while you're still climbing, keeping in mind that you must keep contact with the rider in front or else you're out of the slip stream and must sprint to catch up, is not easy work!
A few riders instructed the group on how long to pull and that each puller should make sure not to lose contact with the group. I was all ears, never having done much of this before, certainly not for any amount of time. I got scolded for not signaling that I was done with a pull, then misread the gap as I tried to get back in line, nearly bumping another rider off the road. I apologized personally each time. The last thing I wanted to do was make a fool of myself (says the guy with the Where's Waldo socks).
I quickly learned the most effective way to move over and keep my speed so I can catch on the back of the echelon without a huge effort. I saw how some people are "courteous," allowing those that just pulled to slip in front of them, thus ensuring they never have to pull.
At one point, someone allowed me in front, saying, "I'm gassed, need a bit more of a break." That was fine. But there was one particular rider doing no work. Now, I know he was probably gassed too, heck, after a while we all were. But, he was doing no work at all. So, I took a risk and didn't cut in front of him. I stayed behind him and everybody else that pulled then dropped in behind me. This forced him forward and he had to work. Soon after he lost contact. I'm not sure of the etiquette required in such a situation, but part of me says, "No Free Rides."
Eventually we came away from the mountains and it got windy. Crosswind, headwind. Repeat. A headwind sounds worse, but it's not bad. Your front tire cuts through it nicely and if you tuck in, you make a small profile, the wind makes you work harder, but you can get a rhythm.
Crosswinds, however, are different. I think it's because the wind hits the broad side of your wheels, slowing your spokes. Not to mention, it pushes you sideways. Regardless of the physics, it is the worst. It's a lot of work to move forward in a crosswind and the benefits of an echelon are negated, almost entirely. The picture to the left shows how an echelon stretches out sideways as each rider tries to get into the slip stream created by the next ride as they cut across the wind, instead of head on.
About this time I secretly wished for a flat tire. Our group was too small to provide any shelter from the crosswinds. However, the group still maintained about a 24 mph pace through the winds. I toughed it out, but when I felt a strange sensation I looked down at my tire, kind of relishing the idea of catching my breath. Then, someone took their turn to pull and took off. The group surged. I stood to sprint, cramped and sat down. I caught back on the back, totally shot. It happened again, and again. I was done for. I got dropped.
I rolled up to the last aid station, just about a half mile ahead. I planned on refueling, getting some water and catching my breather. Two other riders were there, one from the group that just dropped me. I barely filled my bottles, choked down a cup of raisins and the other two were leaving. I had to catch on. I threw a banana in my pocket and took off, hoping I wouldn't cramp again.
Surprisingly, I felt fine. We turned into the wind immediately after the aid station! If I had just held on a half mile, about another 60 seconds, I'd probably have stayed with that group. Still, the three of us worked together, taking fairly long pulls. We caught a pair of riders from the group that dropped us and formed a group of five. We moved quickly, 28 to 30 mph most of the time, directly into the wind. But then, we turned into the crosswind again and I got dropped.
I thought about letting them go, but knew that I had a chance to catch them if I worked steadily. I caught them and am glad I did. They knew the route, and somehow hearing a description of what lay ahead comforted me. I forgot about how bad I hurt and just went for it.
I crossed at 4 hours, 19 minutes and change. I thought my clock was wrong! The man I rode with most of the ride was also a Chubby Cyclist. People came in after us, amazed at our time. They commented that it was crazy to see two heavy weights move that fast on such a difficult court.
For me, this was a new things. Not for the other guy. He's been on the cusp of getting the platinum for a year now. He said to look for him at El Tour de Tucson, said he has a group of friends that are all Fringe.
A few minutes later, the Nogales group came in. I never noticed that I passed them, but guess I did on the climb.
I found a bench and laid down, put my legs up. They hurt intensely.
Now, 24 hours later, I'm still elated with the race. I'm hopeful that I will drop some weight between now and mid-November, for El Tour de Tucson. Maybe I have a shot at platinum there!
EDIT: The official results were posted, finally. I missed platinum designation by 9 whopping seconds! NINE!
Platinum, by the way, means that (1) you're fast, and (2), you don't have to wait in line at 3 AM at El Tour de Tucson.