Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Climb to the Top and the Bev May Womens Tour

I was pretty happy with last week's efforts, and by Tuesday morning's interval session, the legs were still a little heavy, but it certainly didn't take away from the stunning sunrise I enjoyed as I made my way across the Manawatu River. A single lazy cloud hung in the air above the windfarms and the sun shone through from behind and sent strips of colored light dancing across the landscape, all the way down to the river below... What a sensational way to start the day! A day at the office was then followed up with a bit of TLC for my aching, tight muscles from Barb at XALT 110% Sports Performance. Being at such a late stage of my training, the body is taking a bit of a battering, and without regular massage, this is the time when injuries start to manifest themselves, which is something I need to be very wary of. The evening was then filled with "team meetings" on the phone and some very confused internet searching that resulted in John and I finally securing our "race extras" for the Cape Epic, paying our transponder deposits, and completing our other "outstanding actions"... It was a bit of a relief, but a pretty costly exercise!

To be honest, generally after a sports massage, I feel pretty ordinary... It's a couple of days later that I start to feel like a million bucks, so when I headed out for my hill reps on Wednesday evening, I still felt a little sluggish, but my muscles felt really nice and free and strong. It was a beautiful evening so I headed up to Pahiatua Track to do my 10min hill reps. One thing I have pinpointed as being an issue lately is that I have been doing a lot of powerful climbing out of the saddle, which is great for the shorter stuff, but not so good for the longer climbs. Generally speaking, climbing out of the saddle uses a lot of energy, and whilst it certainly has it's place, I was quite determined tonight to focus my session on seated climbs. I was pretty strict on myself... There were two steeper pitches on the climb where I was "allowed" to get up out of the saddle, but I had specific roadside markers as to where this could start and where it had to end, then I would finish my 10min seated climb with a handlebar-throwing, out-of-the-saddle manic sprint to the end. For some amusing reason, as I climbed, I couldn't seem to get #20 of "The Rules" out of my head... For the record, though, I needn't have referred back to rule #5... I was already abiding by it. It was a hard session, but I was very pleased with how I rode. I achieved negative splits on each 10min rep except for the very last one, and after the final hill rep for the evening, I treated(?) myself by climbing the rest of the way to the top and checking out the amazing view that stretched out across the landscape towards Hawkes Bay (the climbing was well worth it!). After a set of 10sec sprint intervals on the way home, I arrived pretty spent, but on quite a high from having such a good session on such a spectacular evening.

Thursday morning I was rudely awoken by my plyometrics session and then joined in the Pedal Pushers group ride in the afternoon after work for a lively little 50km jaunt. It was a beautiful evening, and a pretty good training session because after the last couple of days, the pace of the ride was probably a bit more lively than I would have managed by myself... A geographical blunder part way through the ride saw me overshoot a turnoff just as I was about to take a turn at the front... There was a mixture of berating and apologies from the bunch, but to be honest, joke was on them... It meant I went back to the pack and missed out on having to cut the wind for them (not that I would have been much good to them, anyway... Maybe that just worked out best for everyone involved!!!). I was pretty stoked to be able to hold most of the fast guys as they galloped away in a sprint for the last 5km, then even more stoked to crawl into bed after packing for my trip to the Bev May Cycle Tour for the weekend.

After a long drive from Palmerston North to Morrinsville on Friday evening after work (I had a couple of "what was I thinking?" moments during that drive!!!), I headed off to the Bev May Women's Cycle Tour on Saturday morning. I must say, I generally find road racing a little bit boring and "serious" so I do little "fun" things to try and make it a bit more exciting. Today, I decided to wear my new POW full-fingered gloves in a mismatching pair (pink on the right and blue on the left). Nothing says "I'm a mountain biker" at road races more than wearing full-fingered gloves and having SPD pedals on your road bike. Being a mountain biker is a great excuse to not quite understand the tactics of road racing (even if you actually do). Saying "oh, sorry, I didn't know... I'm a mountain biker" bears the same weight as having used "Oh, sorry, I'm Australian" on numerous occasions since I moved to NZ... It's a fantastic comment to diffuse frustration, and maybe even gain a little sympathy.

Our first task for the tour was a 12km Individual Time Trial. I set off at my allocated time and had real difficulty getting into a rhythm (a lot of other riders said afterwards they had the same trouble). It was a surprisingly hilly course for a time trial and I struggled to stay seated and my legs just didn't feel like they were firing on all cylinders. I ended up knocking it out in 21min 35sec at an average of nearly 32km/hr, which I thought didn't seem too bad. I not a great road racer, but it doesn't mean I don't put my all into it, and I was pretty disappointed when I saw the results and I was right at the bottom of the rankings. Having said that, my time was probably within 40secs of most of the bottom half of the field, so it wasn't way out of the ballpark, and I didn't have disc wheels or a funny-shaped helmet, either (which I am told can account for up to 30 seconds!).

Afternoon time came and we had an 85km road race to tackle. I was feeling really wasted by the time we lined up for our roll-out, probably from the drive the evening before, but once we got moving, I came right. I sat quite comfortably in the bunch, rotating through. We had four laps of the circuit to do before moving off the circuit and finishing on a hill climb. By lap two, I was feeling quite good, and there was this spot on the course where there was a sharp left hand turn followed by a short, sharp climb. I happened to be positioned at the front of the pack and just dropped the hammer a little up the climb and gave it a bit of stick, then I looked behind me to see why no one had rolled through next to me and I had a good 100m on the peloton... I had just instigated an attack!!! COOL! I didn't want it to go to waste, so I dug in for a bit and got out to about 200-300m before they started reeling me in... I must admit, it felt fantastic been right out there ahead of the bunch. It was a pretty good confidence booster. The peloton finally reeled me in, but I doubt they were very happy with my antics... I had just made them chase me on an attack that actually had no real tactical advantage, asides from maybe dropping a couple of riders off the back. As we came through to the sprint prime, I was feeling a bit cocky and tried to go again and take the sprint points. This was where my lack of understanding of road racing came into play... I went way too early for the sprint and got caught right on the line (although I took the 4th place sprint points, which was pretty cool... I've never taken sprint points before!). I contested the sprint so bloody hard that I just had nothing left in me, and as the course took a left turn up another climb, the peloton taught me a lesson and attacked the climb... I had nothing left to give after the sprint and I got dropped. I still had two laps left to go. I was on my own and it really was my own fault for being a cheeky little smart-arse, so I just had to dig in and do the best I could. To be honest, I was initially really angry at myself for doing something so stupid. The move had cost me any chance of a decent GC ranking. As I continued to push on, though, I was actually setting a really good pace by myself. I could see the bunch in the distance and after another lap, they had only gained 4mins on me, which was encouraging, and although I got dropped, I felt I had achieved something on the ride for the day, not to mention I was still feeling quite strong and was having a great training session. As I reached the last turn towards the final climb, I picked off another rider who had also been dropped. The climb to the finish line was pretty brutal, but I felt ok at the end (not brilliant, but not crap). I finished only 11mins behind the bunch that had dropped me 45km beforehand and had actually picked up four GC placings. I was quite pleased that, given how hot it was, and I was by myself for half the distance, I still managed to hold my own quite well. It was a great training day for Cape Epic... It is better to have gone hard and lost than never to have gone hard at all...

I woke up on day two feeling pretty good. This is actually a really common theme for me on multi-day races, which is highly encouraging. First up we had a 77km road race and after a police escort through town to the start line again, we were off. The lap today was quite short with a KOM prime and a sprint prime. It was undulating with numerous short, sharp climbs, which made it a good course to attack on. The pace off the start line was pretty brisk and as we made our way around the first lap, it was looking like the bunch would break up pretty early. After contesting that sprint in yesterday afternoon's stage, I was pretty keen to have another shot at a couple of sprints today (I had obviously developed an aptitude for sprinting somewhere along the line this year!). As we hit the flag for the first sprint prime, I found myself way at the back of the pack and a bit under-prepared for it, but I jumped at it anyway and made my way at quite a pace down the left hand side of the bunch hugging the edge of the tarseal dangerously close in the process. I was surprised at the pace at which I passed the bunch and pulled myself into 4th in the sprint just as we hit the line. The pace I had come through with was enough that it catapulted me off the front of the pack before I sat up and rejoined them... It was actually a really cool feeling contesting the sprint, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I had enjoyed it (maybe something for me to look at more seriously next year?). I looked forward to the next sprint prime on lap 3, but unfortunately, I ended up being dropped by then and didn't get the opportunity to contest it. As I settled back into the bunch, I felt my legs recovered well from the sprint. I was, however, finding it hard to maintain the full pace of the bunch for long periods of time. They set a pretty hot pace the first couple of laps (I am told the pace backed off a bit on the third lap... A bit too late for me) and when one of the girls attacked and the bunch chased her (being one of the higher GC riders), the whole pack splintered into pieces. There were a few riders well off the back and myself and two other riders sprinting our guts out to get back on. One girl made it back on (and actually went on to win the stage!), but I didn't quite make it. I had set out to stay with the bunch today and I had played well so far, so I was pretty disappointed. Regardless, I put my head down and pushed on at a good pace. The other rider just behind me joined me, but she wasn't very interested in working too hard at the front and seemed more interested in riding alongside me having a chat, which I found a bit frustrating. Even after 10km, we could still see the pack 500m-1km ahead, and I couldn't help but think if I had been with a rider that had a slightly better work ethic, we may have even got back on to the bunch. On the 4th lap, we picked up another rider who had been dropped after a mechanical, and I was back in business with her. The other girl fell off the back of us not long after... We worked really well together and she was keen to work hard even though we may not get back onto the pack. She was pretty complimentary of my riding and told me I rode really strong up front for long periods of time (she even suggested I was maybe a good time-trialler, to which I told her she should look at the previous morning's results before putting money on that!). I all fairness, I did belt out some pretty hard time up front working for both of us, but she was pretty quick to recognise this and told me to take the placing ahead of her at the finish line, which didn't make much difference to the results, but was a nice gesture. In the end, after spending 50km out of the bunch, we were only about 10min behind the main pack when they finished, which was a pretty solid effort.

The thing I was finding frustrating in this race was that I was able to push out good efforts for long periods of time, and super fast efforts for short periods of time, but seemed to lack that middle ground of fast pace for medium periods of time to stay with the pack at the time of an attack. It may have just been fatigue (as I was training through the race) or it could be a training gap that I need to get to work on. It was especially noticeable on the afternoon's stage in the criterium. The pace was pretty hot off the mark and I barely clung on to the back of the pack for the majority of the time I was with them. One thing I struggled with was maintaining speed out of the corners, so I would be with the pack, take a corner, then have to sprint to catch the bunch again before the next corner. The final straight into the sprint line/finish line was on an incline (which didn't look like much, but was bloody hard work at the pace we were maintaining) and there was also this terrible swirling wind that seemed to make it's way around the course as a headwind the whole way around, so basically, once you were of the back of the bunch, you were stuffed. I stayed with the bunch for a good 15min until our second sprint lap, and it was the sprint lap that blew a few of us off the back. I was hoping to keep up a reasonable enough pace to not get lapped out (thought I was hallucinating when I saw a lycra-clad male fairly following the course on his mountain bike), but ended up getting lapped after 30min, with 2 laps to go (disappointing!).

I was actually pretty happy with how I went over the weekend. I put in a couple of gutsy calls, which I enjoyed, and it was a great weekend of training. I would have loved to have stuck with the bunch a little better, but hey, that's just life on the road. I actually reckon that next year, I might like to work my training around peaking for the Bev May Tour and see if I could do something a bit more productive results-wise with it... But I think I might get Cape Epic and 24 Hour Solo World Champs ticked off first before I worry about that!

There's still a couple of aspects of my riding that I hope to get some work in on before I head off overseas, but to be honest, I think the most important thing to me over the next month will be getting enough rest and looking after myself. The last couple of weeks have felt like a monster hill that I'm still climbing. There's a lot more than training. I still need to put in 100% at my job, I have finances to organise, and a huge "to do" list before I go, and things don't always go as I had planned or as smoothly as I think they should. It's being hard work, but I'm nearly at the top. The thing I like most about climbing hills is that you get to see the view at the top. I suppose you could look at that in a metaphorical sense, too... We climb and climb and work hard for months and years on end to eventually end up at the top and enjoy the view... The result of all that hard training. I guess at the moment, I'm at that point where I'm in the hurt box, with beads of sweat and tears streaming down the side of my face, and I can see the crest of the hill... All I have to do is get up out of the saddle and put in a final, significant effort to enjoy the view at the top and know that I climbed that hill with everything I had... And I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to see when I get there... The sun rising over the mountains on my next big adventure...

1 comment:

  1. Rule 20 is literally arse-backwards, if you think about it. Great Rule V action though, Megan. All this is experience in the bank, and I'm sure it will be of use down the road. Keep it rolling, Oli