As you may remember, about a month ago I won a B grade race. I’d only just promoted myself to B grade and felt like I belonged there throughout the race, and then won the sprint. A race is not all about the sprint though. You have to get to that point of the race, AKA the end. That is the hard part for a sprinter at any level. It’s why pure sprinters don’t win races like Tour of Flanders, because they can’t make it to the end with the guys who are strong throughout. If you’re not able to withstand the pace throughout the race, or react to the constant attacks and chase downs, recover and go again, numerous times, you’ll not make it to a point where you can sprint to victory. So a win is the sum of all parts and will depend a lot on the course.
I’m not for any moment saying I’m a pure sprinter. I think I’m a good all-rounder, and sprinting is definitely not a limiter. My biggest limiter is muscular endurance, the ability to put out high-ish power for a long time.
Back to the story. James caught me in a very optimistic mood, having just won my race, he put the question out there for us both to enter the Vic Road Metro Road Champs. It was an open race, which I knew. Simply put anyone can enter. Another word for it was open elite men’s. How hard could it be, I thought? I put my hand up and said, hell yeah! Let’s do it. Why not? What have we got to lose?
When I won that race, I had a few races in the legs and training was going well. I felt super strong, and couldn’t be stopped. Things were good.
The Sunday just gone, 21st May, was the Vic Road Metro Road Champs Open Men’s Elite race. James and I had been somewhat joking about being dropped in the first 7km, because there were a few hills at the beginning.
The race was a bit further out that usual. In Harcourt, the Apple Centre of Australia or Victoria or something. And fair to say there were apple orchards everywhere. The drive was about 1h30m, and after about 45m, I realised I’d forgotten to bring a short sleeve jersey! Damn. It was getting warmer and warmer as the day went on. Luckily, the long sleeve jersey I had was a bit of a spring one, and shouldn’t overheat me.
I arrived with a good amount of time to spare… A steady 1.5 hours early. Another mistake really, it meant that I’d eaten at 7am when the race began at 10:30am. So, by 9am I was already getting peckish. I figured I’d grab my 3rd coffee for the day and have a slice of banana bread. I love banana bread.
After that I went and got myself ready, whilst James and Nick arrived at about 9:30am. We caught up and went to the registration desk to get their numbers and timing tags, and were told to be on time, at 10:30am or we’d miss the start. I joked that I’d be starting at 10am to make sure I have enough of a head start… Followed by a nervous laugh.
We warmed up and I was not feeling great. My left glute felt numb. Like it was asleep. It’s the same issue I’ve had a few times whilst walking, but never on the bike. Earlier that week I’d flared it up by running across the road. It had kind of subsided by Saturday, but flared up again on Sunday. No idea why. Maybe it was the long drive?
I tried to stretch it off and do some single leg squats to try and activate the muscle, but it was totally in vain.
On the start line I had a quick look around and noticed there were a number of NRS teams around and also some other really strong riders. Now I knew my joking around was probably more accurate than I realised. I was probably the weakest rider there. Great. Elite grade + Andy.
Things started as usual, at a nice easy pace. This was very short lived though. Someone attacked after about 1km, maybe less. It was on. I wanted to make sure I was not caught out, thinking I could handle this. My strategy was to try and stay near the front and then if I can’t handle the pace of the front group, I could drop back to the second group. It was obviously going to split. Open races always do because of the sheer breadth of ability.
I was doing okay. 3km in and I felt pretty good. I was maintaining position near the front. Okay now I was more mid-pack, but still feeling okay. My glute wasn’t causing me any trouble.
The attacks kept coming. One after another. It was relentless, and my heart rate was quickly rising, with minimal to no chance of recovery. 5km in and another attack goes, and this one finally causes some real damage to the field. A big split was starting to occur. Single riders were making their way across the gap, but I was having enough trouble staying with this second bunch. After about 7km—remember my joke estimate of when I’d get dropped—I was yo-yoing off the back. This wasn’t good. I was using a lot of energy up trying to keep in touch on the rises.
Finally, at about 7.5/8km I was sat on the back behind a pretty big dude, but he slowly started to lose touch with the bunch. He had a killer moustache though! I didn’t have a great deal left in my legs, and at this point I could feel the entire top half of my left leg go numb, I guess you could say I could feel it at all. It wasn’t great, but I could still pedal so I went around the big dude and got into an aero position. The bunch were pulling away, and I was quickly losing the energy to continue. What a boob I was early for thinking I was going to be okay in the race. I hoped that I could catch the bunch and get a bit of recovery. If the race was going to continue this way, I had no chance. We were 8km in and my legs were shot.
Big dude and I still hadn’t made it, so I did the international sign for “I’m toast, do a turn” by wiggling my elbow. Big dude came around and worked on the front for a bit. We still were not making ground. Another little rise and I figured it was better to have me on the front, so I went round him and pushed as hard as I could. At that point my legs were both numb from pain. I got within about 10m of the bunch but totally blew up. I couldn’t do it. 9.5km in and I was dropped. 2.5km further than I joked about… After slowing down a bit, and spinning my legs, the left one still felt a bit numb. I hoped at a lower power output it might subside and activate itself. 10 or 15km more and I wasn’t feeling any better. I was now more or less half way; it wasn’t worth turning around so I finished one 56km lap.
I was going to wait for James and Nick to finish their races, but once I got off the pain was really quite high. I was hobbling like the day I’d only just come off the crutches. That sucked hard and added to my frustration. Rather stupidly, I then tried to cut the cable ties holding my race number from my bike with my keys. Not only cutting my finger, but also scratching my bike seat. Bollocks.
I decided I’d find some scissors. I’d removed my jersey numbers half way through to officially pull out. And when I went to get them out of my back pocket, guess what? One was bloody missing. Brilliant. Let’s add that to the rest of the bullshit. I went over to the registration desk and asked if they had scissors. They didn’t, but they had a knife. So I started cutting the cable ties. At some point I’d moved my phone and somehow it fell on the floor. It wasn’t from a great height, so it figured it’d be fine. But today was not a day for things to be fine. No, it cracked quite badly across the whole screen. Excellent.
To summarise, I’d paid $50 to enter a 9km race (for me). Half a tank of petrol. Need to visit the physio. Smashed my phone screen. Lost a pin on number. Broke my phone. It was at this point I decided that I wasn’t going to wait. I was in a foul mood, I felt physically and mentally exhausted and I just wanted to avoid humans. New plan. Go home. Eat ice cream, order a pizza, drink red wine, and relax. And that’s what I did for the afternoon and then had an early night.
I have a physio appointment and a race on Saturday, in a graded race. Although it will be my first VRS race, it is the lowest grade in VRS, so if I’m dropped from that I’m quitting cycling.