This past Sunday was my “A” race for the season–the Rundle Mountain Road Festival. I did this race last year and got dropped on a descent, so this was a much-wanted do-over. As well, it features a hill climb time-trial and a very hilly road race course, so it was a race to which I am well-suited (or so I thought).
However, poor planning on my part meant I was riding a three day cycling tour (loaded with camping gear) the Monday-Wednesday before, which meant I would be going into the weekend high on fatigue and low on form.
Stage 1: Silvertip Drive Hill Climb
The fabled Mur de Silvertip is one of the most painful 2km. In that distance, you gain over 150m of elevation. The main portion of the climb is this (with the maximum grade shown):
Dat grade! Hurts so good.
We would start in groups of four at two minute intervals. A quick look at the others in my group gave me some confidence–I was the smallest one there. When we got the go signal, I quickly distanced them on the false flat and wouldn’t see them again. Halfway up, I saw one of the guys from the group ahead of me and thought, “Yesssss, this is looking verrrry good,” and it gave me a quick jolt of energy to pass him and finish strong.
I would be rewarded with a 15th place finish out of 34th with a time of 0:06:42, 43 seconds behind the winner.
Clearly, I had vastly over-estimated how well I did. The more important statistic is that I was 15 seconds away from getting any points, and it’s highly unlikely that I would have been able to make up 15 seconds, even if I was on-form.
What a sobering realization. Oh well, that’s bike racing. I consoled myself with a plan to take it easy during the crit to get legs “primed” for the road race the next day.
Stage 2: Canmore Crit
Not much to say here, other than I kept it upright and would have finished with the same time as the pack, were it not for a crash in the bell lap, behind which I got stuck.
Meh, it’s not like I’m gonna win a pack sprint anyway. (Wait, there was that one time at Velocity where I got 6th.)
Cat 5s trying to keep it upright.
Stage 3: Three Sisters Parkway Road Race
I woke up to the intermittent splattering of rain on the roof of my car. I hit the snooze button twice and finally acquiesced to the urgency of the moment at 06:15 and drove across the street to get some McDonald’s pancakes. My stomach was already turning–likely a mixture of post-race regret, pre-race jitters, and lingering stress from the week prior. I struggled to eat my pancakes, but managed to finish, which would be a harbinger of my experience to come at the race.
I drove to the Nordic Centre in silence, unable to get into my usual warm-up playlist. Made some small talk in the parking lot, signed on, did a quick warm-up, shed-my layers in the parking lot, and then lined up and rolled off, hoping the fire would come to me as we got going.
It was mostly downhill for the first few kilometers, and when we hit the first short climb, it felt much better than last year, which gave a nice lift to my spirits. Seeing the dodgy handling of some guys on the climbs, and remember how I got dropped because of poor position last year, I made my way to the front dozen or so riders and resolved to stay there and out of trouble.
Rundle is the most challenging road race of the year because it is the only one with any significant elevation gain, and the difficult became more and more apparent as the race went on.
There was the usual failed attempt at forming a break, with one very strong rider continuing to attack off the front at the worst moments.
Then, there was the usual cavalcade of riders who think thrashing their bike from side-to-side is an efficient way to climb.
And what bike race would be complete without the guys who can’t hold a straight line to save their life, brake randomly, and don’t shoulder check or signal when they change lines?
I managed to avoid any incident until the second lap when one rider drops a chain (shifting rings mid-climb…really?) and stalls out a handful of other riders behind him. I touch the wheel in front of me, but manage to keep myself upright by unclipping my left foot, only to fail to clip back in multiple times as the pack rolls away. Thankfully, I managed to catch back on, but paid for the effort with more nausea and dry-heaving as we tackled the main climb of the route. I briefly entertained the notion of pulling out early to avoid an accident, but dispelled the thought quickly, preferring execution rather than surrender.
The third lap brought some needed recovery, and some excitement when I hit a pothole and was almost thrown off my bike.
Well, and that one time Andreas from Speed Theory decided to take a flier on a short kicker. That kinda hurt.
Just before the turn-around point, we saw that one rider managed to get away on the final climb and attack at the turn-around, which you would think would wake up the pack and get them motivated to chasing. Not this pack though–everyone seemed to want to keep their tinder dry for the expected attack-2km-away-at-the-final-climb tactic. “Would-be-Jens” took to the front, and we all thought he would put his power to good use, but, no, he tried to bridge up rather than helping with the chase. A minivan that found its way into our rolling enclosure and seemed confused by the concept of a bike race slowed us down further, helping the lone escapee gain time on our disorganized bunch.
About 5km to go, I saw Andreas moving up again, and braced myself. Sure enough, he went, and the pack was jolted back into action. By this time, though, it would be too late to pull back the break, and we all were just fighting for second place.
2km to go, we turn left onto Spray Lakes Road and it kicks uphill straight to the finish. I knew this was my moment, so I put it in the big ring and used the turn to move up to the front group of riders, so I could get a front seat to the inevitable. It came, as expected, from Spencer from Speed Theory, who stretched and quickly broke the elastic holding the pack together. Half a dozen of us jumped to latch on, and I looked behind me to see a gap forming.
And that’s when my stomach lurched again–this time, sending up a foul mixture of my hydration mix and stomach acid into my mouth. I thought, “Shut up, stomach,” and swallowed, but I had to concentrate and didn’t notice that the two wheels I was on were falling back from the select group that had formed. I took matters into my own hands and tried to shut down the gap, only to have my stomach lurch and my legs tell me, “Shut up, Santos,” and that’s when I knew I didn’t save enough bullets for the final shootout. Fighting to not make a mess all over myself, I pulled off the the side and watch the pack roll by just as I passed the 500m-to-go mark.
I quickly found myself in no-man’s-land, but with the fragments of the similarly shattered gruppetto gaining on me. I had just enough wherewithal to make it up the finishing kicker and join an RMCC rider just past the finish line who was doubled over in the recovery position, suffering the same fate as me.
Oh, to have come so far, have been in the right place at the right time, and to have initially made the final selection, only to get shut down in the final kilometer…it’s even more crushing than last year when I was dropped one third of the way in.
In hindsight, I think there is little I could have done differently.
The Rundle Road Race, while hilly and difficult, is a surprisingly balanced course. There is a lot of climbing, but none of the climbs are long or severe enough to force a selection. While the climbers could pull away when the road did kick up, none of them wanted to pedal the descents, so the big sprinter types could climb at their own pace and then use their power to catch up on the descents.
Analysing my power files provide some affirmation that I was pretty much at my limit.
I was at or above threshold for half of the race, and my normalized power for the full 1:45 of suffering was 200, or 3 watts below my threshold. I am even more surprised to see how much time I was anaerobic (Zone 6 and 7), which provides some affirmation of just how hard the race was (for me, anyway).
The big takeaway for me is that I have probably been working on increasing my threshold too much and I’d be better served by working on being able to consistently deal with all of the Z6 and Z7 bursts that happen in a race.
Oh, and I probably should remember not to do three days of cycle touring the week before a race.