Friday, July 21, 2006

A wee bit warm

Friday, 21 July

You know it’s hot when you get back to your hotel 2.5 hours after your race finished and your jersey number is still soaking wet (we’re using cloth numbers here, and only stokers have to wear them). You know it’s hot when you drive tomorrow’s TT course to check it out and the bank thermometer says 100 degrees (Martin says bank thermometers are about as reliable as bank clocks—this one had exactly the same time as the clock in his van). You know it’s hot when Martha drinks three whole bottles in a 2.5-hour race.

Apart from the temperature, it was a really hard race today. We did seven laps around Cottage Grove Lake, for a total of 61 miles. Our average speed was 40.5 kilometers per hour (Martin doesn’t believe in computers on his bikes, so I asked somebody and he turned out to be Canadian), or about 25 mph. The course had one significant hill and not much else of interest, except maybe that a lot of it on one side of the lake was in the shade.

We were, in a way, marked from the beginning, with lots of queries about when we’re going to bring out “those jerseys” and comments from people who know we won this race last year. I did some homework last night, comparing prologue times with last year’s results. But really, it didn’t matter; you just had to watch everybody and go with whatever tried to get away.

There were A LOT of attacks. Two of the mixed bikes and one male-male combination have really powerful jumps. And, we found out, they can do it going uphill just as well as they can on the flats. Until the last lap, it was just fast fast fast all the time. Once or twice on the hill, a couple of bikes got away, and we had to chase to catch back on. That’s what hurt the most: riding as hard as we could up the hill, and then having to work even harder through the following flat section and up another little incline.

Back in Seven Springs, Clint had a conversation with Martin about how it was okay—once in a great while—to ask me to work a little bit harder to close a gap or get over the top of a climb. Martin had almost never done this before, but now Pandora’s box has been opened, and there were a lot of appeals today. Honestly, I was better about looking around him and keeping track of who was ahead of us and anybody who might be trying to accelerate past us from behind. But the going would get hard, I’d be in the drops, and suddenly somebody would counterattack and we’d have to work even harder to stay on the group.

The next-to-last time up the hill, Martin’s legs started to cramp up. Ever tried to push a 175-pound guy up a hill without getting dropped? No, it wasn’t that bad, but it would be pretty accurate to say that I buried myself. And of course that hill was followed by a gazillion attacks as people tried to get away before the last lap. The last time up the hill was still steady pressure but we managed to stay comfortably in the group. Then the pace slowed and Martin drifted to the back (Martin never drifts to the back) and started asking for something to drink.

There’s a corner about 4 miles from the finish, and we had to stay to the right of the centerline going into and out of the turn, so people tended not to attack there. But I was sure waiting on the last lap for the jumps to start. After the corner, Martin got tired of the dawdling pace and burst up the side of the group and rode off the front. It wasn’t an attack by any means, but it did stir things up. The pace didn’t get too bad until about 2 miles to the finish, but the first effort was short and not really hard. About 1.5 kilometers from the finish, the pace picked up. One of the more aggressive couples broke a spoke on their front wheel in this effort (ha—serves you right for jumping so hard!) and everyone else went sailing past. The group strung out but stayed together over the finish line. I was hoping that the 3 male-male bikes would take the time bonuses for the top 3 placings, but a mixed bike won the race and got the 15-second time bonus. They won the prologue too, so now we are 24 seconds back, tied for fourth with a male-male bike.

Two great things about today’s stage. Given that it was around a lake, we all got to go swimming when we were done. It felt so good, I went in twice. And they provided ice cream for us! I’m not sure where ice cream falls in the post-race recovery meal plan, but it was pretty tasty. I wanted a nap in the sun too, but figured I’d had enough sun for one day.

Tomorrow is a double stage day: a 13-mile time trial and a 45-minute criterium. The time trial course is almost flat but not quite. We rode a great TT on a different course at this event last year: it finished up a 2-mile climb. Compared to the TT at Seven Springs, this is a real snoozer. It starts out with a long, straight section where you’ll probably be able to see the bike that started 3 minutes ahead of you (well, I won’t, but Martin will). And it should be even hotter by crit time.

Martin's race report is here.

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