On the bottom side of the world I have been pedaling some bikes. I arrived in New Zealand in mid January, leaving behind Boston's snowiest winter ever in favor of warm days and radical tan lines thanks to a hole in the ozone. I spent my first 10 days RVing with my faja. We rode bikes all over the South Island before he left and I spent 10 days in Queenstown (epic MTBing location). Then I headed up to Christchurch to fulfill the actual purpose of my bike vacation: getting an education. Luckily for me, class hasn't been too much of a burden. My training has been pretty consistent with the exception of orientation week (US orientation = name games, NZ orientation = 2,000 person toga party). I have been building base and doing some long efforts.
This past weekend I had my first race, “Le Race”. The race is 100 km starting in Christchurch and ascending a 20-minute climb pretty much immediately, followed by a legit mountain descent with cattle stops, switchbacks, and big drop offs. Then its 30 km across the flat, followed by another 20-minute climb, then it rolls at elevation ‘til just before the finish. It's a seven-km high-speed mountain descent leaving just 700 meters and one turn on the flat before the finish. I tried to work some intensity into my training the week before the race, but I kind of knew the cards I would be playing were two, long efforts and willingness to descend quickly. Luckily I was able to preview the first climb and descend a number of times, but the rest of the course would be new to me.
As the race started, it was chaos; everyone wanted to be in the front, but unsurprisingly, when there are 610 people in a race, this doesn't work. The race also is unique in that it has everything from trade teams to noobs. Going up the first climb, I struggled to stick with the front group. My lack of anaerobic training was very apparent as I rocketed back in the field. Luckily, I crested the hill dangling onto a group of about 15 (time checks show I was about 52nd at this time). The descent was fun. I let it rip and moved my way up towards the front of the group. However, I was a little weary as I saw one guy disappear into a drainage ditch and another climbing out of a barb wire fence on a ledge; he was lucky to hit the fence.
The flats were pretty miserable. We started strong, working together, swelling to about 25 people. At this point, however, a relentless headwind drove the pace way down and we lost some ground on the front of the race. I felt good on the second climb, sitting second wheel and watching semi comfortably as we dropped seven or so riders (time checks show I was 42nd at this time). The rollers that followed were peppered with relatively flat attacks, but they helped to keep the tempo high and we started catching a few riders who had gone out to hard. On the final roller, about a five-minute climb, things started heating up. A few attacks went, I was able to stick with everyone as our group was reduced to about five. With about one minute to go in the climb we caught another group of 6 who we pretty much just passed though, although half of them jumped on the back of our small group.
About one minute into the descent, three riders had a good gap on the rest of us. Simultaneously, bigger riders previously dropped on the climb started closing in on our group. I decided it was time for some risks, so I got real low, and played that game were you touch your brakes as little as possible. I caught the group in front of me, looked back, and saw the gap was still growing. At this point I was kind of stoked. I am a bad sprinter and have done zero sprint training this year, so 4th out of what was originally a group of 25? That worked for me. However, I quickly got greedy and thought, “what if I went just a little faster down this hill? Maybe I could leave them behind.” I attacked on one of the few straight-ish stretches, noticing at this point that all three of them were teammates. I was letting it go pretty hard as I saw the “2 km to go” sign, but I knew I still had two 90-degree turns coming up so I let caution get the better of me. My gap shrunk to about two seconds as I rounded the second 90 degree turn onto the flats. I decided I should just try to stay away from these guys ‘til the finish, but it didn't work. Two of them came hauling by me with about 50 meters to go. At least my attack got rid of one of them.
I ended up 31st overall, 20th for men 17-35 (notice there are a few fast juniors but a good amount of fast old men). This is a pretty long write up for a lackluster result, but it was my first real race of the year, and it felt good to push the legs. I followed the race up by dragging myself back to Christchurch, racking up 115 miles on the day. Perfect training for my next race, Tour of the Lakes: seven stages over four days. Should be legit.