I would like to begin today’s report with an apology. I had hoped that I’d be filling these posts with tales of epic racing and brutal attacking. I’m sure that is happening in the race, but I haven’t seen any. The racing I have seen has been all about survival, about finishing without the offer of any reward. No yellow jersey or applause. Just tired legs and a sore arse.
This morning’s start was the first time the organizers had mentioned time cuts. They warned that any rider who failed to complete the stage in more than 20% on top of the winners time would not be allowed to start tomorrow. I quickly found myself trying to do the maths. I failed. But someone else said it was about half an hour. That was a nice big number so I chose to believe them. In fact the time cut was around 25 minutes, but more on that later…
Mercifully this morning was a relaxed start as the neutral zone began at the campus itself. It would then run out over the prologue route and into Usk where the flag would drop and racing would begin. That meant we had a nice late start, so no rushing around for breakfast or cramming the car full of riders, bikes and gel sachets. Breakfast was a sombre affair for us because Sam had pulled out of the race the evening before. He was suffering with a bad back and after some heroic work in the Team Time Trial, he’d had enough. We were down to three.
I was in no mood to eat this morning, I just felt sick. Not the normal nervous nausea, just miserable sickliness, that made my beans on toast stick in my throat. I grabbed some bread rolls and jam from the canteen and nibbled right up until the stage start, but I was hungry when we started. I had a feeling that today was going to be just as bad as the day before. I’d ridden the route a week prior to the race so knew exactly what to expect. It was two hard climbs very early on, followed by a dash straight down a dual carriageway, a short reprise on a rolling B road, then straight back down the dual carriageway before turning off onto the run in to a short finishing climb. All I had to do was hang on over the climbs and then I was confident of finishing.
Sadly for me, I was suffering before the race had even started. As we rolled behind the neutral car my legs just weren’t working. The car went at a sensible pace today; clearly the carnage of yesterdays crashes had shaken up the organizers and they were determined today would be safe. If we had been travelling at the previous day’s neutral speed I wouldn’t have made it to the start of the race. As it was I managed to hold on. Right until the first climb when I think someone ran out of the bushes and put some bricks in my jersey pockets. I just didn’t have any power. If you watch much professional cycling you will have heard the phrase ‘the elastic has snapped’ or something similar. It’s a description of what happens in a bunch when riders are suffering. They seem to yo yo on the back of the bunch, sprinting to hold on, only to bounce back away from the race moments later, as if they are attached by some giant, invisible elastic band. Eventually the ‘elastic' snaps, and they are left to fend for themselves. Today someone must have forgotten the elastic! As soon as the bunch surged up the climb, (I don’t know who was on the front, but whoever it was is off my Christmas card list!) I just fell off the back.
I was one of the first to crack today, but I passed many more on the climb, riders who were totally blown. We were only 5 miles into a race of 50 and people had nothing left. I’m sort of glad I popped early because it meant I could compose myself up the climb and get ready to start chasing. Over the top I caught two guys and we worked together for a few miles on the descent, managing to catch another group of 5 just before the 2nd climb. As we hurtled along one of the guys misread the signs and the shouts of the marshals and shot straight over a roundabout as we all turned left. We didn’t see him again; maybe he’s still going.
We pushed hard, riding through and off until we caught sight of another group in the distance. I wasn’t helping the organisation of the group, riding overzealously on the climb I had to keep winding back my efforts, disrupting the rhythm a bit. My legs were in pieces though; I was just trying to find a speed that I could sit at for the rest of the race. It’s best to climb at your own pace, if you try to ride at someone else’s you will blow up!
Once over the 2nd climb, I fell into line much better and we caught the next group up the road. Stuart was in that group, which meant there was only one Bristol RC rider up the road. With the exception of the Team Time Trial, it was the first time I’d ridden with a team mate in the whole race, the other boys have been in the fight for the line, whilst I’ve been at the back trying to limit lost time.
The following 35 miles were jut one long chain gang. There were around 15 of us in the group and we worked well together on the dual carriageway, but it was tough going. The wind was straight into our faces and we knew we would lose serious time by the end. We caught a few more riders, guys who were plugging sorrowfully away on the bleak straight road. Our group swelled a little. With maybe 10 miles to go, guys were really suffering and starting to miss turns. I kept coming through, in hindsight not a great idea. I should have taken a rest instead of killing myself. With only 3km to go, we pulled off of the main road and into more headwinds. I popped for the 2nd time in the stage. Dropping a little time to my companions in the group and finishing alone. There were plenty of riders still to come.
Thankfully I made the time cut with 10 minutes to spare, but word has got around at dinner that 4 riders have been eliminated, which is a real shame with only one stage to go. The wind today meant that if you were on your own, then you were in real trouble! I lost 14 minutes with a group of maybe 15 today. I only lost 8 minutes yesterday, when I was largely on my own or with 1 other rider. The variables of road racing are what makes it interesting. The last finisher today lost over 35 minutes.
Once the race was finished there was one big problem, getting home. The route had been place to place and unfortunately the finishing place was a good 10 or 12 miles from the campus. That meant a long, slow, painful slog. Matt and Stu had waited for me at the end so we rolled home as a three. Stuart seemed strong and pulled us most of the way, but Matt and I were totally done. Matt blew spectacularly a mile or so from home and I had to push him back. We’ve all ‘bonked’ at some point. It’s not a nice feeling and he was not looking pretty by the time we rolled up the hill and onto campus. Luckily it was nothing that a recovery shake, some food and sitting down to watch the Tour prologue wouldn’t fix. He might feel it tomorrow though. Sometimes a really hard effort can sit in your legs, waiting to rear its head and ruin your day. Hopefully he’ll be alright for the final stage and the mammoth finishing climb. Saying that…I would like to finish ahead of him and Stuart in one stage so maybe I should tell him that dehydration is the new hydration… Or just cut their brake cables.
Tomorrows plan. Hold on for dear life and try to regain some pride/time on the climb. I know I have more in my legs than I have shown this week! I am already planning next year’s assault on the Welsh hills!
There are loads of pictures of the race available on the Cyclopics flickr page. Have a look if you like looking at photos of a hundred grimacing blokes and one suffering girl.
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.