Race Date: 11th June to 13th June
I found this hidden in my drafts, forgot to post, in fact I’d kind of forgotten I’d written it. But here it is.
This race was a three day tour, made up of four stages, so I’ll be brief on each stage.
Do you know what Sandbagging is? If not, it’s basically the concept of holding something back in order to gain from it later. Wikipedia explains it thus “Sandbagging, hiding the strength, skill or difficulty of something or someone early in an engagement.”
In regards to cycling, it basically means that you race in a grade lower than your ability so that you can win more easily. It’s the smart thing to do if you want glory and money. I did the opposite of sandbagging. Accidentally.
I signed up for the 3daytour.org about a month and a bit in advance, I already felt like I was at the top end of D grade, so I figured that in a month and a half they’d probably promote me. So when I signed up, I signed up for D grade but mentioned that they should check my grading closer to the tour, as I might have been promoted by then. You know, just trying to help them out. I mentioned this with the assumption of further success, which I never went on to achieve.
Roll on a few weeks and when the start times for the ITT (Individual Time Trial) were released, my name was missing from D grade. Yep, I had been promoted just for this tour. Bollocks—three days of racing at a higher grade. This is a level I’d not even raced at for a one day race. This was going to be tough.
My plan was to not do any work and conserve as much energy as possible.
Stage 1 - 7.4km ITT (11th June 2016):
The first stage, on the Saturday, was a 7.4km ITT. It was meant to be 5km, but due to some roadworks they changed the course to 7.4km. This was where it all went wrong. I had been training very specifically for 5km so… Nah who’m I kidding, I didn’t train for any Time Trialling.
I borrowed some TT bars from my mate, James, and boy they came in handy. They let you get into a super aero position throughout the stage. Something you need because you have nobody in front of you protecting you from the wind. The photo at the top is me using these bars.
I was off pretty early and my only goal was not to be caught by the guy behind me. I planned to go out fairly easy, below threshold for the first half, and then assess. Then go as hard as I could for the remaining 3.7km.
I think I actually took the first half too easily, but absolutely smashed myself into the ground on the second half. An industrial vacuum cleaner couldn’t suck in air as hard as I was by the end.
Big success. I wasn’t caught and finished around the middle of C grade. My lungs though, it felt like I’d been breathing in glass for the last 10 minutes. I was coughing every couple of seconds at first, but to my relief, this was normal, so I was told. Even James and Nick (A/B graders) were. Mine continued throughout the tour though, I think they recovered more quickly.
Stage 2 - 65km (loop x2):
Like any good athlete, I went home, ate a nice healthy meal and went to bed early. Nope, no, no, that wasn’t me. I’d had some pretty shitty news on the Friday which I won’t go into, so I went home, ate a pizza, had a whisky and went to bed, although I can’t say I really slept much. The 6am wake up alarm was not very pleasant.
I got to the stage a little late (as usual I didn’t read the details properly, again) and had to literally run to the toilet, run back to my car and get changed in lightning speed. I made it to the start line with literally a couple of minutes to spare, albeit with my shoulder number missing. My first stage with the big(ger) guys and I hadn’t even warmed up. Brilliant.
The stage started out okay. I was working with the group, pulling turns, and felt pretty good. Probably a mistake. That was until the first KOM (King Of the Mountain—a hill people race to the top of for points in the KOM competition). Before this tour I thought I was an okay climber. My plan was to drift to the front, hold onto the wheel of whoever attacked and sprint past them for victory. Instead I went backwards through the pack with as much grace as a car reversing into the Tour de France peloton. A lot of thoughts went through my head at this point. None of them good. If this was the jump in fitness just from D to C, what the hell was A grade like? And the pros. I was very quickly humbled.
The rest of the stage I spent hanging on in there. I pulled on the front for about 5 minutes—which I regretted instantly—and then sat in the peloton until the final sprint.
Once again, due to my ill preparation, I mistimed my sprint preparation. In my mind we were about 3km from the finish, whereas in reality the final corner was fast approaching and I was nicely boxed in, with no room to maneuver. Around the corner we went, and panic struck me. There’s the finish line. I did my best to follow a good wheel, but he soon slowed down, and there was a lot of traffic. I was ducking inside and outside, making up about 5 places before really being able to open up the afterburners. I was actually gaining on the front runners but the line approached far too quickly and it was all over. I finished the stage in the top 8ish. No glory.
Stage 3 - 67km (loop x3)
This was on the same day as Stage 2, with just a few hours in between to rest, eat and recover. It was also apparently going to be a tough stage. There is a 1km long brutal climb in it, which we’d have to tackle 3 times. Also, the race commissaires mentioned a small amount of unsealed road (gravel). In reality there was a lot of unsealed road.
After a bout 15-20km of easy racing, we hit the hill. The first time up was brutal! I hung on for as long as I could, but got distanced, by those going for KOM points, about 200m from the top. I was definitely holding back, because I thought it’d slow down at the top and I also had to do this 2 more times. This was a mistake. At the top they didn’t slow. In fact they pressed on fast, probably trying to break things up. I was with a couple of others and we decided to work together to get back in touch. After a couple of minutes, the other two didn’t seem to be pulling very strong turns, so I sat on the front and rode as hard as I could, dropping the other two. After a few kays of fanging it, I went around a corner, and managed to gain contact with the bunch. Which by that time had in fact slowed quite considerably. The other two guys caught up fairly soon after and gave me some kudos for making it back on my own so early. It was a bit bittersweet, I had killed myself getting back, and they hadn’t.
More easy-ish racing then came the second time up the hill. I decided to put everything into the climb and hang onto those in front no matter what. Hoping I could catch my breath on the descent. My heart rate quickly hit 189, and held there for the last 200m of the climb. I could barely breathe at the top, yet they pushed on, perhaps harder than the previous time. I tried to stay in touch, but literally had nothing left to hang on with. Eventually I was dropped on the descent.
Luckily, I thought at the time, a big group of us formed and I was convinced we’d catch them again after the corner. Unfortunately, because we had the yellow jersey (leader) in our group, the breakaway pressed on, hard. We were absolutely smashing ourselves to catch them, and ever working together and the stronger guys pushing harder on the front, we couldn’t catch them. We didn’t give up, but it felt like a lost cause. I guess we were limiting our losses now.
On the ascent of the final hill I went to the front and pushed hard. I pulled away from the rest of my group, which gave me a little bit of a mental boost. I could make up some time on my rivals here. Once at the top, there were two of us left, and we decided to push on as a pair. I sat in on the wheel to get my heart rate below 190 again, and he asked if I could pull a turn. So I did.
We took it in turns all the way to the finish line, and had increased the gap quite significantly. I’d jumped up from 13th to 6th after this stage. I was pretty happy with that!
Stage 4 - 85km
Once again I went home and ate something not healthy and not suitable for a three day tour, I also ate a tub of Ben & Jerry’s—really feeling sorry for myself. I did manage to sleep a little bit more, but still not great. All the excuses are coming out.
On the plus side, at least I got to the start line nice and early. The whole weekend was extremely cold, we’re talking 0 degrees cold, which in Australia feels like minus 10 in the UK before you start scoffing, brits. I swear! It required layers upon layers of clothing, or so I thought. The previous stages had been cold, but I’d managed with just arm warmers and a vest.
For some reason, I decided on wearing a few more layers for this stage. I think I thought that because it was longer, it’d be colder… So I wore a base layer, arm warmers, a long sleeve jersey, and a wind vest. As well as leg warmers, thick socks and toe covers.
The race started at a leisurely pace, and at this point I was glad to be wearing so many layers. A couple of guys jumped off the front almost straight away. 84km on their own, who were they kidding. Clearly everyone was thinking the same thing as the pace didn’t increase a single notch.
It wasn’t until we hit a long straight stretch of road, and we didn’t have them in sight that things felt a little panicked! For the first time in the entire tour, everyone in the main bunch worked together. We had a very cohesive train working. Everyone was rolling turns. Everyone was working.
That was until the KOM. Here is where things split. It was a long and gradual climb, one that doesn’t really give lighter guys that much of an advantage, but powerful guys can still grind up. I was already feeling pretty empty due to the high intensity and my less than nutritious meal the night before. And I was dropped with about 100m to go. But they didn’t ease up to let everyone back on to begin working together. In fact the front bunch carried on hard, and many of us had to form a group behind and work together to get back to the main bunch.
Once we’d made it back, I’d worked so hard getting up the hill, then within the case that even my eyeballs were sweating. The problem was, I had layered up in such a way that I could not strip very easily. All my food supplies were in my wind vest, so I couldn’t even take that off. I was pretty screwed!
The pace remained high, but I was overheating fast! I had to do something. I started to carefully work the arm warmers down under the long sleeve. Imagine trying to peel a banana wrapped in a plastic bag.
Each time I focused my attention on the attempted removal of clothing, I was dropped and had to work hard to catch back on. Then I’d attempt to remove some more clothing. It was a vicious cycle that caused me to needlessly use up a lot of energy.
Long hills were even worse. By around the 60km mark I was dropped quite significantly on a big incline. I was even overtaken by the car following us. This is a sign that you’re a long way back… I was not going to do 25km on my own. I’d most definitely lose my 6th position. Instead I got into the most aero position possible and just pushed on as hard as I could.
Once I made it back there was no time to recover. The road would spitefully rise again. This pattern continued three more times until a final incline, and the longest yet. I was dropped once and for all. I had nothing left. My legs were screaming so loudly with pain that they couldn’t hear me asking them to work. The pain and numbness was so intense I quite literally had a little cry. There was nothing I could do. I imagined all the pros who find themselves going backwards on mountain climbs. There’s just nothing there. It’s heartbreaking. I wiped the tears away and decided to enjoy the rest of the ride. The scenery was beutiful, and I hadn’t really had time to appreciate it during the race. It was a good 10km from the finish, so I’d likely lose a lot of time to everyone. No point in killing myself any more. I casually rode to the line, until about 5km out when someone caught me and so we worked together to the finish line.