Nationals

I did not do well this weekend. I took 58th in the road race and I did not finish the crit.

We arrived in Fort Collins Colorado Friday night at Luke’s uncle’s house. We got in at around 10:00 pm after picking up our race numbers and scouting (in the car) what we thought was the last 30 miles of the road race. After a good meal of pasta, we went to sleep as quickly as possible. Orion farted all night long and stank up the entire down stairs room.

The next morning, I warmed up for 45 minutes before the race, feeling fine. The wind was very strong, and I was borrowing David Wells’ Zipp wheels–a 404 and a 303. I was blown around a bit more than I am used to, but the wheels worked out just fine.

As individuals were called up to the line to start, dark clouds started building up in the north. To the east, the sky was calmer, mimicking the flat planes below. To the west, lay our destination: the beginning of the Rocky Mountains. The mountains rose straight up from the flat ground of Fort Collins. The roads there are steep and the switch-backs are painfull. It was a hilly course.

The start/finish area was held at the football stadium, and the planned course was 70 miles. We would climb up and passed the reservoir, continue climbing, and then do 4 laps of rolling hills. After those four laps, we would return the way we had come and then finish the race with 25 miles of 4 very hard climbs; this last section was the route we had driven the night before.

After all 170 of us were lined up and ready to go, shivering in the increasing cold wind, the race announcer told us that they were expecting snow, and therefore the course would be shortened to 60 miles and the last section would be taken out. I was upset with this, thinking that the hills would benefit me. Boy was I wrong.

The gun went off and we tore off into the cross wind. Immediately we were going 32 miles an hour. It felt like the start of a crit. Luckily, earlier when we were lining up for the start, I had cut in line and was in the top 20. I fought to keep my good position. We turned a corner and the full force of the wind hit us from the side. The peloton strung out across the road in a horizontal line as everyone tried to hide from the cross wind. A rider a couple bike lengths in front of me collided with another, and almost went down. The guy in front of me swerved to the right, where I was passing people to get closer to the front. We slammed into each other as I locked my breaks up and began skidding. No one went down.

The night before, when we had previewed the course, we had taken a route that was about 5 miles of flat that lead us out of town and then up a gradual climb of about 500 feet. That was not the course we took this morning.

After one mile, I saw that we were not destined for more flat ground. I was now about 40 riders back after my near crash and I looked up the road to see the pavement begin to rise up out of the ground to form a disgustingly painful climb. This is when I began to notice the lack of oxygen my red blood cells were able to utilize. The climb zig-zagged up the mountain. I don’t know how steep it was, but it hurt me enough to get passed by about 30 people as I wheezed my way up. David passed me and I struggled to stay within reach of him.

Here we are on the climb.  Already, the race was divided in half.

Finally, the climb crested the top and we began a screaming descent at 61 miles an hour. David helped pull me back up to a chase group of 20 riders. We barely made contact with them before the next climb, which was not nearly as steep or long, but I was toast by then anyways. David pushed me from behind and told me to get up there as the small group ahead of us pulled away. I told him I couldn’t do it. He pushed me again. And again. And again. Peter and a group of 10 other riders caught up to David and I and moved past us. I was finally able to grab a wheel I could hold and I went all out to the top, lungs struggling in the thin atmosphere. David and I passed Peter and we began another decent.

I could see the lead group of 40 riders up the road a little ways, and the our group of now 15 powered down the hill and up another one to catch up. On this third hill (or fourth, I can’t remember), I got dropped. Others were dropped too, but only one other guy stayed at my pace. For about 5 miles, the two of us worked together to pull ourselves back up with the chase group. It was not going to happen with just two of us.

After a couple miles of being dropped, we were on the loop section of the race. We turned a corner and the massive tail wind propelled us to 40+ miles an hour. I have never spent so much of a race going over the speed limit, or so much time in my biggest gear: 53×12, which was not big enough for the day.

We were caught by another group of 20-25 after a couple miles and we began hammering to get up to the lead group. We did not work well together, with just a few of us doing all the work and a bunch of idiots just sitting on our wheels and messing up the pace line. In the tailwind part of the loop, myself and other riders would pull to hard and drop everyone, then we would have to wait for them to catch back up. There was a lot of swearing involved in this section of the race.

Going the other direction up the false flat into the wind was easier for me than the tailwind section. We dropped riders each lap, but the pace line worked much better going into the wind.

I worked very hard for four laps, trying to catch the lead group. Finally, we caught them on the last headwind section of the last loop before we were to head back up to the reservoir. I finally got a good chance to rest as I sat in the group, which had just slowed down to a crawl after we caught them. Combined with my chase group and more riders who had caught back on after it slowed down, the pack was swelling with 80 or more riders. I moved to the front after I talked with David for a moment. Apparently there were 9 riders off the front. So we were competing for 10th place now. Earlier on in the race, I had just made it my goal to finish, but by now I had forgotten the pain involved with climbing, and I set my goal to getting 10th.

I knew I was in for some serious pain, remembering those long descents that would now be ascents. But I didn’t think I would be dropped again. I was dropped part way up the first serious climb, along with 30 or 40 others.

After reaching the top, I began powering down the hill after the pack, which was only about 10 or 15 seconds away. I was with 4 others and we hammered hard to try to catch them before the next hill. We did not.

4 or 5 other riders caught up to us as we began the next hill. We descended again and then climbed up another. We went down another hill, and rode across the reservoir dam. And then a wall appeared. At this point I recognized the hill as part of the course that had been cut off from the day’s course because of the threat of snow. It was part of the 25-30 miles we had driven last night. I turned to the guy next to me as we approached the hill, and asked, “since when are we doing this?” He replied, “since always.” It turned out that we had gone down this steep section earlier in the race (which I hadn’t realized) and we weren’t going to do the extra 30 miles of climbs. There was a turn that I didn’t know about that we were going to take, making the race only 4 miles back to the finish. But I thought we were in for another hour and a half of racing. My spirits dropped and I thought, “fuck it.” There was no way I could go at this pace for another 30 miles, especially when it was 30 miles of hills at 5,500 feet elevation.

We hit the steep climb and I thought of Nectar Way. I had no power in my though. My entire body felt weak and my lungs rattled as they gulped in the sparse air. I got dropped again. I saw Orion on the side of the road, cheering and yelling for me to go. There was nothing I could do in that atmosphere to go any harder. To give you an idea of what the altitude can do to an athlete’s performance, Orion was completely dropped on the first climb of the day and his race was basically over within a mile. Orion is one of the better climbers on the team too. Altitude affects everyone differently. I had thought, for some reason, that I would be immune.

The wind blasted me from the front as I struggled up the 18% grade. I was crushed as I saw 5 guys go off without me. I hated this damn race and this state. As the grade backed off, I grew angrier and angrier. There was still an uphill, but it was much less steep. I caught my second wind (more like 15th) and left it all out on the pavement. I powered back up to the 5 others, not caring that I was going to be dropped again on the next hill that we were quickly approaching. We started going downhill and 4 others caught us.

Then to my great surprise and happiness, we made a right turn going down hill instead of taking a left and going on with the 30 mile section. I realized that there were a couple miles of downhill and then a mile of flat before the finish. My spirits rose.

We tore down the hill and around some tight bends, one of which one guy almost hit the guard rail as he tried to pass me on the outside. He would have been screwed if he had gone over it, tumbling off the side of the cliff.

There were ten of us by the time we got to the bottom. It was obvious that there was going to be a sprint, even though it was for 60th place. I took off with 600 meters. I looked back and eased up as I saw the others chasing close behind. I jumped in behind a wheel after they passed. Immediately, another guy began to sprint. It was on. I began sprinting as well. It was the longest sprint ever, lasting for 400 meters. I took second, just a few feet behind the guy who started it. I took 58th overall.

I, and the rest of the team, spent the next 4 hours coughing up our lungs. I threw up in the shower later back at the host house, and we all laid around in agony. Orion was the worst, and is still coughing up mucus and phlegm two days later. Srew a new set of wheels, my next purchase is going to be an altitude tent.

The next day sucked. I was not in the mood to race and I felt terrible. Unlike the day of the road race, Sunday was warm and sunny with no wind. The course had wide roads and 8 clean corners. 130 starters. I should have been excited.

Like the day before, the announcers called up the conference champions from each region, then called up one rider from each team. One at a time. Because I went first the day before, I decided to go last this time. So I started out in the back, which is where I spent the entire day.

The crit was sketchy, with lots of bad crashes. One crash was bad enough that the race officials stopped everyone while an ambulance took away the injured rider. We started up again and immediately another group of riders went down.

After a half hour of racing, I just lost all motivation to ride and pulled off the course. I had been at the back the entire time and I was not having fun. I was mad and felt defeated, knowing that I would just be racing for 80th place at best. I was still pissed about yesterday and about the whole weekend in general. Orion, proceeded to make fun of me for dropping out for the rest of the day and during the 6 hour flight home. I made fun of him for DNFing the road race also.

The trip was fun and we all joked around a lot, but none of us were too pleased with the racing. I was and still am pissed at the road race. I hate the altitude now. Here are the team’s results.

Lisa: 12th road race, 20th crit
David: 45th road race, 62nd cirt
Takuya: 112th road race, 63rd crit
Peter: DNF road race
Orion: DNF road race, 12th crit
Kennett: 58th road race, DNF crit

One thought on “Nationals

  1. Well, no one can say you didn’t try hard on the build up to the race (well, aside from the “adequate recovery” and “integrating running late in the game” part). It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you are really fit, then take 10% of your ability away simply due to altitude. Yes, 3 weeks of acclimation is worth way more than anything some fancy deep carbon wheels will ever gain you. Unfortunately, the only way to get around that unrealistic option (being an 440′ elevation student) is to pay-to-play with the cheater tents.

    Maybe next time you’ll get the opportunity to race on a course that better suits your talents! Keep at it, it’s just one race of many you’ll do.

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