Monday, March 31, 2014

Race Report : Tour del (SOUL STEALING MISERY) Sol

“Race a bike,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said. 

Sometimes, bike racing is not fun.

Thursday night, I met my borrowed ‘mates from Psimet-Zilla Racing to head to St George, Utah for the Tour del Sol Stage Race. Three days of women, bikes, and awesomely fast racing in weather forecast to be well above 75 degrees. What could be better???

Getting the bikes nice and shiny.

A lot of things. Root canals, bee stings, waterboarding…

As much as I want to belabor every minute of hellfest, I am still super tired from our long journey. I will summarize:


I generally have low expectations for a TT by virtue of racing on a road bike, but I woke up feeling really, really good, despite having taken full advantage of the crappy free continental breakfast at the motel. Fueled by simple sugars in the form of waffles and Frosted Cheerios, I was ready to crush some watts and destroy some women. Liz Gerrity was sporting a Spiderman skinsuit, and there is no way you can get annihilated wearing that sort of thing. 

The course is 20k and starts with one ascent, followed by a longer section of flat, and then a bunch of rolling hills with two final, small climbs to the finish. I knew I had to go out HARD because I do not climb well. I easily caught the woman in front of me just after the initial rise at the start, and then continued to smash it until the turn-around. 

Liz Warming up, and Peg rolling in!
I had a terrible sequence of three turns, where I probably lost close to 30 seconds, but the return trip is pretty much a straight shot, except that the pavement is all chip-seal, and you have to bomb it down the center of the road while cars are going by at 60 mph. There was not a ton of traffic, luckily, save one little brown Honda that had “I’m a meth addict” written all over it, and came by honking at all of us. That bit of unsavoriness aside, I managed to catch two more riders before the final set of hills. By that time, my legs were SCREAMING, but there was no way I was letting up even a little. I could see this chick from Vegas Velo right behind me, trying to chase me down, and there was no way I was letting some woman in a hot pink skinsuit and full make-up best me in a TT.

In the end, I came in dead middle of the field. Considering the mechanical advantage granted these women with their fancy TT bikes and disc wheels, I was reasonably satisfied with my result. Peg Hallberg from Psimet was just a couple places behind me, which was awesome since she and I tend to race really well together. Things were looking good. We were ready to CRUSH SOME WOMEN with our super-fast bike racing skillz.

After the TT, we grabbed some food at an awesome little Thai place and then decided to go nap for a bit before the second race of the day. It’s pretty suckolicious to go all-out on a time trial and then have to race all over again only hours later, and worse still because the crit is short, which means everyone is going to hammer it from the second the whistle blows. I definitely felt slower and more lethargic for part deux.

Peg and I wisely scouted spots at the front, and then spent the next fifteen minutes fighting to stay there. I got pinched in a few corners and found myself wasting energy sprinting out of every turn until I worked my way back up. I took a nice flyer off the front until I realized some crazy chick from Plan DNA was snarling next to me like I was the last mozzarella stick at Claim Jumper, and then I got scared and dialed it back in with the field. 

Eventually, both Peg and I had lost position and ended up squandering our meager reserves at every turn. Basically, we were way too aggressive at the start, and BLEW UP with about ten minutes left to go. The field was pretty much shattered and about seven girls ended up getting lapped. I found myself chasing with three other girls. Still, it was good enough to move me up one more place in the GC, so not all was lost.

In one last moment of ridiculous race shenanigans, the promoter had a CRAZY notion that it would be a good idea to do a Twilight Crit, but had obviously NEVER SEEN nor PARTICIPATED IN an event such as this. The crit is on an old airport runway above the town with NO LIGHTS ANYWHERE. They brought in four spotlights run on generators, which illuminated exactly four six inch spots on the pavement. EPIC FAILURE. The men’s race was actually cancelled because people were going to die. Weaksauce men. 

Sweet fancy Moses, I have never in my life witnessed anything more terrifying in the history of bike racing than a PITCH BLACK CRIT RACE.
That is, until….

So, I have all kinds of crazy race day paranoias. We shall visit them:
    • I feel feverish. I must be getting sick.
    • My throat is kind of scratchy. I’m totally going to get sick.
    • I’m feeling a little tired and rundown–I HAVE MONO. IT’S THE ONLY EXPLANATION.
    • I feel fat from all these Cheerios and Waffles. I will never fit in my kit, and I cannot possibly lug all of this up a series of giant hills.
    • My bike’s shifting has been a bit wonky lately, and maybe it will break in half on the giant hill because I am too fat to race a bike.
    • I forgot how to race a bike. Just now.
    • The race day weather report keeps changing, and I don’t know what to wear. I am going to die from heat stroke, or freeze in the rain and get swept down the canyon or maybe all three.

Usually, this is nothing more than nerve-filled mental nonsense. Usually. But that last bullet point was everything wrong with the road race of death.

Peg and I, before we hated bike racing.
The weather report had changed, and they were now calling for a 30% chance of rain and high winds…but it felt reasonably warm at the start, and I figured I would be done before it got cool, so I elected to race in short bibs and jersey and a wind vest. No gloves. I hate gloves.

Once we started, however, I realized things were going to be a whole lot crappier than I expected for a lot of reasons. For starters, the weather report said it would get to low 60′s but the entire day was overcast and I remained half-frozen throughout. Second, those 20mph gusts were relentless and only picking up. I started at the front, and quickly tucked in on the right side of the field, so I could get some protection from the crosswinds and sit in, saving my energy for the climb out of the canyon. It was easy to stay on top of my hydration and to grab food as I needed it. All was right in the world.

We were coming up to the KOM, and I had to decide what to do. The race was at the halfway point, and I was still in good position and my legs felt solid. I was in the main field with about 16 ladies, and everyone else was spread out behind us. The KOM is long, steep ascent with grades over 17-18%, and the climb was headed into the wind. Knowing I cannot climb, and not wanting to get dropped by these lean, sinewy women, I decided to attack at the base. Not to win, but basically to make sure that I wouldn’t get dropped off the back and die alone in the canyon and the wind. 

The never-ending rise continued. There were six or seven of us now trying to get up the crest of the hill and score the time bonus, and I was starting to feel a bit lonely since I had lost my teammates, and I was desperately leapfrogging to try and find a wheel here and there and give myself a break. This was when I realized HOW BAD the wind had become. I was blowing all over the climb, along with everyone else. No one could hold their line, and everyone was forced to stand FOR THE ENTIRE ASCENT because it was simply unmanageable. At the top, we had 50-60mph microbursts. 

I had a Choose Your Own Adventure moment where I seriously contemplated saying “Screw this race” and flagging down a car. Seriously. Like, I was near tears trying to GET UP THE HILL. I made it to the top, and I was wrecked. I turned on to the road to Veyo with the other girls, but my legs were destroyed. The road continued in the demoralizing upward grind.

I kept hoping for some descent to just spin out my legs. Finally, the field broke apart, and I ended up a chase pack with four other women, who were all totally off their rockers. Maybe it was the wind. Maybe it was because it was now FREEZING and no one could shift because their fingers were like bricks and cramping, and it was raining and cold and awful. But these women were INSANE. Two girls would attack the other three of us in the chase pack. I was finally like, “Who are you racing? The people up the road or the rest of us? Because this is not smart.” Like, I am not the BIKE RACING EXPERT, but it’s going to be HELLISH to bridge with two people, and totally manageable with five.

I spent the next ten miles dying in the wind. I watched a dude in a pink skinsuit get blown to the pavement in the middle of the interstate. There is nothing sadder than watching a full grown man in a hot pink skinsuit flag down a wheel car and plead with them to let him end his day on the bike. It happened. I saw horrors I cannot even express here. Liz actually made the decision to temporarily abandon the race and GO INTO A PIE SHOP before finishing with a bunch of other chicks. Do you know how BAD it has to be before you GET OFF YOUR BIKE IN A RACE? FOR PIE? Peg cried.

Truly, it was unsafe beyond any measure. We were racing along a MAJOR HIGHWAY, with cars whizzing by at 70mph, and there was no way to predictably keep the bike on the road. There was a long series of descents that were absolutely terrifying in the wind. I have never been THAT scared before. Certainly never on a bike. Every time a car came by, I assumed it was to tell us that they were neutralizing the race, but it never happened. 

And then, it started to hail.

At this point, I was totally cracking. I was about to crack. I couldn’t take another second. We were no longer in a paceline or even an echelon because it was too dangerous with the winds. My mouth was filled with sand. I was getting pelted by hail. I was freezing and MISERABLE. And then I saw the “FINISH IN 10k” sign. I decided that I was just going to hammer it the next six miles so I could end this stupid, horrific bike race. 

I came in 16th overall in the GC. Peg was 20th. Liz actually won $40 dollabillz for her 10th place finish.
We got into the car, and decided to jet home without ever looking back. 

The road out of Utah was a mess. Blowing snow and high wind warnings. There were times we could hardly see the road. We were eating Swedish Fish and Cheetos because we elected not to stop for real food as we were just trying to just get the hell out of there before things got any worse. 

Once over the Colorado state line, things calmed down a bit. Except for Liz. Liz was busy making plans to give up bike racing forever and make it in professional croquet. 

The race pretty much crushed my soul. It should be called Tour del SOUL CRUSHING FACE SMASHING AWFULNESS. 

And then, just before the Vail Pass….

Road Closed. With less than two hours to my warm bed, we found ourselves STRANDED. Snow and high winds. Again. We’d been driving for TEN HOURS, racing for two straight days on crappy food and little sleep. We’d survived the WORST RACE IN THIS HISTORY OF BIKES. And then, we were stuck.

The road did reopen, and I got home around 2:30 in the morning. Alive.  I’m glad no one crashed and that we all made it home safely. 

I don’t know how to feel about my performance. The result was ok, and there were some decidedly good moments of bike racing. I also made some really bad decisions on the bike that cost me returns. On the whole, though, I have pretty much decided to just never think about this race again. I’ve suffered on a bike more than once, but NOTHING comes close to this.