Despite the overall lightheartedness of that last post, I’ve been very glum for a long time now. Until today that is. I felt that the time to race was TODAY, not tomorrow or Wednesday, but TODAY god damn it, and I knew that if I didn’t race I’d be tempted to take my own life. Yes, I’m still “sick” ish, but this time I knew for certain that I was over the hump, and with Contador’s doctor’s cough syrup drugs running thick in my veins there was no way I could have a relapse like I did before. I’d rather get sick again for another month than go for one more day without racing. My body is so dependent on endorphins that I’ve been genuinely depressed and ready to just step out into traffic. Okay that last part isn’t quite true. I would never step out into traffic, I would take a running leap. Stepping out would be lame.
The race was hard, the field was small, and there was nowhere to sit in. I wouldn’t have sat in anyways though and began attacking right away. Unattached Thomas and I had driven the van to the race, arrived very late, signed in, Thomas pooped, we got on our bikes and made it to the start line with four minutes to spare. We’d gotten pretty lost on the way there. I probably don’t even need to say that; it’s a given.
I did this race last year and knew that there was a cobbled climb somewhere in the first half of the lap (11 laps in total). I wanted to go into the climb first because last year the winning move got away on the first lap, on the climb I think. Being very rusty though, I entered the climb close to last place after botching a corner or two and then deciding I shouldn’t blow myself up in the wind before the climb in an attempt to get to the front. The winning move went on the climb. Actually it might have even gone just before the climb; I couldn’t see the front at that point.
Anyways, with a break of five up the road and three of the guys in the break on one team and two guys on another team, their cohesion meant they had a good chance of staying away. And they did, but only by like 20 or 30 seconds. For most of the race they had multiple minutes and we couldn’t see them. Basically our entire race was just attacking with very little cooperation for any extended period of time. Attack or get dropped. I got into a solid move of six like half way through and I thought it was going to stay away for the rest of the race and maybe catch the leaders, but we were caught with a few laps remaining. I got away again, this time with four others and that move stuck.
I really needed water. I’d been asking for a bottle, begging, and then finally screaming in anger at the sogniers on top of the climb who were handing out bottles to their riders. Both of my bottles had fallen out on the first lap going up the cobbles. I stupidly put my third bottle in my empty cage (the bottle that I’d had in my jersey pocket) and it immediately popped out going up the climb on lap two. So I did almost the whole race without any water. One guy in the final break I was in gave me a bottle with about an inch of backwash in it and I was so indebted to him I worried that the only way to repay him would require falashio in the cafe bathroom after the race. But on that same lap two of the sogniers I’d been yelling at and attempting to snatch bottles from both willingly gave me bottles and the now-empty backwash bottle didn’t matter quite as much anymore. So with one and a half laps to go I drank like a dog with diabetes. (Dogs with diabetes drink a LOT of water very rapidly. If your dog is drinking a lot of water all of a sudden you should get him to the vet asap).
I’d been smashing the climb every lap, gapping off all my break-mates just about every time in each break I was in. Except the last time. I entered the climb second with a small gap to the guy in front of me who’d attacked just before the corner. I was about a bike length behind him when I ran into the side of the grassy embankment, luckily not crashing into the fence. The climb had a very narrow gutter on the left hand side near the bottom and a gutter on the right hand side near the top, so you could go for most of the climb without having to ride in the cobbles, which is a lot slower. The downside to this is running into the fence, hedge, spectators, or in my case the embankment near the bottom. I didn’t crash but I was slowed down enough that I couldn’t catch the guy by the top of the climb. At the top I looked back and saw two guys coming up onto my wheel, so I sat up and let them pass me and jumped on behind them. The next couple hundred meters had a strong headwind and were fairly flat and downhill, so we’d catch the guy who was just up the road and now had only a handful of bike lengths on us. The fifth guy in the break was struggling to regain contact just behind us.
The guy in front of me didn’t hold the wheel when the dude in front of him got out of the saddle and sprinted to catch the guy in front of us. That was it. Our quest for sixth place was over and we never caught either of them. You can’t close every single gap that someone creates and you can’t follow or bridge to every move, no matter how strong you are. Picking the right ones is key. The three of us worked together for that next half lap, never able to close down the 15 second gap. I attacked with about 600 meters to go on the slightly downhill section through town and beat the other two guys for 8th place. The 8th place plus the KOM points that I was never aware I was sprinting for earned me more than enough cash to pay for all the doctor fees and medicine I’ve been taking this past month. Ironically, racing today might have actually just payed for the next round of cold medicine I’ll have to take for the next month. I really hope not. I’m happy though. If I continue recovering there’s a whole month of racing left and that makes me feel good of myself.