Let me tell you, bike racing is fucking hard now.
The night before the Kanc, I’m in constant motion for hours. Shopping for supplies, gathering gear, making dinner, prepping food for the next day, juicing produce, washing dishes, ensuring we have enough supplies to keep Stella operational while we’re up there. Finally shearing these legs. There is no rest. While the alarm was supposed to go off at 4:30, Stella trumped it by a half an hour and that was the start of the day. We’re going to get up, eat, pack, drive two hours while pacifying a 1 year old, race a 90min uphill time trial on a bike with one gear, and then drive home. Holy shit today is going to suck.
Today was the first test of the race-day nutrition plan given to me by Allen, and it was a knockout. Fresh juice, Biju’s oatmeal, poached eggs, yogurt with fruit, I was absolutely stuffed.
“Toast with almond butter if you’re still hungry.”
I found that comical. It was all I could do just to sip coffee afterward. I’ve never been this full before a race. Four hours from the start, it seemed this was going to hold me for a while.
As I put the bike on top of my car, I remarked at the rear cog. How small it looked. Today could be hard.
The day was warming up, but not out of control. Just enough to shed my baselayer. Perfect for me. I sip on Skratch, as discussed. Spin it out in the trainer for about fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes doesn’t feel like enough but it’s all I’m up for. No music yet. Only when it’s time. I prime the motor with a Jolly Rancher, bid adieu to Kristen and Stel, and make for the starting line. In no time at all, I’m off.
Three years ago, when I last raced the Kanc, I set cadence targets for the “bottom” of the course (the first 16 miles) and the “top” (the last 5 miles, which is the sustained climb). That worked perfectly last time, so I did the same thing this year.
Out of the gate I hit play on my iPod. Winger. Seventeen. Just a little something to ease into the effort. My cadence is just above target right out of the gate, and I dial it back a notch. Don’t go out too hard. Turn it up gradually. I don’t know where, but gradually; just not right now.
This gear is not feeling quite as frisky as I was planning. It’s a lot harder than the last one I took. On this lower section, I need to keep it between 80 and 90rpm, and I’m there, but it’s definitely more work than I was banking on.
Several thoughts are passing through for evaluation. I process them in order.
-That I should have slammed this stem. I was last fit on this bike four or five years ago, and it’s all wrong now, but I didn’t touch it
-The “F” word, all by itself
-I have bitten off more than I can chew today
The playlist progresses; we start to shake out the cobwebs. I catch a shadow to my left. I make out the silhouette of a rearview mirror, and I am fucked. This is Grampie, we are only a few miles into the race, and he started 15 seconds behind me. I immediately resign. I don’t have it today. I’m totally shelled from running around with my head cut off last night. The lack of sleep is hanging over my shoulders like a leaden cape, draping me in certain failure. This sucks. He pulls past and I take note of his cadence. How it’s markedly faster. My gamble has already failed. This harder gear was supposed to pull back huge time down here, and it was supposed to be at least safe on the climb. It’s already going to hell.
I settle in within a few bike lengths, wondering who will be coming by next. I started first in the group, and I know there are at least two, possibly three others who will be coming to kill me next. A matter of when. A few minutes after being overtaken by G, I sheepishly glance back. Nothing yet. In time, it will unfold. But nothing yet.
G is gapping me, and this is becoming a tragedy. I know the grade is mildly downhill right here and I can’t feel it at all. I’m working my ass off, jumping out of the saddle periodically, and can’t make anything with this bigger ring. What a shit show.
I know the road kicks up after this for a bit, where I’ll have to settle in and put in some real work. As if I’m not already.
I go. I take comfort in the grade for some reason. Gradually pulling him in. Slowly. Over minutes. I glance at my odometer and I can tell it’s off a little, but I’m nearing Bear Notch. In my head, there’s a section not far from here where I should finally be able to start motoring this gear. But not before this grade finishes. It’s not far off; just around this bending right. I think.
I pass the geared rider between us and move nearer Grampie’s wheel; he must know by now I’ve come back. Well, he has a mirror. Surely he has seen the whole thing. Idiot.
When I sense I can pass, I wait. I think ahead; does this make sense. Am I just wasting myself for nothing. I have to go though. I have to do this and hope he can’t counter, start ripping when the road levels out, and hope. Buy some time before I get destroyed on this climb.
I go. No looking back, just go. Hoping. I see 100+ rpm and I know this is where I make it happen. Bring up that average. All of that earlier dipping into the 70s, we bring it back here. Take everything you can from it. Drill.
The gear is so hard. I feel it straight up glutes into my lower back. I’m all over the saddle, wringing everything I can out of this thing. I get way back, throwing my feet forward at the road, whatever I can do. I have nothing more to give; I’m giving it. I know this because some of these songs, on an ordinary day, are like jet fuel; they barely skim the surface of my soul right now. But without them I’m finished. I’m still jumping up, stabbing at the ground, hopefully accomplishing something. I won’t look back to find out.
The run into the climb should be easier. It’s so clear now that the climb is going to suck. I just don’t know how bad. I need cadence between 40 and 50 up there. It sounds doable, but I keep looking down. I’m only making 60s right now. It’s going to get so much worse than this. I’m going to be fucked.
It starts. I’m grinding. 40s. This is hard. I stand a lot. The pace isn’t terrible, but we have five miles of this.
A rider comes rolling past as we ease into the reprieve in grade near the lower parking area on the right. He utters something; I make out the word “singlespeed” and glance immediately at his drivetrain. Singlespeed. Ah, fuck. It’s Doug Reid; I know it from the kit. He started at least 30 seconds behind me. I knew he could be coming.
Still no sign of the Burkes. They went 1-2 in this category last year. He pulled off a 1:12. They should have blow my doors off by now. They must have DNS’d. Grampie is still lurking back there somewhere. But I won’t look. Whatever is happening back there makes no difference. My legs are giving me everything they can.
Reid is pulling away. I am grinding. Toiling with this gear. His cadence is decidedly faster. I am so dead. Still turning in the 30s. At one point, high 20s. For anything I made up back there, it will all be wasted here. Grampie has to be reeling me in like a fish.
I think I pull closer to Doug on certain pitches, but the going is so bad, and I start to lose track of him. I can’t race him; I am only here to survive. I fixate on a rider in the distance that I’m sure is him, but in time as I draw closer, it’s not. He is gone, my fate is certain. The fight is for second. The Burkes are out of the equation; they have to be. They would have come past long before now.
I think I can see the 1 mile to go marker in the distance; historically this is where I turn it up. I have no regrets about not being able to. I’m pedaling through muscles I don’t even have today. Tomorrow will hurt. I am really trying.
I think this is the final sweeping turn, and I dial it up. I’m wrong. Deflated. I knew I could be wrong. It’s the next sweeping turn after this, which is just ahead. I think. I go. I’m as all in as I’m going to be today. I could have just been wrong again, and then I see a few spectators. Thank God this is about to be over. I need to get across this line and look back immediately and start counting seconds. I’m gasping. In this final push, with everything I have left, cadence tops out in the 50s.
More than fifteen seconds pass, and then I am sure of what has happened today. Doug and I connect and I learn he’s running the gear I ran three years ago. What a mistake I’ve made today that I will never make again. Had I tested this gear up here I would never have raced on it; it would have been immediately obvious. The final timing said it all. Doug Reid at 1:19, I am a full five minutes behind, Grampie an even two behind me. Doug starting no more than a minute behind me, the real damage was done in the last five miles.
My worst case projection came true for the first 16 miles. 80rpm would yield 53 minutes, and that’s exactly what I did. Faster than I rode this section three years ago on an easier gear, but barely.
Somehow I averaged north of 40rpm on the climb to finish that hell in 31 minutes. Faster than my worst case projection, but almost exactly as fast as I rode it three years prior on an easier gear.
When the laundry is sorted, this year was thirty seconds better than that PR. Still a great result from great effort, but oh what wasted effort; what could have been, had I not gone all in on this bigger ring. What a lot of hell to have gone through for such marginal gains. I’ve learned a lesson for sure. I knew I was gambling, and I knew I could come out on the ass end of the equation. But I hoped not to. Second place is a fine place, but knowing how different it could have been, having led the race only to give it up at the end, that is a lot more bitter than I would have expected.
On to Wash. Less than two weeks.