Saturday, August 17, 2019


     In terms of cycling, this was a colossal mistake!  It wasn't a disaster, so we'll call it a learning experience.   The trip itself included going up Pike's Peak and touring the Garden of the Gods and the Air Force Academy, specifically the chapel.  Chris and his family came for a week and enjoyed white water rafting and Pike's Peak.  My older brother from Smyrna, GA came to watch me race.  All good.  But, for this post, I'm relating only the cycling.
     Back up to last year.  I competed at the USAC Nationals in Augusta and came home with a third and fourth place so was quite pleased with my performance.  So much so I determined to give it another go this year.  One must guard against hubris.  I constructed an excellent plan to bring me to optimum form for the races.  This included arriving three weeks early to give my body time to adjust to the altitude, two weeks of hard work and a week of tapering.  What could go wrong!
      We arrived at 3 pm, settled into the Airbnb and in the evening did a short stroll in the neighborhood.  The next morning I hopped on the Cottonwood Trail, one of the myriad bike paths in and around Colorado Springs.  This was a "get acquainted" ride, just cruising around.  As it turned out, it was six miles downhill, turn around, six miles uphill.  Not steep.  Reality then smacked me in the face: my body doesn't like 6,500 feet.  My muscles weren't getting the oxygen they needed.  This dinky ride wiped me out.   
     The time trial course was forty-seven miles away, minor rolling, out and back. The road race course was at the Air Force Academy, 11.3 miles around, three laps. The criterium course was in a new subdivision, egg-shaped, with two minor big-ring inclines and 1.2 miles around.  My first practice ride consisted of a half-hour recon of the crit course, breakfast, then out to the AFA. I did two laps, struggled up the two-mile 4% grade, and barely made it up the shorter 8% one.  An hour and a half later I packed it in, went home and could do nothing for the rest of the day.  My game plan, so meticulously worked out, wasn't going to happen.  I simply couldn't put in the hard work needed.  Plan B: similar workouts, just not as hard nor as long.
     I took the next day off and we went sightseeing.  The following day I was back at the AFA trying to convince myself that the first time was an off day.  Nope.  Same thing, no push on the 4% grade and barely able to hold cadence on the 8%.  To be clear, the 4%er is over two miles long and had ramps up to 9% and the 8%er had a couple of double-digit ramps.  The third climb was short, but also had double-digits.  After that it was five miles of downhill before hitting the hills again.  Two laps and I was cooked.  The race is three laps for us old guys.
     The next day, Saturday, I was up early and went down to the TT course.  It is a dead-straight, slightly rolling country road.  I first drove the whole course then parked and did an abbreviated seven and a half mile recon on my TT bike.  Much better than the monster last year.  In all, I did three more days on the crit course, two more days riding the road race course, and two more days doing TT practice (although I did it on the AFA road rather than drive to the actual course).  That brings us to the actual racing.
     The time trial was the first competition and we arrived early because parking was going to be a problem.  Miraculously and thankfully, the rancher who lived at the start line volunteered his field for parking, so the competitors would be close to their vehicles for any needed supplies.  The weather was good, only a slight wind.  I did my normal warm-up and prepared to race.  It went off without a hitch, I felt good.  By this time I had resigned myself to a less-than-stellar performance, but still gave it my best shot.  My plan called for 22 mph, reality had me coming in at 19.9.  That was good enough for fifth place, which at Nationals is a podium finish.  I was pleased.
     A day off, then it was road race time.  I seriously considered skipping the race so as to have fresh legs for the criterium.  But I'd put in a lot of time all year preparing for this, so poor performance or not, I decided to see what happened.  The first two miles were slightly downhill with a tailwind (as was the finishing three miles), and I thought I was mid-pack, cruising along effortlessly.  As it turned out, I was at the back of the pack and when the road turned up, and I got dropped, there were only a few guys behind me.  Bummer!  Fortunately a slightly stronger guy passed and I latched on to his wheel and stayed there for the next two miles.  On the next hill I got a gap and really left him behind on the downhill.  Going over the next hill I didn't see him in my mirror, and then really got going on the five miles of downhill with the wind at my back.  I was by myself for the whole next lap and saw no one in my mirrors.  Strava indicates I was only two minutes slower on the second lap.  Going into the third time up the two mile hill I saw a rider in my mirror.  Pook! ding-fu!  He passed me rather easily, and was in my age group.  I wondered how such a strong rider had gotten behind me to start with.  Oh well!  I struggled on and got that hill over with.  Downhill then on to the next, harder one.  The legs were really toasted, but I felt good about my performance and looked forward to the downhill.  About half-way up the next, short hill a guy came  up on my left and said "I thought I'd never see you again."  I looked over and saw the guy who pulled me up the first lap and replied "I thought the same thing about you."  He then proceeded to put about ten yards into me as we crested the hill.  Not a problem, I'm faster than he is going down.  Well, he kept his position and we came to the last hill, which can be taken in the big ring.  He put another twenty yards into me.  The last three miles are downhill, with the wind at our backs.  I had a compact, he had 53 teeth.  No contest.
     No complaints.  I finished fifteen minutes faster than my projected time, finished stronger than anticipated, and finished eighth.  Not too shabby.  I was bummed that I'd been caught by a guy who'd been dropped on the first lap.  Strava shows I lost an additional two and a half minutes on the last lap so apparently he held his speed the whole way.  Still, better than not competing.
     The next day was the criterium.  I was looking forward to hanging in for at least twenty of the forty minutes.  This is a combined group with the younger guys (70-74).  For the first time in years, when the gun went off I couldn't get clipped in.  Three lost pedal strokes and I was behind almost everybody.  I frantically got moving, putting myself in the red and made up a little ground.  I found a wheel to follow and hung on.  As it turned out, it was the same guy who beat me yesterday.  All of my practice rounds had been in the morning and the wind wasn't a factor.  This was 2:00 pm and a fairly strong wind was in our face going up the two hills.  We had lost the peloton, but were ahead of at least one guy in our age group plus some older guys.  He continued to pull, I continued to suck wheel.  We picked up a younger guy, but rather than work with us, he would pull ahead going downhill and fall back going up.  He did this for four laps before falling back for good.
     On one of the laps I heard someone call out to us "Mike, you got forth place" or words to that effect.  Same thing on the next couple of laps.  In the back of my mind I'm still replaying getting caught from behind, so I made a decision.  I pulled up next to my benefactor and said that if he would drag me around the course to the end I wouldn't contest the finish.  Here was my calculation:  there isn't really much distinction between forth and fifth place, both get on the podium, plus I'm not really a cutthroat type of racer (different calculation if this were going to be for first place).  So he continued for the next four laps and we finished the race.
     Now the sad part:  his name is Charles, not Mike.  He didn't come in forth, he came in fifth, I came in sixth.  Again, I'm not second guessing myself.  He was the stronger rider, there was no way we could have caught up with the other guys, and it would have been futile for me to try to drop him.  I'll just have to get stronger/faster next year.  Of course, if Nationals is again in Colorado Springs, I'll pass.  I won't be racing at altitude again.

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