RIP Marcelo de Guzman: In Praise of Public Service

Since last week, the de Guzman clan has been mourning the passing of another family member–my uncle, Marcelo de Guzman. The reason for his passing was not ill health, or an accident like a vehicular collision, but because he was murdered in front of his house.

He had served as Barangay Captain (an elected municipal official in the Philippines), which means this was likely a politically-motivated attack, especially since another municipal official was targeted before he was.

Having spent most of my life in Canada, I cannot claim to be close to him, but the occasions I had to spend time with him confirmed everything I heard in stories–that he was, in spite of being a joker, very wise, philosophical, and devoted to service. These are qualities that were also embodied by another one of my late uncles, Santiago de Guzman, the former mayor of the same city that my uncle Marcelo also served.

The real connection I have with him is through values and how my mom would say how much I reminded her of him as I was growing up (since I too have a penchant for philosophy and for being a smart-ass).

As I think about “Tito Elong,” I remember not just a great man, but a public servant who continued on with his service in a country rife with corruption, poverty, social problems, and danger. While his death is tragic, his life is inspiring, especially given that he rose from humble beginnings as a simple farm boy.

Politicians have such a bad rap these days (admittedly, much of it due to their own doing), but I have never not believed that politics could be a noble calling. I know from what my uncles have done that public service is not an unfortunate necessity, but a force of good.

Thank you, Tito Elong for your hard work and dedication to public life.

Kicked by a Horse

I did my best
But I guess my best wasn’t good enough
Cause here we are
Back where we were before
(“Just Once” written by Quincy Jones)

This race report is one week late, but that’s how long it took for me to digest what happened. And, really, this race is a microcosm of my own journey as a (wannabe) athlete, so the distance helps with looking at the big picture. (The choice of epigraph will become apparent soon enough).

After a long winter and spring full of ski touring to keep up the base, my spring did not have as much cycling as it could’ve had. But, the legs came back quick, along with PBs, results at early season races that I wasn’t really targeting, along with my long-awaited Cat 4 upgrade. That brings us to the Kicking Horse Cup, a three-stage race in Golden, BC that is as brutal as it is beautiful. Stage 1 is a 6km individual time-trial. Stage 2 is a mass start hill climb from Golden to the Kicking Horse Ski Resort that gains 500m over 14km. Stage 3 is a time-handicapped (by age) road race that is 84km and gains over 1100m. Supposedly, at 5’2″ and 122lbs, I should be a decent climber, so I made this my “A” race, hoped for a top-five finish in the hill climb, and then would take whatever I could get in the other two stages. I had done okay at previous hill climbs, having finished 8th at Tour de Bowness (COP) and in the top third at Rundle Mountain (Silvertip Drive), so it made sense to target this event.

The course for the hill climb.

The course for the hill climb. Click here for the Strava link.

I did everything a good athlete is supposed to do going into a priority race–I tapered my training volume, I studied the course, I looked at others’ race files from previous years, and I even rented an ultralight pair of climbing wheels.

When Saturday morning came around, I managed to get breakfast down before my usual race-day jitters shut down my stomach. First up was the TT, and while TTs are one of my biggest weaknesses, I was determined to to well by my standards, so I put in a good twenty minute warm-up. As expected, I finished in the bottom third of the result sheet (yay for not last!). On the flip side, I set a personal best for 10-minute power (and in the TT bars as well), so I was happy with that…hence the epigraph above.

With several hours until the hill climb in the afternoon, there was plenty of time for a hearty lunch, cleaning the bike, and a short nap.

Coming back from the TT.

Coming back from the TT.

Buoyed by my strong-for-me TT, I was actually pretty relaxed going into the hill climb. I did a solid warm-up of 35 minutes, which is longer than I was expecting the stage to last. (There’s that theme again of taking no chances.) At the start line, I had a gel and surveyed the my field–lots of beanpoles, including a handful of juniors who I’m pretty sure weigh less than I do. “Relax,” I reassured myself, “Just hang on for the inevitable explosion on the first climb, and the pace will probably relent after the first hairpin when it levels out.”

 

Positive self-talk is usually a good thing, especially for someone as anxiety-ridden as me.

But there’s a difference between reassurance and delusion, and I would soon find out in which one I was engaging.

We rolled off to a motor-paced neutral start until the actual start of the climb. We weren’t supposed to jockey for position, but I made sure I was near the front. As soon as we crossed the bridge and we’re given the all-clear, the race was on!

I don’t know if “explosion” is the right word for what happened at the start. While it was hard from the get-go, it wasn’t any harder than I was expecting. A better analogy is the old charlatan’s tale about boiling frogs. The skinny guys at the front set a fast tempo at the front, but I was determined to hold on. How fast is fast? I was putting out the same power numbers I did during the Tour de Bowness hill climb last year on a hill five times the size of COP. It hurt, but guys were getting spit out the back of the pack, and I so thought, “Just hold on a little longer. You just have to make the selection.”

After three minutes, it did relent. We “settled in” to a pace that was about the same as what I did on the Silvertip Hill climb at Rundle Mountain last year, which is about one third the size of Kicking Horse.

If you’ve ever done something stupid, you know the feeling of being in the middle of something with a voice in the back of your head telling you, “Hey man, I don’t think this is a good idea. No, wait–this is totally a bad idea.” It usually comes as events are unfolding in slow-motion and your brain is actually in a state of hyper-consciousness. You know what’s happening. You know you should stop. But there’s another voice–the same voice that tells people things like you can totally write that term paper in an evening, or that pulling out works all the time–saying “YES WE CAN” louder than an over-zealous Obama campaign volunteer.

The thing with climbing at that pace is I know I can do it, but doing so usually results in a fit of coughing, hyper-ventilating, and the occasionally vomiting at the end of the effort. But again, seeing how many guys had been dropped had me buzzing with more irrational exuberance than a hedge fund manager in the 1990s.

Like the dot-com bubble, I blew up spectacularly as well. After seven minutes of climbing at an intensity I had only heretofore sustained for five, (not to mention spending much of that near my maximum heart rate), my legs went on work-to-rule and refused to push any harder than threshold. Unlike the dot-com bubble, the only casualty of my indiscretion was my pride.

I quickly went from the denial phase of grieving to bargaining. “You can save this,” I reasoned. “Just hold threshold until the top, and you can hold off everyone else who got dropped.

However, I had gone too far into the red and it was now time to pay the bill. That meant I couldn’t ride any harder than a cruising pace while my heart rate settled down and I legs could flush the lactate that had flooded them. As I recovered, I was slowly passed by several riders, most of them older than me, who had let the better part of humanity (wisdom, as Plato says) rule. None of them said anything–they were all either too polite or too busy suffering, but in my mind, they smiled ruefully at my misfortune.

Bargaining quickly turned to despair. “Woe is me!” I cried to the heavens. “Why must the wicked triumph and the just be made to suffer?” It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I had–or so I thought–put so much prep into this race, and it was all unraveling on this godforsaken hill, flooded in a sea of lactic acid. By this time, fatigue added to the hurt, and it was getting difficult to spin the pedals. I alternated between standing-n-mashing and glass cranking. My heart rate had “recovered” to below 165bpm, but it didn’t matter because my legs were too tired to pedal at an intensity that would bring my heart rate back up.

Then, rational me kicked in.

“Holy shit, Santos, keep it together. You’re John, not Job. Actually, no, you’re Sisyphus, and none of this makes sense. You drove three hours and paid $100 so you could suffer up a hill that most people think is kind of a long drive only to ride down said hill afterwards. No sane person would do this, so just get it done.”

The inner soliloquy turned off, I did a quick situation check. I was on a false flat about halfway on the course. There was a switchback in the road up ahead and a string of riders behind me closing in. I powered up the switchback and settled into a more sustainable tempo when the grade slacked out. That worked for a while until the road kicked up again, and it became more of a mental battle than anything else. I knew I could squeeze 200W out of my legs for the next 10 minutes, I just had to find the motivation to do so.

Motivation found me before I found it. It came in the form of Patrick from RMCC. Built more like a rouleur than a grimpeur, he had slowly reeled me in over the descents and the false flats. Seeing the the shattered look in my eyes, he told me to hop on his wheel. I’m hazy on the exact words of our conversation, but it was something like this.

Patrick: “Come with me, if you want to live.”

Me: “I can’t. It’s over. There’s nothing left.”

Patrick: “Shut up and Rule #5. You’re coming with me.”

Me: “Oh my god, I am going to die.”

At that point, I realized why pro cyclists have climbing domestiques. Having a wheel in front of me gave me something to focus on. All I had to do was match Patrick’s gearing and cadence.

I wanted to say thanks. I wanted to promise that I wouldn’t betray his generosity and pip him at the finish. But all that required more wherewithal than I had at that moment.

When we entered the village and the road kicked up for the last time, I wavered and said I couldn’t hang on. As with before, Patrick wouldn’t let me give up and yelled at me from in front, “COME ON!” I finished right behind him, 33 minutes and 50 seconds after we started this Sisyphean adventure, and almost six minutes after the leaders.

It was impossible not to feel disappointed. I had entered the race intending to fight for a podium spot, or at least finish “in the points.” Instead, I finished in the bottom third of the results sheet, which would not be embarrassing were it not for my diminutive size and the advantage the confers when going uphill.

Dissecting what went wrong, I should have heeded my power numbers and the sensations in my legs telling me that I was going at an unsustainable pace. However, that would have been worth maybe one or two minutes, and I needed to make up four in order to crack the top eight. A lighter bike and a couple kilos less around the midsection would help too, but probably a minute at most. Really, if anything “went wrong” it’s that I simply wasn’t at the level needed to be competitive in this hard of a race. Looking at my power file from the race, I spent 72% of those 33 minutes at threshold or above, and almost half (45%) above threshold. Pacing error notwithstanding, there isn’t much more I could have squeezed out of my legs that day.

My power distribution for the race.

My power distribution for the race.

In fact, I was so fried, that I lasted 5km into the next day’s road race before I got dropped and soloed the rest of the first lap. I pulled myself out of the race, unable to push more than my threshold power or even get close to my threshold heart rate. Another disappointment, but affirmation of just how hard I rode the hill climb.

At the end of the day, all I can do is all I can do, and I did all I could do. The only thing left is to train more so that, next time, I can do more, and (hopefully) that’ll be enough.

 

Homeless man dies of exposure in suburban park (or what to do when you see someone passed out in public)

799px-Battalion-Park-Szmurlo

Battalion Park in the SW community of Signal Hill. Photo by Chuck Szmurlo. Licensed through the Creative Commons.

CALGARY, AB, APRIL 14, 2016 — After an uncharacteristically warm spring week, an overnight frost claimed the life of of a homeless person on Wednesday evening. The 34-year-old male was found by a jogger early Thursday morning in Battalion Park, in the southwest suburban community of Signal Hill.

“I saw him lying on the side of the pathway and called 911. I don’t know how long he’d been there. I’m surprised no one saw him earlier,” said Mariah Smith, who was running in the area. The park is frequented by recreational users and sees heavy pedestrian and bike traffic at all hours of the day.

EMS took the man to hospital, but doctors were unable to resuscitate him. Foul play is not suspected, but police are asking for anyone who may have information to come forward.”


Thankfully, the story above never made it to press.

If you read nothing else, when you find someone passed out in public call the Downtown Outreach Addictions Program (DOAP) Team 24/7 at 403-998-7388. (More info here: http://www.calgary.ca/cps/Pages/Community-programs-and-resources/Vulnerable-persons/Vulnerable-persons.aspx)

For the full story and some social commentary, read on.

I was out for a walk along my old running route, the pathway underneath the white numbers on Battalion Park. It was just before sunset, and there were several other people on the pathway, as is normal for that time of day. I didn’t see him at first because he was curled up in a ball and his sweater blended in with the grass, but I saw people who were coming my way who kept looking at the same spot on the ground. I realized it was a person, so I went to make sure he was conscious and to call the DOAP Team to pick him up. He woke up pretty quickly and asked me to call the DOAP Team, so I figured he was a regular client of theirs. He was shivering and only wearing a light sweater. He also told me his name was Joe and that he had been there for about three hours.

The only other folks to stop were a couple that were doing laps on the stairs, so I had them keep an eye on him while I got him some tea to keep him warm. The DOAP Team arrived shortly after, and everyone walked away from the situation relieved.

What I found immediately distressing was the almost dozen people in the immediate vicinity who were, either inadvertently or willfully, completely oblivious to Joe. Granted, Signal Hill is a pretty bourgeois neighbourhood, and, at 10km away from the downtown core, is outside of the range of most homeless persons. So, I can grant my neighbours the understanding that perhaps they’re not used to seeing homelessness (much less in their own neighbourhood), or they don’t know what to do in this situation (understandable if you’re not accustomed to seeing homeless persons), or they’re afraid of homeless persons (unfortunate, but also understandable).

As I walked home, I had the inner (supposedly)-more-mature-social-researcher calm down the inner incensed-former-political-activist.

I get that people are busy. I was too–I had to go to the bank, I had to pick up some tax software, I had to get some supplies for the office, etc. But society doesn’t ask us to be heroes and take matters into our own hands; it just asks that we know to call in the people who have the training to deal with a situation. There are social agencies that help people in the situation that Joe was experiencing. Yes, passed out homeless people can be scary, and they can smell bad, and they can be unpredictable, and even dangerous. But, at the end of the day, they have names, they have family, and they are people just like all of us.

It’s easy to rationalize not helping someone when you don’t know what to do, so I’ll do you a favour and tell you what to do: call the Downtown Outreach Addictions Program (DOAP) Team at 403-998-7388. The DOAP Team is one of the City of Calgary’s crisis response teams that help vulnerable persons under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They operate 24/7/365 and will go anywhere in the City to pick up someone and take them to an addictions treatment facility. It’s an alternative to calling 911 in a non-emergency situation. There is more info about the DOAP Team here: http://www.calgary.ca/cps/Pages/Community-programs-and-resources/Vulnerable-persons/Vulnerable-persons.aspx.

Often times, they are the people to call, though if there is an emergency and there is an immediate danger to you, the person in distress, or anyone else, of course you should call 911 immediately.

Even though I’ve spent a lot of time in the inner city since high school, I didn’t learn about the DOAP Team until I started working downtown. Now I keep their number on my phone, and this isn’t the first time I’ve called them, nor will it be the last.

I really do believe that the vast majority of people want to help but simply don’t know how and are afraid to do so. That is understandable. But, I hope that learning what one can do in this situation will help alleviate that anxiety about doing something.

I checked the forecast again, and it doesn’t look like it will rain or freeze tonight, but just because Joe probably would have survived the night in his long-sleeved shirt doesn’t mean it should have taken three hours for someone to call for help. We’re better than that, Calgary.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve told people about the DOAP Team, so I thought I’d write up this post. Please share it to spread the word.

Crash 5 at the Tour de Bowness

The 2015 Tour de Bowness saw the MEC Calgary Cycling Club send its largest delegation to a race yet, with John Pexman, Josh Denison, Brayden Dumanowski, and I racing Men’s Cat 5 and Kelsey Castro racing Women’s Cat 5. This race was especially notable since it was the first race ever for Kelsey, and the first race of the season for John P and Brayden.

crit montage

Each team member railing Turn 1 (aka “Crash Corner”)

We made a strong showing after the first two stages. For the Road Race, John and I were in the group that went clear the first time up the Horse Creek KOM, and he took 7th place and I took 10th. During the Hill Climb on Sunday, John took 3rd and I took 8th. This meant that we were “called up” for the crit and got to start at the front of the race.

I wasn’t surprised to hear John’s name called up, but it never dawned on me that I would get called up as well. Crits are my weakest discipline, and starting at the front meant I wouldn’t have to burn matches just to get to the front.

And I had every intention of finally being a contender in a crit rather than just another hanger-on.

The other thing I liked about the Tour de Bowness crit course is that it had only one straightaway, which meant my lack of top-end speed wouldn’t be as much of a handicap, and it’s a technical course with seven turns, a hill, and rough pavement, which further gives a bonus to agility over pure speed.

With enough focus, it was actually relatively easy to defend my position in the top ten. After a few laps, I decided to be more aggressive, and I tried to stay in the top five riders, but touching the wind as little as possible. The only time I got nervous was when Kaleb from Ascent Racing and another rider were off the front for a couple of laps, and I actually took to the front to help bring them back, making the catch on the finishing straightaway before letting someone else take the front so I could recover.

With our average speed hovering around 40km/h, nobody tried any serious attacks. Going into the bell lap, I was still in the top five, and I could not believe there was actually a chance of me being able to contest the finish of a crit. There was a lot of jockeying for position on the back section of the course, and I even got to rub elbows with a few riders as I tried to maintain my spot.

On the fifth turn, I hit a bump hard and heard an ominous hissing sound and thought, “I feel sorry for that poor schmuck.”

Oh how blissful ignorance is shattered painfully.

I realized when I was going into the final turn that it was my wheel that went flat. No, wait, both my wheels. I saw the finish line ahead, and being near the front, I committed myself to doing whatever necessary to get my top 10, even if it meant destroying my (cheap) rims. The bicycle gods had other ideas in mind, and my rear wheel slipped out from underneath me, taking me down to the asphalt and skidding towards the curb at 45km/h. Unfortunately, I also took down Suchet from Speed Theory.

A course marshal and medic were on the scene immediately, and they went through the standard first aid checklist. When they asked what hurt, I responded dryly, “My pride.”

Not seeing me at the finish, my teammates and friends made their way to me pretty quickly and took my bike while I got patched up in the ambulance.

Miraculously, my performances in the road race and hill climb meant I held on to 9th overall, in spite of DNF-ing the crit.

Even better, my teammates also put in strong performances, with Pexman taking 5th overall, and Kelsey taking 8th in the Hill Climb.

It’s amazing how racing can go. You can go from back-to-back top 10s to DNF to holding on to a top 10 overall placing.

DSC_1911a

I get by with a little help from my friends. Andrew and Brayden take my bike to my car and have a look at it while I got patched up.

The Team! From L-R: Josh Denison, Brayden Dumanowski, John Pexman, me, Kelsey Castro, and guest-but-to-be-future-team-member Arpad Soos.

The Team! From L-R: Josh Denison, Brayden Dumanowski, John Pexman, me, Kelsey Castro, and guest-but-to-be-future-team-member Arpad Soos.

Power demands: Why not all riding is the same

One of the lessons I’m learning in my nascent racing career is just how vastly different the power demands are between different cycling scenarios. Having not been a life-long competitive athlete (the most I ever did was lunch-time football and beer-league soccer), my sporting background is all from steady-state endurance activities like leisurely cycling, hiking, or cross-country skiing.

But, having been tuned into cycling by Lance’s reign in the 1990s/2000s, I’ve always had the desire to race, even if I had no idea what the demands of racing would be.

With a power meter, I can now quantitatively see what I’ve learned through feel and experience over the past few years–namely, that there is a big difference between going at a steady, uncomfortable intensity for a long time, and going so hard you want to throw up for a couple hours. I’ll post some of my power files as an example.

*A quick note for those unfamiliar with power in cycling: power measures the force you apply to bike over a distance, and it’s how you measure your level of exertion while cycling. Exerting more power becomes more difficult to sustain for a longer period of time, (i.e relationship between power and the time one can exert that power is inverse). A key power benchmark is one’s “threshold”, which is the amount of power one can sustain for about an hour. Exertion above this level can only be maintained for a much shorter duration, while exertion below this level can be maintained for much longer than an hour.

Zone 1: “Active Recovery” (This is very easy spinning, and used when you’re recovering from intervals, or on a recovery ride)
Zone 2: “Endurance” (An “all day” pace)Zone 3: “Tempo” (The pace of a fast group ride, where you have to exert effort, but you’re not going cross-eyed yet; you can talk, but it takes a lot of effort)
Zone 4: “Threshold” (What you could hold for an hour, if you really tried; in practice, even 20 minutes at this intensity hurts)
Zone 5: “VO2Max” (An intensity you can only hold for about 10 minutes; your breathing is very ragged at this point)
Zone 6: “Anaerobic capacity” (Very hard effort that you can maintain for less than five minutes; you can barely breathe, and if you’re talking, it’s usually cursing)
Zone 7: “Neuromuscular power” (Very short, high-intensity efforts like standing starts, attacking, and sprinting)

Power file 1: A brisk group ride

cochranegrp power

This file is from a lively three-hour group ride with some fast friends, and included two hills that we attacked hard (COP and Cochrane). Spent some time at higher intensity levels (Zones 4 and above), but not that much. Came back from this feeling tired, but good.

Power file 2: “Easy” road race

velocity power

This file is from the Velocity Road Race in Edmonton. The race lasted 1:49, which is shorter than the group ride, but you can see how much more time I spent at the higher intensity levels. This race was on a flat course, so the time at a higher intensity levels is from moving up in the pack without a draft, responding to surges, and accelerating out of turns. While I still spent a lot of time in Z1 (likely from coasting while in the pack), I spent less time in Z2 and 3, since I was either “sitting in” behind a wheel and taking it easy, or responding to changes in pace.

The other thing about this race is that I spent most of my energy in the first 20 minutes moving from the back of the pack into the front third, and in the final 10 minutes, where I fought for position and sprinted for the finish. For the rest of the race, I just sat in and enjoyed the ride.

In total, I spent 45% of the race at threshold power or above, and 36% of it at VO2Max power or above at Velocity.

Power file 3: “Hard” road race

RMSR power

This is from the Rundle Mountain Road Race in Canmore–a hilly and difficult race. I spent even more time at the highest intensity levels. Because of how hilly this course is, drafting has less of an effect, and if you want to stay at the front, you had to be able to climb with the strongest. Unlike Velocity, I wanted to be near the front for the entire race rather than taking my chances climbing slowly and not having anyone to work with to get back to the front. So, I tried to keep pace with the best climbers, and I constantly worked to stay in a good position. This meant I could respond when the decisive move came (even if my response backfired spectacularly).

Comparing the two courses to each other–they’re both around 65km and I averaged 37km/h for both. The difference is that Velocity only had 200m of total elevation gain, whereas Canmore had four times that amount.

Power file 4: A crit

Rundle crit power

Criteriums are a race format unique to North America, and are cycling’s version of Formula One. They’re held on closed city streets and use short courses (~1km in length) with a lot of turns. Races are short (varying from 30 mins to one hour, depending on the level of racing), and are very spectator-friendly.

Because of all of the turns, there is much deceleration and acceleration that happens in the race. You have to sprint out of each corner, lest you get dropped from the pack. Thus, it’s no surprise that you spend the most time in Zone 7 in a crit (or at least I do, because I’m trying to hang on to the back, where the accelerations are even worse than at the front).

Summary Table

Ride Type Time @ Z4+ Time @ Z5+ Time @ Z6+
Hard group ride 39% 28% 17%
Easy RR (Velocity) 45% 36% 29%
Hard RR (Rundle) 52% 41% 32%
Criterium 65% 57% 51%

What I learned

One of my goals this spring was raising my threshold, and I would do at least one threshold or sweet-spot (high tempo zone) workout a week to do just that. The issue with that is there aren’t that many racing situations in Alberta where riding my threshold would put me in a winning position. Being 5’2″ and 120lbs (at least on a good day), having a high threshold would help me ride away on a long (20min+) climb, but would still make me a deadweight in a breakaway because bigger guys are way more powerful, but not that much less aerodynamic than little guys. In Alberta’s flat courses, the guys I’ve seen win tend to be great sprinters supported by a strong team, or breakaway artists with huge engines.

(Yes, I know I could HTFU and train more to get my threshold up to 300W, but that’s a little difficult working two jobs, seven days a week.)

What I did in the lead-up to Rundle is less threshold training and more sessions doing VO2Max and anaerobic capacity work. Those power levels are the ones used for the make-or-break moves that decide races. Though I failed to get a good result at Rundle, I was foiled more by my stomach than my legs, and I was consistently in the right place at the right time, which provides some affirmation that my training has been paying off.

For my friends who are looking to race, your takeaway should be to incorporate intervals into your training, and to work on generating higher 1-5 minute peak power and being able to repeat that over and over and over and over and over until you can’t.

The remaining two road races this season (Bowness and JLap) are both flatish courses that, if you’re not in the breakaway, degenerate into “sit-n-kick sandbag festivals,” so I’ll likely play the same hand I played in Velocity. But, the Banff GranFondo will provide a chance to see if my improved ability to ride at higher intensity levels will mean I can stay with the main pack for the entire race.

2016 Update:

Both Bowness and JLap were less flat than I thought. Bowness featured a short-but-steep 5-minute power climb, and JLap had a bunch of rollers. In both cases, they produced a selection, with JLap reducing the finishing field to about 20, and Bowness, down to less than 10.

I can definitely say that the work I did on VO2Max-level efforts, recovery from such efforts, and explosiveness helped me to top-10 placings in both races.

Redemption at Rundle, or not

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):

silvertip

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.)

canmore crit

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.

Post-mortem

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.

RMSR summaryRMSR power

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.

2015 TdF Pool: Stage 11 Results

The standings after Stage 11 are here: [click here]

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