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

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