My Tour de Fire

The ride last Saturday was full of ups and downs. Literally and figuratively. I signed up a few weeks ago for the 38 mile ride. The options were 20 miles, 38 miles, 60 miles, 74 miles, and 100 miles. I figured 38 would be relatively easy. I was wrong!

I`m not sure about you, but I tend to estimate how challenging something will be before I actually do it. As for the 38 mile TDF, I knew the terrain and I knew what it meant to be in a group race. Races like this aren`t races where you compete to win, but rather participate in in order to complete for some sort of self gratification and sometimes to raise funds for a good cause. TDF is an annual event, raising money for the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation. In other words, cyclists who sign up for races like this will normally ride at a moderate speed. Riding in a group normally makes it easier to keep a steady pace as you will almost always be able to benefit from being behind someone. I was planning on drafting as much as possible and should therefore be able to ride with less effort than when I`ve been on solo rides. I did a 42 mile solo ride a couple of weeks ago with no big issues. 38 miles in a group should be no big deal. Did I mention I was wrong?

I drove to the start area early in the morning. My scheduled start time was 7:30 AM. I drove where the route was so I saw the terrain. It sure seemed a lot hillier than I remembered! 7:30AM exactly and we were sent off. I started in the back of the field that consisted of 100-150 riders, young, old, men, women, small, big. A diverse group indeed. After a mile or so, the field had stretched out more than I expected. A fast group took off in the front and a slower group remained in the back. I felt that the slower group was a little too slow and that if I decided to stay with them, I would take too long getting through the 38 miles. From Boulder Beach up towards Calville Bay, the terrain is like a roller coaster. Up and down, mostly up. It`s practically never flat. I climbed and I climbed and soon found myself in no mans land, in between the fast group and the slow group. It was windy. I was riding against the wind up hill for 11 miles where the first rest stop was. I felt pretty good, but I was going slow. By the time I left the rest stop I had already taken an hour. Not good. At least the turnaround should be only 8 more miles up the road. Since I had climbed so much already and since I was riding against the wind, it should be a lot easier gong back again. I didn`t happen to mention I was wrong, did I?

After the rest stop it kept going up and up, the wind turned too. I was no longer riding directly against the wind, but diagonally against the wind. This made it tougher to keep the balance and I was going even slower. Riders kept passing me at an alarming rate. They were going much faster than me. I was past by a guy who was in his 60s on a 30 year old bike. He was pedaling along wearing sneakers. I did manage to stay with him for a while, but had to see him get away from me after a few miles. It was pretty discouraging to see that so many cyclists were in so much better form than me. I kept repeating to myself that I had only been in training for 7 weeks (I went on my first training ride on March 13, 2010), but it didn`t really make me feel any better.

Before last Saturday, I predicted that I was going to be able to complete the race in around 2 1/2 hours. I based that on my rides the few weeks before TDF. I was nowhere close to the average speed I needed for that to happen. Around Calville Bay my computer showed 17 miles. I was going up a long hill that made my legs feel like they would fall off any minute. Pain, pain, and more pain. I had to focus big time in order to stay on the bike. Others were passing me as they were chatting to their buddies. Rub it in folks! At least the rest stop and the turnaround should be right over that hill. But, no! I bit my teeth together and realized that there was no rest stop there. My computer could be a little off I guessed. More hills of the upward kind and more pain, and more wind. I passed 19 miles, then 20 miles. Where on earth was the friggin rest stop?! As I struggled to maintain my cadence at more than 5 strokes per minute and as that skinny woman passed me for the fifth time (for some reason she always passed me uphill and I her downhill. I guess her75lbs vs my 210lbs was a little unfair both up and down) I started thinking that perhaps there was no official turnaround point? There hadn`t been a sign at the 11 mile stop despite the fact that it was the turnaround point for the 20 mile route. I was getting ready to turn around. I had as a matter of fact been ready for that for at least 5 miles. Then my wife and father-in-law came towards me in their car. They stopped. I asked them if there was a rest stop further up. “Yupp, a mile or so up the road”. I could do one more mile. It ended up being 3 more miles.

The official distance to the turnaround rest stop was 21.5 miles. My computer showed close to 23 miles. I hadn`t exactly been keeping a straight line up  Mont Ventoux. Since the routes had had to change due to road work in the area, the organizers had had to change the location of the turnarounds and thereby the length of the rides a little. At the rest stop I hung out with my family for a while and grabbed some food and drinks before I headed back. The ride back was indeed as predicted quite a bit easier, but since I had used up so much energy on the way up, it was still tough. In actual time on the bike, it took me 3 hours and 55 minutes to complete the 46 miles (according to my computer). Total time with stops, 4 hours and 35 minutes. Embarrassing numbers, but I have learned a lot from this.

I know now that I need to focus on riding faster up hill. I need to ride longer rides. I need to lose more weight. If I feel I`m on schedule to complete my goal in September? I think so, but I have a lot of work ahead of me and you know where you can read about the progress.

Don`t change the channel

THE Bionic Cyclist