It was the first race of the year and physically I had little idea where I was at for this one. Having been through a series of foolish and totally avoidable injuries from doing crossfit this winter (go figure), my actual on-the-bike training had been sporadic. My best week of training happened this past week, where my knee injury seemed healed enough so I treated myself to four back to back days of maximal Vo2 interval sessions in order to tell my body it needed to click into gear or I was going to kill it. So 3 days later, on race day, I had still little benchmark of where my fitness was at but I was looking forward to finding out if I’d be getting dropped by grannies on their fat bikes or not.
Race day, April 3rd first day of winter apparently! A mix of snow, ice, mud and water awaited us on the road/CX style race course. As always, I didn’t dress properly but at least I looked sharp in the new team OCTTO kit. Always best to look good while you are shivering like a little baby at the start line. While lining up at the start, I did my routine quick check over my bike to make sure it was good to go. Dental floss holding my torn tubular tire together – check! Stages Power meter – check! Good to go.
The race started pretty quickly and I picked up a sketchier than normal ‘feel’ to it all. Icy turns, many riders first race of the year, potholes covered in snow, mixed field. Couldn’t wait! My game plan was to take it conservatively for the first chunk of the race, help out the team when I could and hopefully survive until the muddy CX stuff, which I typically do pretty well with. But then, 5 minutes into the race, the combination of excitement, wanting to get moving to stay warm, and caffeine pills kicking in all took hold and I found myself moving off of the front of the pack. A dude from Bateman’s rode up with me and seemed game for a doomed breakaway. We both hoped we might stay out in front long enough to get caught by a strong break and join it. Instead, we got maybe 30 seconds ahead of the pack and kept it that way for 8 or 9 km. Then, when we were slowly swallowed up by the field.
For the next 20km or so, some little attacks went out but nothing stuck. Larbi, another OCTTO teammate, in true workhorse fashion, ended up doing a few km solo break, then got caught but remained on the front doing more than his share of work. He might have broken away a second time, or maybe attacked, and he might have even attacked some of his own attacks… I can’t say for sure. But it would be just like him to do so.
Somewhere around 35-40km, the pace was upped and riders started getting spit out the back on a series of rolling hills. The pack started stretching out. I had survived the first big split but was at my limit to do so. Graham Rivers, another OCTTO team mate had gone down in a crash early on in the race and had then fought back on to make it into this dwindled down group. Back with the group, he was starting to pick his way back up through the pack when unbelievably, a dude seemed to cut his wheel or something and he went down AGAIN.
The pack drilled it on some rolling hills in a crosswind and I was again struggling to keep my place at the back. The guy ahead of me let a bit of a gap open up and by the time I moved around him the gap was just big enough that I couldn’t manage to close it. So, I had just missed the selection of 20 or so that were moving away up the road. I fought on by myself for about 5 minutes trying to get back into the group and at one point I actually thought the group had slowed enough and the gap had closed enough that I’d make it back Nope. In the end, the group rode away, my legs were toast and I was stuck in no man’s land. I could almost hear the grannies on their fatbikes coming up behind me.
I sat up until the chase group of 10 or so guys came riding up behind me and I joined the chase. After a few minutes of doing more than my share of pulls, I could see the group as a whole wasn’t really keen on working hard and there was no way we were going to catch anybody. So, I decided to do no more than my share and was content to wait until the technical section came up to try and get away. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw some dude who had somehow gotten hold of a TT bike and was hammering up alongside us. Nope, not a TT bike, just Graham who somehow gets so aero on his bloody bike he fooled me. At this this point in the race he had crashed two times (or perhaps three times at this point…), had to bridge twice, and was now getting right to business working hard at the front driving up the pace. Myself, having not crashed at all, felt a bit guilty getting pulled along by Graham and couldn’t rightfully stick to my strategy of dogging it in this group until my chance came up. So, as much as I hate exchanging pulls while people get a free ride on the back, I proceeded to work as much as I could manage, if only to give Rivers a bit of a reprieve from his giant pulls. A few other motivated dudes must have also felt a bit pathetic and so they too started helping out. After 5km or so we could actually see a small group that had splintered off the break away group. We continued to gain on them.
As we were just about to catch this other group, the course finally turned onto the muddy CX section of the race. I know I brought my cross bike for a reason. I went to the front of the group while entering this, so as not to be stuck behind somebody who slips up. Finally, I could stop working at that bloody TT intensity that I’m just not meant for and instead take on the variability of some off-road stuff. Even better, right into this section was a steep unridable (to me at least) muddy chute, which forced me to actually get off my bike and run. Whenever I can run in a bike race, that’s good news. It begs the question of why I bother with the bike in the first place, but I didn’t want to go there just now. So, I worked my through this muddy, wet, snowy, farmers field and slowly reeled in two guys ahead of me. One of them was Mark Brouwer who was the perfect rider to work with after the technical stuff to try and catch some other riders. Our next obstacle was a steep, muddy hill that we had to somehow make it up. I couldn’t help but think how long this sick sadistic race designer must have looked to find this piece of work. I couldn’t complain though – I was off my bike once again. Shouldering my bike, and using my hands to grab trees and roots, I was able to slowly make my way up this sucker. At the top I could see 3 more dudes maybe 30-40 seconds ahead. I looked back for where Mark was, hoping we could work together on this gap, but unfortunately his bike was rebelling and he needed to spend some time de-clogging his drive-train in order to get riding again.
I put in the best effort I could while picking my way through the remainder of this course which consisted of farmers’s lane ways, gravel roads and a biking trail through the woods. At one point I thought I heard some birds chirping and thought I might have even saw a few flying into my bike frame. I looked down at my front wheel and noticed that some robings or something must have built a little nest on my brakes and were starting a family in there. I looked at my bottom bracket and my rear wheel and confirmed that birds had indeed made multiple nests everywhere on my bike (see picture) and because of this, my shifting had stopped working and my back brake was seized.
The power meter was working to perfection though, which is all that matters at this point in the race. The race finished up a steep staircase. The sadist route planner was at it again. When finished, I had neither caught the 3 riders ahead of me, nor was I passed by Mark, who had figured out his bike and was slowly reeling me in towards the end.
And for a language Steve Roedde understands.
Avg watts: 244
All in all, really fun race and I was more than happy with how my body felt and what I was able to do. I placed 13th overall and Larbi, who made it into the lead group entering the technical section finished 9th. Overall the team raced well and we were decently represented in breaks/splits and put in our share of attacks. We are all looking forward to the next race on our new FACTOR, state of the art, ultra aero, superbly engineered, race bikes. That’s if we have the balls to take them off of the display on our walls..