Everyone always talks about the post-race comedown. I wonder if the better the race, the harder the comedown. I experienced a pretty epic comedown this week. From sky high this time last week, to wanting to quit by Thursday. I'll admit that I can be a little melodramatic at times(!), but that doesn't really change how I was feeling on Thursday. A few things contributed to the crash, which are irrelevant for the purposes of this blog post, but I can honestly say that I spent some good quality time on Thursday thinking about what on earth I wanted out of cycling, and if this was the best I could ever be, maybe I should refocus my priorities and get back to the reality of my non-cycling life.
But I let Brad talk me into coming along for the Norman (the Friday morning Vikings ride for those not in the known) and I had a lot of fun. Nothing much to write about, other than the fact that it was a really fun ride with some really top people, which just put me in a much better mood / frame of mind re cycling. And as I'd already entered the Eurobodalla interclub (which comprised a 50km handicap race on the Saturday and a criterium on the Sunday) I headed down the coast on Saturday morning for a weekend of coast fun, with a bit of bike racing interspersed.
Even though I knew I was going to race at the interclub, I somehow thought it was going to be a nice gentle race down the coast (mixed up with sun, fun and beach-time relaxation with the crew and my family). I know "race" and "gentle" are pretty much mutually exclusive, but in my head I think I had taken a break from racing last Sunday somewhere towards the top of Mt Hotham. So no one was more surprised than me to find that I'd been put in a pretty harsh handicap (known as Block or Chopping Block). I thought all the girls would have been put in the same group, but somehow I found myself the only girl in a group of super fit boys in the second last group away, 20 minutes behind the first group to leave (and 5 minutes behind Brad, Dees and Rob, who I usually train with and are much the same speed as me).
I didn't whinge to the race organisers about my handicap, but I certainly whinged to everyone else I knew (sorry team!). But I was strangely complimented by the fact that the organisers had bothered to look up the results of Bright and think it was worthy of a hard handicapping, which somehow appeased part of my post-Bright comedown issues. That said, I was worried that I was way out of my depth, so I decided that my goal was basically to stay with the group as long as possible, and if I felt OK, to try and do some work with the group. As with all handicaps a further goal was not to get caught by the bunch starting after mine (which was Scratch (the last bunch starting for those not familiar with the terms) and was made up of the Suzuki and Ollo Industries boys and even a Jayco rider or two!).
As we were waiting at the start line, we started to witness the generous handicaps to the earlier groups - there were groups over halfway through their first lap (the course comprised 3 laps of a relatively hilly 17km course) before we'd even started. But then we were off. And gee we were off! The boys hit it very hard from the start, averaging 42kph for the first 5km. My heartrate spiked pretty early because of this and I really started to feel the pace during the second and third 5km sections. I pulled some turns with the boys for the first 10km, but had to sit back for the third 5kms as I was in a world of pain and doing everything I could to hold the wheel in front and get enough oxygen in to keep upright. An added complication of the course was the various hot-dog turns. As noted in previous posts, I'm a bit challenged when it comes to u-turns, and I ended up taking each turn very wide, which meant I lost a lot of places and had to accelerate hard out of each turn around to catch back on again, which really saps your energy. Lesson learnt for me re the importance of practising hot-dog turns now as I don't really want to have to go through that everytime I need to turn a bike around in a race again in the future.
As the race progressed, it became obvious that we'd gone out too hard too early, and there were limited riders in our group that had the fitness to keep working at the pace that had been set. There was one rider in the bunch that took on the "bunch captain" role, and did his best to keep it under control, but I think the bunch generally didn't have the skill / fitness to ride the way he intended so we weren't working together as well as we should have. I did a fair bit of work for the group on the front (probably more than was expected from me being the only girl in the group), but I found it hard to control the pace on the front as I'd end up surging a bit (and was tapped on the bum by the bunch captain and unequivocally told this mid-race!). I think this was lack of experience from me (it was only my third handicap), but also lack of confidence in my speed: I was so convinced that I was the slowest rider in the group that I honestly thought I'd have to keep pushing the pace even when rolling the lead just to keep the pace steady. I'll try to chill a bit in that regard in future. :-)
We started to pick up some riders that had dropped off earlier bunches, and while we were closing on the bunch that started 5 minutes before us, we never really got close to them. At about the 47km mark, we saw the bunch in front coming back the other way and knew it was game over. A few of us in our group sat up for a bit at that point and recovered to the last turn around, before getting back to business of getting the race over and done with as quickly as possible. I was pretty pleased to get to the finish line and hear that Brad had claimed 2nd overall, and Dees 2nd female, just less than a minute before my bunch. Top work VCC!!
As for me, I was pretty stoked that I'd managed to hold onto my bunch for the whole race. Average speed was 36.5kph for 52km with 605m elevation and I sure worked for it. Strangely my legs didn't hurt after the race, but my pectorals sure did for gripping onto my drops for dear life for nearly an hour and a half and not wanting to let go of the wheel in front of me. Who would have thought you could get such a good upper body workout from cycling. :-)
The next part of the interclub was the crit this morning. The organisers ran separate women's and men's grades, which was great, but the turnout from the ladies was a little disappointing, with approx 7 riders in WB and only 5 in WA. I quite enjoyed watching the WB crit, which kicked the morning off. Tegan, Ches and Ange put on an excellent demonstration of Valkyrie / Siren domination (Tegs took out the win) and it was awesome to see how far they've all come since the start of the Valkyries not so long ago. Nice work ladies!
My own crit was rather uneventful: I spent a fair bit of time on the front for the first part of the race, testing my legs and the girls in my grade. I could tell which girls would be my biggest threats from the first lap and knew my best tactic was to go for a breakaway as I didn't think I'd be able to outsprint them. I put in a few little sprints out of the only corner on the course to see how they'd react, and decided that my tactic would be to try and go clear when I saw 2 laps to go. Stupidly, I jumped when I saw the sign saying 3 laps to go, not 2. But I got a good gap on the girls, and while I wasn't increasing my lead over the first 1.5 laps of the 3 laps to go, I was keeping them at the same distance so thought I might just get away with it. The only problem was that I had to slow down significantly with 1.5 laps to go as a truck was reversing into a driveway (the crit was held in the industrial estate in Moruya). I slammed the brakes on, and weaved around the front of the truck, but my advantage over the other girls was significantly whittled away because of that. And I still had a lap and a half to go! I dug deep (so deep in fact that I hit a new max heartrate!) and managed to hold on for the remaining lap and a half to claim 1st place. Phew! I was quite pleased given that I don't usually like a crit.
So somehow I've gone from sky high last weekend to bottoming out on Thursday to re-inspired for more racing this weekend. I'm really glad I got back on the racing horse (even if it was somewhat harder than I really wanted) this weekend as I've tapped back into my enthusiasm / love for the bike / love for racing in general. I'm still not quite sure what I'll target next race-wise, but I know that whatever I end up targeting, I'll have a great group of friends to train and race with. And that's (more than) half the fun. Thanks team!