martes, 21 de junio de 2016

L'Etapa de la Defonce 2016 (my first stage race)

Joe, Tom, Javier and Lawrence

Tom steps on the pedals and there we go. I'm racing my first ever team time trial alongside with Joe, Tom and Lawrence (I think it is the first one also for them).

Everything happens fast, we are pedaling full speed up hill and I can hardly sustain the pace. It took me 30 seconds to realize I had not started the Garmin, I was too worried about breathing and pedaling fast.

Joe pases Tom and takes the lead, things get worst for me. He is strong and is pushing hard. I realize I'm next on the line, very soon I'll have to face the head wind.

Not sure how I knew it was my turn. If Joe had made a sign with his elbow I certainly missed it. I don't even know what I was looking at, all I know is my brain was not processing what my eyes were seeing. That takes energy and I'm pretty sure all my energy was being used in turning the pedals.

When I magically decided it was my time I took the lead pretending to have everything under control.  "Don't worry fellas, I'll take it from here" an external observer might have been tricked to think. Far from true. As soon as I was in the front I realized the head wind was stronger than I thought, the ramp steeper than it looked and my capacity to sustain the power I was pushing was limited to a few more seconds. I started to internally cry for someone to take over.

I guess it was Lawrence who came to the rescue; but I was already in trouble. My power was decreasing rapidly and that little jump you have to make to join the tail of the group didn't look that little anymore. It was only 2 minutes into the team time trial and I feared I was going to be dropped. 

And in fact I almost was. A gap opened, not very big, just a couple of meters, but it was there. And the only reason it didn't grow bigger was because the road leveled and whoever was in the front slowed down a bit (a little tiny bit I have to say) and looked back to check if we were all on.  That was the fraction of a second that allowed me to connect. Someone shouted "we're on" and there I was at the limit again.

If this were an american film, I would have gone through my limits to find an unknown source of energy that would allow me to not only sustain but increase my power. And do that in such a way that I would take the lead and power the rest of the time trial with some epic music sounding on our ears while time keepers would be amazed with our performance as we crossed the line in slow mo.

The reality was that in the flat section that came I skipped a turn and took the opportunity to adjust my Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) from "There is not enough air in the universe" to "I could shout a word if I need to", which, by the way, it is a huge improvement in RPE.

And this was good because both the downhill section and my turn to get to the front (again) were approaching. I'll be honest; despite being a bit recovered I didn't went all out in the downhill section. It was a fast descend but the head wind meant you had to keep pedaling if you wanted to gain speed and I just wanted to recover a bit more.

My colleagues passed me, we approached the roundabout, mini sprint to get out of it and soon enough we faced the last climb. Joe in the front, then me, then Lawrence and finally Tom.

Joe set a pace that I immediately identified as more than challenging. I shouted "steady" with one of my last controlled exhalations. Joe eased a bit but I new that was not enough, I was not going to be able to sustain that pace for the rest of the climb. The problem was I was out of breath already.

The bell came to save me when Lawrence shouted from behind. Joe loaded an easier gear, upped his cadence a little bit and the result was a pace I was able to sustain (just).

Lawrence was struggling and Tom was shouting to Joe to slow down. I think I shouted something like "we are almost there". Well intentioned but almost useless in these circumstances, specially if you consider it was clearly not true.

I hope it was not my shout what ended up demoralizing Lawrence but the fact is a few seconds after I have said my words he hit his limit and asked us to carry on without him.

That meant troubles for me; without him pacing us I crossed the line from "I'm surviving" to "I'm dying here" in a fraction of a second. By the time we we finishing the climb I was again about to blow up and, again, I was saved by the bell.

The road was now slightly downhill and we were riding at full speed. Tom shouted, I think Joe shouted something as well, even the motorbike driver that was following us shouted asking us to go for the final push. I didn't shout, I had enough with trying to follow Tom and Joe in their sprints.

I crossed the line a fraction of second behind them; 18 minutes 11 seconds after the Go! that precipitated this carrousel of feelings.

I waited for Lawrence and when we got the four together I remember feeling very, very, very happy about our performance. It was only the second time we rode together and I thought we coordinated reasonably well. Sure we were not the fastest, in fact we soon met Paul and Colin from Paceline and they told us they rode it in 17:30 but that didn't change my perception. It is very strange how as soon as we finished I felt relieved and saw everything from the positive side. I was really happy.

52nd out of 84 after the first stage
My first stage in Strava

We finished the first stage around 10:15 and the second stage was starting at 13:30. That meant we had some time to recover, eat and prepare for the second act. At 13:15 we were briefed by the commissaries and at exactly 13:00 the race started with a neutralized section.

A short one because as soon as we were out of Cowbridge the lead car accelerated and we were racing. That was around the same point where the TTT had started earlier in the morning and that meant the race started uphill with the first prime less than 3km away.

You can imagine what happened next, the pace spiked suddenly and I struggled to keep up. I was moving backwards, everyone was passing me. But I didn't panic, I knew this ramp was short and I was not going to be dropped. I recited to myself my mantra for the occasion "I wasn't dropped here, I'll do well".

The ramp finished and I was still in the bunch, time to move up. Because that is what I was conscious all the time in this stage, where I was in the bunch. I constantly was trying to be near the front. Not easy because I probably don't ride aggressively enough but I was using the bunch to protect me from the wind and so it was easier to move towards the front.

Soon enough came the "climb". In all fairness it is not a proper climb, it is more like a series of short ramps that all combined form a section of around 10km uphill. Still the peloton attacked it at full speed and I had to put all I had to keep up with the pace.

And I did. And as soon as we finished the climb I reminded myself, "I wasn't dropped here, I'll do well". And the way of making sure I'd do well was to make a mental note of this climb to make sure I was well positioned in the following lap.

Being near the front means you are always near Paul, Colin and Sam from Paceline. They seem to be always well positioned and always attentive to what is happening on the race. Took another mental note reminding myself to try to be close to them.

Soon I recognized the road we were riding. It was the road from our hotel to Cowbridge. That was good news because that meant I then knew what was left out of the first lap and that I then knew all the route with the only exception of the (uphill) final straight.

We started the second lap with the ramp that started the TTT and the first lap but this time it didn't felt that hard. In fact I was climbing faster than the majority of the peloton without needing to push me to the limit.

When the real "climb" came I was sitting fifth or sixth wheel and climbing well within my capabilities. That can only mean the peloton had slowed down in the second lap but I was not the one that was going to complain.

I also saw Sam from Paceline at the front. He was climbing very well, in fact he was one of the riders contributing to push up the pace a bit. I missed his movement but he later told me as soon as the road flattened he found himself ahead of the peloton with another rider on his wheel. They pushed on, caught a rider that was ahead and formed a breakaway of three. Now that I know this stage route I think that is the best moment to try to get away from the peloton; just after the top of the climb in the second lap. I think he played it very well from the tactical point of view.

I missed his movement because as the climb finished I, and all the peloton, took a few seconds to recover and lost the focus on what was going on at the front. In any case I was very happy at that point, "I wasn't dropped here, I'll do well". With the second climb out of the way it was time to get ready to the final part of the stage. That was the same section we had ridden at the TTT extended with 1.5km climb that I didn't know.

As soon as we entered the ramp to the A48 I saw Joe crashing on the left hand side. A rider went down in front of him and he couldn't avoid the crash. It didn't look bad but I felt really sorry for him. He is very strong and I'm sure he would have done very well in this uphill finish.

It looked to me that no one wanted to set the pace up this ramp. I guess everyone was thinking of conserving energy for the final rush. The flat section came and I was near the front.

In the descend to the roundabout I saw Sam and another rider on the other side of the road. Then is when I realized he was in a breakaway (I later learnt the third breakaway rider had missed the last turn and has been caught by the peloton earlier). I was really impressed he managed to stay away considering the speed at which the peloton had been moving.

We took the roundabout and started the climb (the same second climb we rode in the TTT). The peloton when a bit all over the place. Some riders going backwards, some riders sprinting to move quickly to the front. I, knowing the climb, ignored all those movements, set my own pace and focused on avoiding riders as I was passing them. I still had the opportunity to see Joe descending at the other side of the road. I felt happy for him, that meant the crash was not serious; sure he would lose some time, but he was still on the race.

As I was topping the climb Paul passed me on the left and say a word of encouragement. I jumped on his wheel as he was passing and we overtook a good number of rider as Paul was powering it on the flat with me stick to his wheel.

The descend came and we caught with Colin. The climb to the final line started. I didn't know this section so I figured trying to match Pauls and Colin's pace was a good target for me and that is exactly what I did. We crossed the line in the same group 44 seconds after the winner; I was given 32nd. I was really happy with my result.

Back to the HQ I found our team was not the luckier in this second stage. Lawrence had crashed and was a DNF. He was ok but still lots of cuts and brushes. Tom was caught by a gap at the back of the peloton at the beginning of the second lap and found himself chasing the peloton with a rider on his wheel for a whole lap. Despite all his efforts he ended up losing 15 minutes in the line. Joe had recovered from his crash yes, but ended up losing 3:52 in the line.

40th out of 84th in the GC after stage 2. I had moved up 12 places
My second stage in Strava

Sunday didn't start very well. First it was raining. Then, when we were to get our bicycles out of the car we found out that Joe's frame was broken and unsafe to be ridden. That was really disappointing; he crashed, he now was out of the race and he had a broken frame.

It then was Tom and myself the only two wheelers for the third and final stage. 70k with 900m of climbing. As we said, just a club run at K0.5

Very diligently I had put a note in my frame with the kms for each climb. I was prepared but I also was pretty sure of what was going to happen. The bunch was going to stay together until the first climb. That first climb would be climbed all out and groups would be formed but those groups would not merge again. To be honest I had not much faith on me holding it in the front in that first climb.

We rode the 10k from the hotel to the HQ and the excellent news were my legs were feeling great. It was like if I were totally recovered. I wasn't feeling any tiredness from the two stages the day before. That, surely, should have been my brain tricking me but it was a great feeling.

The stage started and the rain kept falling. It was not cold and it was not raining a lot but just enough to make everything more challenging.

My glasses were fogged half of the time. I didn't want to take them out because I wouldn't see anyway with the rain and the spray from the road on my eyes. The notes I had in my frame were mostly useless because I couldn't read my Garmin. At some point I thought I have to buy a new, better, pair of glasses. The ones I have are the cheapest I found at Decathlon (9€ if I remember correctly) and I'm pretty sure there should be glasses that perform better in these circumstances.

In any case I did very well getting my gel well before the first climb and making sure I was in the front when it started. Not that it helped much. With only 25km in the legs it took me a while to find my own pace and I felt like the whole peloton was passing me.

I still managed to climb at a very decent pace according to my capabilities so I won't complain. In fact as soon as we hit the top of the climb I started to pass riders. Tom had finished just a bit ahead of me and I was trying to catch up with him.

Descending this first climb I saw Sam on the right hand side of the road. He was looking at his bicycle. I figured he had crashed but he looked all right to me. The descend was fast and wet so I'm not surprised some crashes happened.

The second climb came and this time it was easier to me to set my own pace. I was starting to feel great and actually I was enjoying the stage (why I was actually enjoying a hilly stage on a rainy day when I had been dropped is beyond me?).

Another fast descend and a group was formed. Almost automatically we started to work together taking turns. Tom and myself did our share.

The problem was that part of the route was not very good to ride fast as a group, too many turns and roundabouts. In fact very soon came the third climb and there we all were on our own.

In the fourth climb I saw ahead of us a group of riders and I figured that if I could bridge to them I could gain some time. As I felt I had good legs I pushed it a bit and got away from my group.

What a great feeling when climbing you leave your group behind!!

Still my movement was a bit of a nonsense. I couldn't bridge quickly and soon I found myself in no man's land. I gave it a few seconds to consider what to do, easy up and wait for the group or keep pushing and waste energy? Against my logical mind I opted for keep pushing.

Luck played in my favor. In the descend a couple of riders caught with me from behind (I'm a crap descender) and the riders in front of us slowed down for a traffic light before realizing a marshall was retaining the traffic for them. Those seconds they slowed down allowed us (me, the two riders that had caught up with me in the descend and the rest of the group that was coming from behind) to catch up with them and a group or around 20 riders formed.

With all the hills passed it was clear for me that this group was going to finish together. I was very happy because Tom was also in the group and we both were riding well compared to the rest. In fact after the stage we commented that we both felt the group was riding too slow in the climbs.

When we entered the A48 Lawrence and Joe passed our group in the car. As they passed they waved at us and we saw them. It was great to see they were involved in following the race.

The group was speeding up as we were approaching the final ramp to the line. This is the same final ramp as in stage 2 so I didn't worry about what the others were doing. I knew the climb and I knew how I was going to climb it.

Still I found myself pretty much at the front of the group climbing at my own pace. A few riders sprinted but most of them were, like me, just riding a pace they could constantly sustain. I ended up crossing the line the 6th of that group of 18 riders. 36th in the stage, 8:15 after the winner. Not a result to be proud of but I was really, really, really happy with it. It was a great result for me.

Final result 36th out of 84. 10:06mins behind the winner
My third stage in Strava

Tom and Javier, two happy L'Etape de la Defonce finishers
Overall this has been a great experience. I loved every minute of it. Spending time Joe, Tom and Lawrence was great; we had a relaxed and fun atmosphere that helped to deal with all the bad luck we had as a team.

Now the problem with this great experiences is I always want to repeat them. In particular once I know the stages and knowing they are the same year after year I would like to have another go preparing more specifically for it. The only problem is this weekend, third weekend of June, is Quebrantahuesos weekend and that takes priority for me. But in previous years this race was held in July, if next year it does not clash with the Quebrantahuesos (or if I don't get a place at the Quebrantahuesos) I'll ride L'Etape de la Defonce and I'll do better. You can bet on that.

Take care
Javier Arias González

miércoles, 8 de junio de 2016

Milan San Remo 2016 (Mi primer monumento)

6:45 de la mañana y ahí estamos preparados para la salida. Soy yo y un puñado de Kingston Wheelers y dos Paceline. Estamos a punto de empezar la Milan San Remo en el primer grupo. ¡¡Mola!!

No se me ve, pero estoy por ahí en el fondo
A las 7:00 nos dan la salida y empezamos a rodar. Enciendo mi Garmin y por alguna razón que no entiendo decide tomarse unos minutos para encender lo que quiere decir que a la grabación de la ruta le faltarán unos kilómetros al comienzo.

Pero, vamos, nada realmente importante. El comienzo fue, como era de esperar, rápido, pero nada loco. Siempre hay un tanto de lucha por estar lo más adelante posible desde el kilómetro 0 pero nada grave. Enseguida nos encontramos en plena carretera con un coche y un par de motos protegiendo nuestro grupo de unos 200 ciclistas (otros tres grupos empezarían a las 7:10, 7:20 y 7:30).

Rodábamos a unos 35km/h, una velocidad que es muy fácil de aguantar cuando se rueda en grupo por carreteras llanas. De hecho más que la velocidad el reto era la concentración constante en tratar de prevenir que harían los ciclistas que tenía alrededor. Uno se imagina que si te apuntas a rodar 300km a toda velocidad sabrás como rodar en grupo, y así era para la mayoría del pelotón, pero sólo hace falta un ciclista que no sepa lo que hace para sembrar el caos; in nuestro grupo había más de dos o tres.

No hay mucho que contar de las dos primeras horas más allá de que yo sentí la necesidad de parar a mear.

Empecé a preocuparme porque parar a mear significa perder contacto con el grupo y en vez de rodar a 35km/h mientras silbas tendría que rodar sólo en el medio de una carretera totalmente llana y sin protección al viento, poco y que entraba de lado, pero viento. En esas condiciones mantener 35km/h de manera sostenida no es precisamente fácil.

Vi un par de ciclistas meando en marcha, como los profesionales. Yo nunca lo había intentado, pero de repente me pareció una idea genial. Podría mear y no perder contacto con el pelotón. Perfecto, pensé, voy a intentarlo.

Me situo en la parte delantera derecha del pelotón para así poder mear sin molestar al resto de ciclistas y poder perder posiciones sin perder contacto con el pelotón. Me pongo en posición a mear y... Nada, ni una gota. No estoy seguro de si era la tensión por el miedo a caerme manejando la bicicleta sólo con la mano izquierda o el miedo a salpicarme todo pero el caso es que no pude mear.

Vuelvo a situarme como un ciclista normal, y aquí se demuestra mi compromiso con el reto aceptado; me sobrepongo a la vergüenza, me doy unos segundos para relajarme y lo vuelvo a intentar de nuevo... Desgraciadamente con el mismo resultado, ni una gota.

Rezando para que ninguno de los ciclistas del pelotón se haya dado cuenta de mis dos intentos evaluo mis opciones. Continuar sin mear no es opción. Tampoco estaba tan desesperado como para mearme encima. Parecía que parar a mear era la única opción viable.

Echo un vistazo a mi espada y veo que una cola larga de coches sigue al pelotón. Pienso que si paro y soy ágil satisfaciendo mis necesidades fisiológicas podría aprovechar los coches para moverme entre ellos y volver al pelotón. Se acabaron las dudas, en cuanto veo un buen sitio me paro a la derecha y me pongo a lo mío.

¡Coño que rápido desapareció el pelotón! Creo que desaparecieron de mi vista antes de que yo derramase la primera gota. Venga a pasar coches, venga a pasar coches ¡Que angustia! Se acaban los coches y todavía estaba yo meando. Tardé un minuto y trece segundos. Me había quedado totalmente sólo en medio de la nada. La situación se complicaba.

Pero justo cuando estaba acabando vi que venía Mark a toda leche gritando "vamos Javier, vamos". Monté en la bici lo más rápido que pude y apreté para tratar de alcanzarle. Sabía que a relevos con Mark podría volver al pelotón, estaba salvado.

Me costó alcanzarlo, de hecho tuvo que aflojar él. Nos pusimos a darnos relevos y en tres minutos ya estábamos al final de la cola de coches. También en ese momento vimos otros ciclistas que se incorporaban a la carretera desde sus respectivas paradas fisiológicas. Enseguida formamos un grupo de seis o siete. La cosa tenía ya mejor pinta. Aun así me llevó 7 minutos 30 segundos de esfuerzo el volver al pelotón. Tiempo de perderse en el medio y relajarse un poquito.

No parece muy profesional, pero tiene justo ls información que necesitaba
El siguiente punto que tenía en mis notas era el km120. Allí había un puesto de avituallamiento pero yo no tenía planes de parar, llevaba conmigo todos los geles que iba a necesitar y tenía pensado hacerme la ruta entera sin parar más que a coger agua (y mear). Lo que era importante del km120 es que empezaba la subida más larga y dura del día. Unos kilómetros antes me coloqué en la parte delantera del pelotón. Había estado observando a los ciclistas que iban en el pelotón y estaba seguro que muchos de ellos se quedarían atrancados con las primeras rampas del 10%.

Entramos en una pequeña ciudad, un par de rotondas y un giro brusco hacia la izquierda demostraron que mi movimiento había sido muy inteligente, cuando empezó la subida estaba perfectamente colocado entre los 10 primeros del grupo. Paul estaba unos pocos metros delante de mi y yo sabía que sería una referencia perfecta para marcarme el ritmo de la subida.

No tardó mucho en aparece Rupert por detrás. Se puso a mi altura y rodamos juntos por un par de segundos, lo suficiente para intercambiar unas pocas palabras de ánimo mutuo en medio del esfuerzo y poco a poco me fue adelantando. Hizo lo mismo con Paul, le alcanzó, rodó con él unos segundos y luego le adelantó. Menudo espectáculo ver como sube el amigo Rupert.

En medio de la subida llego un llano y los tres casi nos juntamos pero en el mismo momento que la carretera se volvió a inclinar Rupert volvió a abrir hueco y yo me iba quedando poco a poco detrás de Paul. Estaba controlando mi ritmo magníficamente, pero algo me preocupaba...

Necesitaba parar a mear.

Si, ya lo se. Habían pasado sólo dos horas desde que había tenido que parar a mear. Será que mi vejiga es pequeña, será que mis riñones trabajan demasiado, será la razón que quieres que sea, pero yo tenía que parar a mear.

Tan pronto como coronamos me paré. Rupert y Paul habían desaparecido de mi vista pero sabía que no estaban muy por delante. Mientras meé por un interminable minuto y veinte segundos me daba cuenta que mis posibilidades de alcanzarles desaparecían.

Como pasó con mi primera parada a mear apareció Mark. Esta vez no había acabado por lo que él siguió su camino dejándome sólo.

Al poco apareció un control de avituallamiento, este sólo con líquidos (sin comida). Paré a rellenar un bidón (el otro no lo había tocado todavía). Mark estaba allí parado pero parecía que iba a tomárselo con calma por lo que le avisé que yo seguía camino.

Yo no es que sea un gran bajador, y una de las razones por las que lo se es porque me adelantaron 9 ciclistas en esa bajada. Y los 9 desaparecieron por delante a pesar de mis esfuerzos por seguir su estela. Lo curioso es que nada más que llegamos al llano enseguida fue evidente que yo rodaba más rápido que ellos. Los alcancé y saltaron todos a mi rueda como posesos.

7 de esos ciclistas eran todos del mismo equipo/club italiano, el otro era un italiano, su maillot tenía el logo de la PBP2015 por lo que asumí que habría terminado la PBP. El otro era un francés. Solo el italiano de la PBP quería entrar a los relevos, pero sus relevos eran más bien flojitos. Tarde unos buenos minutos en darme cuenta que de seguir haciendo yo la mayoría del trabajo acabaría quemándome y quedaba mucha ruta por delante. Decidí que lo mejor era descolgarme a la cola del grupo y esperar a que nos adelantase otro grupo más rápido.

Rodando a la cola del grupo me di cuenta de lo que pasaba. El grupo italiano rodaba a unos 30km/h sin relevos organizados, en una especie de anarquía que servía para mantener el grupo en marcha, pero que no era eficiente. Les daba soporte una moto que rodaba detrás de nosotros en la moto un conductor y un pasajero; cuando uno de los del grupo necesitaba algo levantaba la mano y la moto se adelantaba poniéndose a su altura para pasarle un bidón, un gel o lo que fuese.

Voy a hacer un inciso para comentar que me pareció que la gente iba super preparada a esta marcha. Había un montón de "domestiques" a la vera de la carretera pasando comida, bidones y recogiendo ropa de los ciclistas. Un montón de ciclistas tiraban los envoltorios de sus geles a la cuneta, incluso sus bidones vacíos. Incluso dos ciclistas que llevaban el maillot de Bélgica recibían soporte desde una furgoneta. En un momento dado la furgoneta se puso en paralelo con el pelotón, ocupando el carril contrario de la carretera, para pasarles geles y bidones a esos dos ciclistas para que así no tuviesen que bajar a la cola del pelotón a por ellos. Yo alucinaba con semejante proyecto fallido de pros-wannabe.

Venga, de vuelta a mi grupo de italianos. Estaba yo a la cola del grupo cuando llegamos al km185 y decidieron parar en el avituallamiento que allí había. El italiano de la PBP siguió rodando, el francés siguió rodando y yo seguí rodando. Ahora éramos tres. Hablamos un poco (ahí fue donde me enteré que uno era italiano y el otro francés) y acordamos darnos relevos.

Claro que rápidamente me di cuenta que era yo el que estaba haciendo la mayor parte del trabajo. Por suerte para mi no pasó mucho tiempo antes de que oyese a alguien gritar mi nombre. Miré hacia atrás y vi aparecer al séptimo de caballería al rescate. Un grupo de unos 15 ciclistas encabezado por el tren de los Kingston Wheelers (Dai, Richard, Mark B, Mark H y TY) nos estaba alcanzando.

No os podéis hacer una idea de lo contento que me puse cuando les vi. Sabía que un pelotón liderado por los Kingston Wheelers rodaría bien. Nos conocemos muy bien, hemos rodado juntos en rutas a un ritmo parecido para prepararnos para esta Milan San Remo. Sabemos como darnos relevos de acuerdo a las fuerzas de cada uno, no damos tirones pero mantenemos un ritmo considerablemente más alto (unos 35km/h) que el que tenían los italianos (30km/h) no me extraña que nos alcanzasen por detrás.

Me tomé cinco minutos para descansar en medio del pelotón y tomarme un gel y una vez recuperado pasé a la cabecera del grupo para colaborar con mis colegas. El italiano de la PBP y un ¿aleman? también entraron a colaborar, el resto del pelotón a cola del tren. Eso era ciclismo en su máxima expresión. Rodando a buena velocidad por la costa de riviera italiana (preciosa), una climatología perfecta, con tus colegas, ¿qué más se puede pedir?

Mantuvimos la formación hasta que llegamos a una serie de pequeñas colinas. El alemán, Dai y yo subíamos a buen ritmo, pero el resto del pelotón se quedaba. En el km247, en la cima de la antepenúltima subida había un avituallamiento. Yo rellené los bidones, el resto todavía estaba subiendo, le dije a Dai que yo iba a tirar, el dijo que tiraba conmigo. En la bajada TY y Richard nos alcanzaron. Ahora éramos 4.

Rodamos juntos hasta el comienzo de la Cipressa, la penúltima subida. Nada más empezar a subir nos quedamos solos Dai y yo. Nos dábamos relevos en la subida diciéndonos el uno al otro "a ritmo, a ritmo". Me lo pasé genial en esa subida. Es una de esas ocasiones en las que a pesar de llevar 260km en las piernas te encuentras bien, estás rodando sin llegar a tu límite, en buena compañía, disfrutando de una subida preciosa.

Nada más empezar el descenso Dai se me escapó por delante. No era capaz de seguirle bajando. Y mira que yo pensaba que estaba bajando rápido, nada de locuras, pero razonablemente rápido. Pues aun así el hueco no hacía más que crecer y crecer. Cuando acabé el descenso le vi en la distancia. Calculé que si mantenía un ritmo constante le alcanzaría en la subida al Poggio, sabía que tenía buenas piernas por lo que con toda la calma del mundo me tomé el último gel.

Entonces llegué a una rotonda. La señal no dejaba claro que salida tenía que tomar. Dudé un instante y me decidí por la salida de la derecha. Inmediatamente empecé a subir. Había subido unos 150 metros cuando vi a Dai bajando. Me preguntó si estaba seguro de que estábamos en la ruta correcta. Yo no lo estaba.

Perdidos por unos metros (cuesta arriba)
Dai hizo un giro de 180 grados en la rotonda y se unió a mi en la subida. Cuando llegamos a la siguiente rotonda yo ya estaba convencido de que esa no era la ruta. Lo comentamos y dimos un giro de 180 grados para volver por donde habíamos subido hasta llegar a la rotonda original.

Dai iba por delante y vimos a Richard a lo lejos. Obviamente él no se había equivocado de salida en la rotonda anterior. Aun así le cogimos con bastante rapidez. Nos contó que TY iba por detrás.

Rodamos los tres juntos pero enseguida vino el giro a la derecha que marca el comienzo de la subida al Poggio (km280). Yo me encontraba genial y no quería que Dai me descolgase en el descenso por lo que le dije "yo voy a tirar, ya me pillarás en el descenso". Me levanté sobre la bici, y puse ritmo de samba. Como siempre pasa cuando te encuentras bien y estás en una subida que no conoces el ritmo que me puse era demasiado rápido y más o menos a mitad de subida tuve que reajustarlo para que no se me saliese el corazón por la boca. Aun así acabé coronando el Poggio en un tiempo muy decente (menos de 10 minutos).

Apreté en la bajada todo lo que pude, pero aun así Dai me alcanzó justo al final de la bajada. Juntos rodamos el último kilómetro. En la última rotonda Dai iba por delante y, a pesar de las señales de uno de los voluntarios, tomo la salida incorrecta. Yo al ir por detrás tuve más tiempo para pensar y tome la salida correcta por lo que me quedé sólo en la recta a meta.

Entré pedaleando tranquilamente con un tiempo de 8h:48:57.

66 de 714 no está mal para una meona
Enseguida via a Pat y a Paul que estaban en un banco al poco de pasar la línea de llegada y allí nos fuimos concentrando a medida que íbamos llegando.

Todavía faltan algunos Wheelers por llegar
Al final acabé muy contento. Rodar la Milan San Remo con un grupo de amigos es una gran experiencia. De hecho todo el fin de semana estuvo genial. Por si fuera poco me encontré genial sobre la bici, siempre en control y acabando fuerte. Aun así no creo que vuelva a hacer la Milan San Remo. Es una ruta demasiado poco exigente (300km pero sólo 2.300m de desnivel) que favorece demasiado el rodar en grupo.

La ruta en Strava

A cuidarse
Javier Arias Gonzalez

lunes, 6 de junio de 2016

Milan San Remo 2016 (my first monument)

6:45 and we are ready and waiting for the start. It's me and a bunch of fellow Kingston Wheelers and two Paceline. We are about to start the Milan San Remo in the front group. Exciting.
I can't be seen but I'm somewhere in the back
At 7:00 we are given the ok to go and we start to roll. I turn on the Garmin and for some strange reason it took a few minutes to start. There it goes, my recording of the ride will be missing a few kilometres at the start.

Nothing really important though. The start was fast but not crazy, there is always a bit of a fight to be close to the front from km0 but it wasn't actually that bad. Soon enough we were on open roads with a car and a couple of bikes protecting our group of about 200 riders.

Speed was about 35km/h, very easy to sustain riding in a group. In fact more challenging than the speed was the constant focus needed on what the riders around me were doing. One would imagine that if you sign up to ride 300km at speed you'll have some decent group riding skills, and that was for most of the bunch, but it only takes one silly rider to create chaos and in our group there were more than two or three.

Nothing really happen in the first two hours apart from the fact that I needed a pee stop. I started to worry because stopping to pee would mean to loose the group and instead moving at 35km/h while whistling it would be working hard alone in the middle of a flat unprotected road.

I saw a few riders peeing on the go like the pros I never had try that but suddenly it looked like a great idea. I could pee and still not loose contact with the bunch. All perfect, I thought I would give it at try. Move myself towards the front right hand side of the bunch and put myself into position. Nothing happened. I'm not sure if it was the tension of being afraid of crashing managing the bike only with my left hand or the fear of spilling all over myself, but the fact is I couldn't pee.

Went back to normal riding position and here you can see how committed I was; managed to overcome my embarrassment, gave me a few seconds to relax and gave it a second go. Unfortunately with the same dry result.

Hoping that none of the riders in the peloton had realized my two attempts I evaluated my options. Continue without peeing was not an option and I wasn't desperate enough to consider peeing on myself an option. Stopping to pee seemed like the only option.

Had a look at the back of the bunch and a long queue of cars was following the peloton. I reckoned that if I was fast I could move back taking advantage of those cars. I saw a good spot and stopped on the right hand side of the road.

I was amazed how fast the group disappeared. I think they were out of sight before delivered the first drop. The cars passed and soon enough I was alone in the road and still entertained in my task. It took me one minute thirteen seconds to deliver. I knew I was screwed.

But when I was finishing I saw Mark coming and shouting "c'mon Javier, c'mon". I jumped on the bike as fast as I could and pushed as hard as I could. I knew working with Mark we would made it back, I was saved.

It took me a while to catch up with him, in fact he had to wait for me. We worked together for three minutes and we made it to the back of the cars queue. We also started to see other riders that were trying to come back from their own pee stops. Very quickly we were a group of six or seven. That looked much better. Still it took me around 7:30 to get back to the peloton. Time to sit in the middle and relax a bit.
Doesn't look very pro but enough info for me
Next/first point I had in my notes was km120. There was a feed station at that point but I had no plans to stop, I was carrying all the food I was going to need and my plan was to skip all food stops. What was important about km120 is it was the start of the climb so a few kilometers before I made sure I was well situated close to the front of the bunch. I had observed the riders I was riding with and I knew lots of them were going to go backwards as soon as we hit the first 10% ramps.

We entered a small town, a couple of small roundabouts and a sharp turn left to start the climb with a steep ramp proved my movement was a wise one. I was well positioned at the start of the climb. Paul was a few meters in front of me and I knew that was going to be a great reference to pace my climb.

Not very long Rupert appeared from the back. Got next to me, we rode together for a few seconds, enough to say something each other in the middle of the effort and slowly but surely he opened a gap. He did the same with Paul a few meters ahead of me. He was climbing really well.

Here came a flat section in the climb and the three of us got almost together but as soon as the climb resumed Rupert opened his gap and I lagged a bit behind Paul. I was pacing myself very well but I was worried...

I needed another pee stop.

Yes, I know. It was only two hours after my previous pee stop. It might be my bladder is small, my kidneys work too much or whatever reason you want to figure out but the fact was I had to stop. As soon as we reached the top of the climb I stopped. Rupert and Paul were out of sight but I knew they were not that far. While I was peeing for a long minute and twenty seconds I was realizing any chance of getting in contact with them was disappearing.

As with my first pee stop Mark appeared again. This time I had not finished so he went ahead and I found myself alone. Very soon I saw a feed station, they only had water but I stopped to fill one of my bidons, I hadn't touch the other yet. Mark was at the feed station but it looked as he was taking his time and my stop was literally seconds. I kept it going.

I'm not a good descender, and one of the reasons I know that is because in this descend 9 riders passed me and disappeared despite all my efforts to follow them. The good news were that as soon as we got to the flat it turned out I was riding faster than them so I caught them and very quickly moved to the front with the whole group on my wheel.

7 of the riders were from the same Italian group/team, the other one was an Italian, his jersey had the PBP2015 logo so I figured he was a PBP finisher. The other was a French rider. Only the PBP rider wanted to take turns on the front and those were not that strong. It took me a few minutes before I started to make mental calculations. We around km180 if they don't work with me I'm going to burn myself down, I decided it was better to sit at the back of the group and wait for a faster group passing us.

Waiting at the back of the group I realized what was going on. The Italian group was riding around 30km/h, they were not organized taking turns in the front, just a slight anarchy that kept the group moving. They were being supported by a motor bike with a driver and a passenger. When any of the riders needed anything they would raise their arm the motor bike would come from behind and would pass the rider a bidon, a gel or whatever.

Let me take the opportunity to say this was not the only opportunity I sensed people were over prepared for this ride. It was not uncommon to see "domestiques" on the side of the road handling "mousettes" or bidons with gels attached. I saw riders throwing gel wraps, even bidons, left and right. It was like half of the peloton was acting like if they were pros for a day. In fact worst than that, two riders wearing the Belgium national jersey were being supported from a van. At some point the van was in parallel with the peloton, taking the opposite line, passing bidons and gels to those two riders that couldn't bother to drop from the peloton to be fed. I was astonished, what a pair of pros-wannabe failures.

Anyway, back to my group of Italians. I was sitting in the back and not doing any work when we reached the feed station at km185 and they decided to stop. The PBP Italian kept riding and I kept riding, I looked back and I saw the French rider closing the gap to us. We were now three. We had a quick conversation (where I learnt from where they were from) and we agreed on working together.

The problem was it was quickly obvious I was doing most of the work. Luckily for me it wasn't long before I heard someone shouting my name. Locked back and I saw the 7th Cavalry to the rescue. A peloton of around 15 riders led by the Kingston Wheelers train (Dai, Richard, Mark B, Mark H and TY) was catching us.

You can't imagine how happy I was when I saw them. I knew a peloton led by us would work. We know each other well. We have ridden at similar pace in practice rides and we know how to take turns in the front according to our capabilities. Everything just works when you ride with your mates and I was over the moon, took five minutes to get a gel and rest a bit and soon enough joined forces to work in the group. The PBP Italian and a german? (strong) rider also helped with the work. That was cycling at its best. Riding at speed along the Italian Riviera coast, a perfect weather, with your mates, what else can you ask for?

We kept the formation until we hit a series of small climbs. The german rider, Dai and myself were climbing well but we were dropping the rest of the group. At km247, at the top of the antepenultimate climb there was a feed station I filled my bidons and told the rest I was going to keep it going. Dai said he was coming with me. In the descend TY and Richard joined us.

We rode together until the start of the Cipressa. As soon as the climb started it was just Dai and myself working together, telling each other "steady". I really enjoyed the climb. It is one of those occasions you are feeling well, you enjoy the company and the climb is beautiful.

As soon as we started the descend Dai opened a gap. I was unable to follow him. I thought I was descending fast, not doing anything crazy but reasonably fast, but the gap was growing and growing. When I finished the descend I saw him in the distance. I figured if I kept it steady I could catch him climbing the Poggio, I knew I had good legs so I relaxed a bit and got a final gel.

And then I got to a round about. The sign was not clear, I hesitated what exit to take and decided to take the one on the right. A climb started straight away. I had climbed around 150 meters and I saw Dai descending. He asked if I was sure this was the way. I wasn't.

He made a 180 turn in a roundabout and joined me in climbing to the next roundabout. By that time I was also thinking we were out of the route so we made a 180 turn in the second roundabout and went back to the original route.

Dai was leading the way and we saw Richard in the distance. He obviously took the right exit where Dai and myself went out of route. We caught up with him and he told us TY was behind. It wasn't long until we had to turn right; the climb to the Poggio started.

I was feeling great and I didn't want to be dropped in the descend again so I told Dai "I'm going to push it, you'll catch me in the descend" and off I went. Legs were feeling reasonable well and as always happens with a climb you don't know I probably started a bit too hard and half way through the climb I had to easy a bit to pace myself correctly. In any case managed to climb the Poggio at a very decent pace (less than 10 minutes!!).

Sure enough Dai caught me at the very end of the descend and together we were riding to the finish. He was leading the way and in the last roundabout, despite the signals of one of the marshals he managed to take the wrong exit!!!!!!

That let me alone softpedalling to cross the finish line with a time of 8h:48:57.

Very soon after the finish line I saw Pat and Paul and just there we all gathered as we were arriving.

MSR finishers
Overall I finished very happy. Riding MSR with a bunch of like minded friends is a great experience, in fact the whole weekend was great fun. I also felt very well riding, always in control and finishing strong.

The ride in Strava

Take care
Javier Arias Gonzalez