Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why Belgium Can Suck It: Springtime In New England Edition

Part 1: The Quabbining

Weather dot com said 47 degrees and raining. That sounded bad. Regardless Ian and I met at dawn, piled into the team car and drove through the cold, rainy, snowy Morning Before Easter. According to the cars thermometer, it was 35 degrees. Thank you, internet weather. This was going to be rough.

As it turned out, rough was an understatement.

There was snow on the grass in the parking lot. The ground, churned up by cars, cleated shoes and bike tires was a half-frozen, tan crap-stew that stuck to the binding surface of my pedals and braking surface of my rims. It was raining harder; the big, slushy drops stuck to my glasses, creating little fog-rings that distorted my field of vision.

I took the line in the front - I remembered that first “neutral” (read: "terrifying") 4 mile descent from last year. Even though this was my first race in the by-most-accounts well behaved 3s, I wasn’t taking any chances. Which, as it turned out, was sound logic. There was a pretty rough crash behind me, taking out a few guys before the race even started.

By “race” I surely mean “group of underweight dudes huddled together for warmth”. How did the race go?

Let me paint a picture for you.

I am not unfamiliar with discomfort. I have broken (at my best count) 53 bones, was beaten almost to death at least once and held a guys brains in his head with my hands. I have been lost in the woods for more than a week, living on what I could catch and sleeping in shelters I contrived. Ive eaten cat, rat, possum, squirrel, dog, snake, cricket, and if statistics are to believed at least 6 spiders. I listen to Hella.

So when I say “this was one of the worst experiences of my life”, I have a substantial catalog of misfortune to draw upon.

I packed for 45 degrees: a wind shell, jersey and decent underlayer. This arrangement has worked for cross, rainy training rides and early season mountain biking. When we got there, it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be enough. I even applied a spackle-thick coating of bag balm to my knees and thighs under my legwarmers in lieu of embrocating (I dont have any of that fancy leg-shiner. Sponsor gods, I beseech thee...). My shoes were stuffed into watertight covers, and I had the same gloves that were great on the few damp cross and mountain bike rides this season.

Unfortunately that 10 degree difference between My Plan and Gods Great Plan To Fuck With Me turned what should have been a race tailor made for my abilities into a miserable 3 hour death march across a frozen pre-easter hellscape.

My hands froze. The “waterproof” gloves I was wearing became “water-logged” in about 20 minutes. Trying to get food out of my pockets was a minute-long ordeal (putting said food back was impossible - I just stuffed all of it under the front of my jersey). Even drinking was hard: the muscles in my jaw had frozen. Slowly, inexorably, our field shrunk: either by simple attrition or catastrophic collapse of the will. To illustrate the latter, I watched a rider in a black rain slicker to my right start to wobble a bit, while his pedaling slowed... slowed... stopped. He tipped over like a toddler learning how to run. It was the last we saw of him.

By ones and twos they dropped off the back, some even knocking on random doors to get out of the cold.

At 40 or so miles, I had some serious difficulty climbing. I would be near the front, the road would go up, and regardless of my effort, I would find myself dangling off the back. It was awful. When I got home and looked at my numbers, there was a trend: the further along the race, the lower my heart rate.

My max heart rate is somewhere around 204. LT is around 188 or so. If you read this blog, you can extrapolate my zones from there. After 35 miles or so, my average heart rate was 100.

100.

There I was, in the final selection of a category 3 race, and my heart rate was hovering somewhere between watching a “decent horror movie” and “vigorous bowel movement”. Obviously, I missed any and all moves off the front - never mind my physiological inability to chase - my rain-fogged glasses made everything look like a home movie from the 70s. I didn’t even see them go.

In the finale, I tried to stay with the pack. Seated, I tried everything - spinning, grinding, loud cursing. I stood up to sprint back on and… locked up entirely.

It would appear my right leg had a message for the rest of my body.

The guy in the wheel car was heckling the crap out of me. Honestly, that was the most awesome thing ever. I was frozen, haggard, and half my body was unresponsive to my directions, but he told me I was going to bloody finish - that my sorry ass had better close the gap down. I lurched across the line like a frat boy at 2am on Brighton ave, cold-drunk and dead last in my group.

I couldn’t stop shaking for an hour.

Part 2: Omloop Het Vells

I didn’t think I would be in any shape to race on Sunday morning. Waking up wasn’t promising, either. My groaning, protesting body went through the morning motions - rummage for least-offensive smelling (and season appropriate) kit, find bottles without a terrarium inside them, mumble down food - this was going to be a joke. I was hoping to just hang on.

They were going to combine the races initially. That made me sad. I have to work at noon, so my only chance to race a full race is the Bs. Besides, I stink at crits, and with a smiling Jeremy Powers rolling around the parking lot, it was going to be a rough morning. Luckily, there were enough of us to run a single race, and there were a few solid riders mixed in as well.


The plan was simple: set the Schon up for primes, eat muffins later. There was a 30 or so person field.


At this point, I feel I should mention that it is a solid 35 degrees warmer than yesterday. Springtime in New England, indeed.

We started off with the standard B race parade lap, during which I couldnt figure out why I was pedaling so fast. Turns out, thats what the shifter on the left is for. This had already begun poorly.

Of course, a prime (or preem) was called on the second or third lap. Despite this being par for the course, I felt unprepared. Ian was practically attached to my seatpost. I launched early to avoid getting swamped, jumping out of the corner and catching the rest of the field out. Ian took the sprint easily.

I started to feel better.

We repeated again, this time for 5 dollars. I felt better and better. The next prime was more dicey - after the bell, I suckled Mike Briers wheel-teat into the final turn, launched and somehow held it to the line. I had won my first sprint. Ever.

I was psyched. Ian and I were in good spirits; even though I had only a vague idea of how to properly lead someone out (it turns out that looking around to see whos coming - not just blindly going as hard as you can so that your sprinter cant get around you - is a good idea) we had locked up every sprint and split the field. A few laps later I repeated and won a bottle, chased down an escape attempt, sat on the front for a lap, lead out Ian again and went 1-2 on the halfway prime.

As good as this all felt, it was starting to hurt. I pulled in front of Shopengarten and told him I would set it up for him and Ian to battle it out (even though Hebrew Cup points dont apply). Unfortunately I managed to get in Ians way after pulling off and Steve crossed the line first, though a lap later he was making a kosher vomit deposit in the bushes.

The rest of the race was more of the same, but with 7 or so to go a 545 guy took off. He dangled (as they are wont to do) about 10 bike lengths off the front, and we were content to leave him there. With 5 to go, his lead had grown to about 13 seconds; I waited until we were in the wind, jumped, and COMPLETELY FAILED TO BRIDGE. Awesome.

I may be getting stronger, but tactically, Im still a retard.

Looking back, I should have attacked him on the slight downhill, when there was a tailwind. Now, I was the schmuck hanging 10 bike lengths in front of the field with 5 to go. I had to make a decision, and my options were not stellar:


1. Drift back.
+ saves energy.
- not one guy in that race was going to drag me to the line.

2. Bury myself to bridge.
+ possibly work with a strong rider.
- he is at least as cooked as me, plus I will be completely broken when the field catches us.

3. Hang out.
+ if they think Im cooked and just hanging off the front, they will chase me down AND hopefully bring back the 545 guy.
- if they dont, Im going to look like an ass.


Option 3 won out, and I just rode tempo and drooped all over my bike. They made the catch and I didnt respond, just drifted all the way to the back.

1 to go, 545 guy is 5 seconds up the road.

The pace picked up, and I moved alongside the field and found Briers wheel. I launched, Ian in tow, from just past the last corner. The 545 guy was still a long way off, but I was committed. It hurt. Closer now, I could hear people yelling. There was someone just behind me. 545 was cooked, he was just ahead; I could hear his ragged breathing. Coming up even, we see each other. Dig. Keep head down. Throw bike. Got it.

Ian and I went 1-2, with the 545 guy who bravely held on for almost 10 laps holding out for 3rd.

It was the first crit I have ever done well at, let alone won.

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