What a weekend!!!!!!
The Valley of the Sun Stage Race has probably been one of my better cycling experiences so far. Not only because it was my first real stage race but the fact that my training is starting to pay off. I managed to pull a rabbit out of my helmet this weekend and bring home 1st place in the mens H3 category overall over the 3 day race weekend!
This is a 3 day race weekend where there is an Individual Time Trial (Me vs. the clock), the Road Race (everyone taking off at the same time…#madness), and the Criterium or Crit for short (a small circuit with tight, fast corners! also madness). Generally most of our races only comprise of the TT(Time Trial) and the RR(Road Race).
I went into the TT on Friday feeling pretty good and confident, obviously a bit nervous but who isn’t! We were set off individually with a 30 second gap in between each of the riders on a 16km course. This is a straight out and back race on a straight road generally. I am still trying to figure out my forte but I don’t think the TT will be it… 28.17mins with an average speed of 33.5km/h and finishing 3rd in my category(H3) put me in a good position going in to the RR on Saturday morning.
It was an early wake up at 4:30 am and thank God I didn’t have to drive another 480km today to race is what I was thinking. I was pretty sore from pushing hard in the TT but I was feeling really good. Better than the day before to tell you the truth and I knew that I was going to have fun seeing if I could hang on to the big boys in the RR and on the climbs…It was a 49km race in a mountain range basically with 35 handcycles starting together! The whistle blew and when the gloves dropped, fighting for position at the front of the race became a terrifying ordeal! When you add in new and experienced riders it makes for an interesting start, especially when it is on an open highway and there is a row of cars as well as a massive 18 wheeler right in front of the pack. Luckily the police escort drove into oncoming traffic to clear the way for us and this was just in the first 5 minutes…honestly it was madness but cycling down Leslie st. in Toronto kind of prepares you for this lol! After about 10km I was able to break away with a couple riders at the front and about 3/4 into the first lap is when the field really broke up as this is where the 2-3km climb back up the mountain started. I was fortunate enough to climb behind a Paralympic gold medalist that is until he decided I was going to slow and he pulled away! BUT!!!!!! I caught back up to him on the downhill only a few minutes later. We then proceeded to work together as you go faster when there is 2 of you sharing the work. It’s a little something called drafting that allows the person at the front to take the brunt of the wind and allows the person or persons behind to benefit and save a little energy, giving them a break until it’s their turn again. By the time we got back to the climb I was starting to really feel the burn. Will took off up the hill finishing at the top a couple minutes ahead of me. As I crossed the finish line I was on a natural high!!! This was one of the first times that I was able to not only be at the front of the race but able to work with someone else for a long period of time to use the drafting technique efficiently. Because this is a stage race it is your combined race time at the end of all the stages that counts. With that being said I put some time in between the guys who beat up on me the day before in my class at the TT. This effectively moved me into 1st place in my class by roughly 2:30mins.
THE CRIT!!! Surprisingly I slept quite well and was ready to go with more nerves than the previous 2 days put together. I was super anxious to get going and arriving 2 hours early didn’t help. When the time to warm up came I could see my competitors with a serious look on their face and I knew it was on! 5..4..3..2..1 GO! Off the line like a bullet pulling in behind my buddy Mark Ledo at the front of the race. I then very quickly thought to myself…he’s too fast for you DO NOT BLOW UP! 3/4 of the way through the first lap I settled into the chase group where I thought I could hang…NOPE back to the 3 group where I found a couple guys from my class that I needed to stay with in order to maintain my lead! It was only a 28min race and I had to make sure that I positioned myself well to go for the win. I lead the pack for a bit and realized I was wasting my energy and pulled off the front to let someone else do all the work and that they did! I positioned myself perfectly with about 350m to go in order to make a jump and then sprint for the finish line. With 2 corners left to go I made my move…passed 2 guys chasing down the third and disaster strikes!!!!! MY CHAIN FALLS OFF! Immediately, I wanted to panic but I knew just what to do. I got my chain back on still with a chance for the win and then…IT FALLS OFF AGAIN AND I CANT SHIFT GEARS!!!! By this time there was only 100m until the finish line and they were gone. I lost the Crit by 2 seconds!!! Again this was just for my class as overall I was around 8th in the Crit. I was devastated, I wanted that sprint finish!
At the end of the day when it was all said and done when the General Classification winners were announced I remained in 1st from the previous days work on the RR and my competition wasn’t able to close the gap! Not only 1st in my class but 5th overall. This was a huge learning experience for me and a massive accomplishment! By no means am I close to where I want or need to be but the daily grind of getting stronger and faster continues! I will post the full video from the Crit so you can see for yourself what its like to race at average speed of 32.5km/h!