And now for the unabridged version of events... Racing kicked off on Thursday with a 5km prologue. With a kicker in the middle, and a brutal climb for the last kilometre, the field was pretty evenly split between road and time-trial bikes. Given that my beater road bike is a tank, my TT bike is both more aerodynamic AND lighter, so it was an easy choice.
I was first up from our team, near the start of the field. I arrived a couple of hours early, so after some sitting around in the team tent, and oggling the women's teams and massive team buses, I knocked off a warmup and then headed to the start ramp. The commentator who was announcing each starter, "Joe Smith, national TT champion", or "John Citizen, stage winner at the Tour of the Gila", didn't have much to work with for me; I think he went with "Lachlan Holmes is up next, he's had a number of top 10 finishes...". ha Then I was off, suffered through 11 minutes on the course, and then possibly the even more torturous wait for results. I ended up 113th out of 205 or so, not bad. Our team hill-climber extraordinaire, Sebastian, placed an impressive 30th, making him our top GC man for the weekend.
(Photo: Claremont Cyclist)
Day 2 was the first mass-start race, a 200km road race. It was another "welcome to the next level" deal for me, with all 28 teams having cars in the caravan following the race, a three-lane highway closed to traffic, oh, and the first 10km of the race being done at 55kmh (we averaged 45kmh for the first lap, which included a KOM climb)! Attacks were actually going off the front - I latched onto one guy's wheel as he launched, and we were doing at least 60...I thought 'I'm in trouble if he wants me to take a pull!' but we were caught when we hit a hill, and I spent the next 20km trying to recover.
Inevitably, there were crashes. A very good reason to fight to stay near the front of the peleton. You're inviting trouble when you sit mid-pack or further back, but it's hard to tell yourself to go FASTER when you're thinking about the hundreds of kilometres left in the race. Sure enough, I was sitting mid-pack as we passed through the start/finish line to begin our second lap, and a crash occurred right in front of me. I jumped on the brakes to avoiding plowing into them, but in doing so, locked up my back wheel and BAM, it blew. Trying to remain calm, I jumped off my bike and started taking out the wheel, and a minute later my team car arrived and Jeff, who was wrenching for the weekend's races, ran up with a spare. He changed it, gave me a push, got back to the car, and they got in front of me to pace me up. I was going full-gas - in the draft, so it was pretty fast, about 60-65km/h? Unfortunately, having no experience with any of this, I wasn't exactly sure how it all worked, and in hindsight, I should have been a lot closer to the team car. After a couple of minutes, the team manager, who was driving, yelled out that we weren't making ground fast enough, and he had to leave.
From there, I was left to TT by myself. I could see the caravan half a kilometre away, but barring a miracle, wasn't going to catch them. The rules for most big races are that if you finish more than 10% after the winner, you are given a time but can not continue racing the following day, akin to a DNF. Pretty soon I was doing the math in my head: approximately 4.5 hour race would mean a half hour time-cut. That gave me 4 hours to solo the remaining 150km. However, there was also the possibility that if I went hard enough, I might catch a groupetto (a bunch of dropped riders), and between us we could make the time-cut. Eventually I saw a rider in the distance...it was a teammate - bummer! We worked together a short while, but I knew we weren't going faster enough and left him behind. Same with another guy: "They don't have hills like this back in Tennessee!" haha The announcer had me at 17 minutes down after 3 laps, but by that time I was in a world of hurt, cramping and running out of steam, and after a 90km solo effort, I packed it in.
So that was the race done for me. The DNF meant I couldn't race in the next two races, which was really tough to acknowledge. The next day was my birthday...not so happy birthday! ha
We had a couple of DNFs each day/stage, and by the last day H&R was down to 2 riders. Seb was racing really well, and in his element - a hilly road race. After being in the lead pack for almost the entire race, he had a flat, and with the support vehicle being behind a chase group a few minutes back, it basically put him out of contention.
Overall, though, it was an amazing experience. I was happy to have learnt a ton about racing at the pro level, wasn't beating myself up (too much) since there was quite a bit of bad luck involved in my DNF, and had a great time bonding with fellow Block bros.
To end on a lighter note...I was flying back to Calgary on Monday, and I had arrived at the airport early. Security wanted to confiscate my peanut butter from my carry-on. I couldn't talk my way into taking it through, but a guy like me is on a pretty tight budget, and can't being throwing things away needlessly. So I ended up asking to go back through security, where I ate the last half a jar. Straight, with a fork. I figured it was roughly 3 billion calories, mostly fat...and this was on top of the can of sardines I had just before going through security in the first place...yum! Living the dream! :)