Monday, April 27, 2009

A lonely ride

After just having been in Belgium last month, I can say with certainty that Flatlandia's Leland Kermesse lived up to its goal. The rural course proved surprisingly similar to Flander's fields and the creek cuts bore a startling resemblance to the old trenches of the First World War. It was also relentlessly windy, with rain, and a sector of gravel. It was incredible.

I met up with my brother Stephen and after check-in we warmed up for a bit on the trainers. The wind was blowing steady at about 20 mph and the skies were heavy. It had the promise of an epic day in the saddle, and strangely we welcomed it.

Somewhere between 20 and 30 Cat IV's departed for a neutral roll-out with another good group of Cat V's behind. After we hit the S/F it was time to race and a rider in a burnt-orange jersey attacked. In a heavy crosswind it was suicide to imagine going 40 miles solo, but he gave it a go. Stephen and I sat in as the field rolled at 18 mph. I could do this all day. I hoped.

We turned into a mixed cross-headwind and went single-file. There was no shelter. My heart rate climbed up. I was on the nose of the saddle. It began to rain. Finally we picked up the tailwind and my heart was going 185. Crud. The speed picked up and we were doing 30 mph and I was frying. Then at 6.6 miles into 40, I came unglued. I was alone.

The gravel sector was fine. Growing up riding the roads around German Valley I knew that the crown would be smooth and hardpacked and though I kept toying with running fatter tires, I decided that I could ride 700x23's on my Bianchi. The gravel sector was fun and I came off it, rounded the turn, passed the S/F and was on my way for the second lap.

Now alone and facing the 20mph winds I was struggling. Mentally I was shattered. I couldn't wait to quit. I recalled Andy Hampsten's famous quote, "I was hurting so bad it was like a meditation." I was going hard - at 12mph. I was being passed by riders coming from behind. Even if allowed to mix and ride with them, I was so gone I couldn't have stayed on a wheel. I had to ride my pace. It was the 2001 stage to Pla d'Adet all over again. Then I picked up the tailwind. Suddenly I was riding 23mph and felt .... well .... good all things considered. As the miles ticked down, I decided that I had time to turn in another lap. I cruised over the gravel and turned for lap 3.

Lap 3 was manageable because I knew that this really would be the final lap for me. I plugged along, steady as a turtle. The wind was still vicious, but I kept the pedals turning over. I kept looking at the computer as I saw the distance go down. The tailwind was again a blessing and with new wings I flew along. In the final stretch of gravel I noticed the sky turning dark. I cruised through it, turned to go to the S/F just to let them know I was retiring, and then slowly pedaled back to my car.

I should have pedaled faster. As I leaned the bike up against the trunk, the heavens opened, the god's barked and threw fire at the earth, and in the blink of an eye I was wet. I pulled wheels off, through the bike and wheels in the trunk and dove in the car. Stephen was still out there - completing Lap 4. Oh Crud.

I changed into dry clothes in the car and pulled out as the rained slackened. There, in soaking wet WFR yellow & blue, was Stephen. Looking happy. He said they got the rain in the gravel sector. He figured he'd probably done about 10th overall. He thought it the hardest race he'd ever done.

I averaged a speedy 17 mph and spent an hour with my HR in Zone 4 so for fitness, it was a good outing. The course was great and I highly recommend that we plan on racing this next year! Flatlandia put on a terrific race, the ABR officials for hanging out in rainy conditions, and I really thank all of them for giving us the opportunity to have such a great time!