lunes, 30 de mayo de 2022

Racing up Sa Calobra

Kingston Wheelers training camp in Mallorca day 1. The plan was to have a race up Sa Calobra.

The handicaps were announced a while ago.

I’ll admit that since the handicaps were announced I started to think about what my strategy should be. You’ll be glad to know it didn’t take me long to come out with the perfect one.

I had decided that when I was going to be given the go shout I won’t move and I will stay put waiting for my minute man, “GC” Denis. As soon as “GC” Denis would be given the go shout I’d sit on his wheel for the first 7kms of the climb. Then, with 3 kilometers to go, I’d attack him, drop him, and take 1 minute and 1 second of him in those 3 kilometers. Genius. Cheeky if you want, but certainly a genius plan.


My resonsing was very simple. From all the other riders I know who is faster and who is slower than me in a climb like that. It was “GC” Denis the one I considered I was the closest to. So, for me, beating “GC” Denis up Sa Calobra would be a big win. My plan was so good that had another benefit. Sitting on “GC” Denis’ wheel would be way better pacing than trying to pace myself. Also I didn’t think he wouldn’t mind me sitting on his wheel. We have been in that situation so many times that I reckon he is used to it by now. The tricky bit was to beat him by one minute and one second in 3 kilometers but I didn’t say my plan was easy. It was a genius plan, but not an easy one. 

I was so convinced my plan was great that I told everyone yesterday over dinner… and this is where I found my plan wasn’t as good as I thought. It turns out it was not an ITT up Sa Calobra, it was a handicap race. That is, it didn’t matter if I were faster than “GC” Denis, all that mattered was who would cross the line first. Once I understood the rules it was clear my plan was not so great. All that display of creativity lost forever. I needed a new plan. I needed a new strategy to pace myself.

I had problems getting to sleep that night trying to come out with a new plan. I even considered proposing the group to forget about the race and go up Sa Calobra as an ITT. If only to see my marvelus plan executed but I suspected the motion wouldn’t get much traction so I discarded the idea. Totally desperate I checked the profile to try to get some ideas (I know, for a man so found in planning not checking the profiles of the routes before riding them is quite an oversight, but I’m working on that). The profile gave me an idea.

First climb, Soll de sa Batalla, almost 8km at 5%, I was going to ride it very, very easy. That was a climb to save my legs. But then there was a small climb, Col de Cal Reis P, 3km at 6%. I decided I was going to use that climb to test the pace I had decided I was going to use going up Sa Calobra.

The pace I had decided I was going to use going up Sa Calobra was a bit convoluted but stay with me. At the start I was going to start riding at either 300w or 160bpm whatever comes first. My reasoning was that it would prevent me from pushing too hard at the beginning and would allow my heart rate to go up gradually. I estimated that it would take a couple of minutes to get up to 160bpm. As soon as I get to 160bpm I’d change the screen on my Garmin to hide my power and only see my heart rate and I’d keep my HR between 160 and 165bpm for the first 5km.  That was the genius part. Riding at that pace was taking it a bit “easy” for me but in my mind that was the best strategy because if any of the fast riders that were starting behind me were to catch me I still would have something in the tank to try to stay on their wheel to the top of the climb… and bit them at the sprint.  

If no one catches me in the first 5 kms then I’d ride between 165 and 170bp for 3kms (from km 5 to km 8) and then between 170 and 175bpm for 1km (from km 8 to km 9). For the last 500 meters I’d be riding between 175 and 180bpm. 180bpm is what I consider my maximal heart rate. Not that I have got it that high for a long time but lying in bed, awake well after midnight, I estimated I’d be able to get that high.  

My plan had one more provision. As soon as I’m caught from behind I’d sit on the wheel of the person that catches me, I’d change the screen in my Garmin so I don’t see power nor heart rate and I’d try to stay on the wheel all the way to the top… and beat him at the sprint. Genius. Cheeky if you want, but certainly a genius plan. Not easy though.

Today I started the ride taking it very, very easy. In fact I didn’t even have coffee in the morning to make sure I was not over excited and over confident. I only hit the front of the group in a small climb that I used to elevate my heart rate a bit and get the body warming up.

Coll de Batalla came and I surely climbed it very easy. Everyone was climbing it very easy, which wasn’t exactly good news. The news didn’t improve when we decided to stop at km 40. We were stopping even before the top of the first climb. I honestly thought that was a conspiracy to sabotage my plan. 

I’ll admit that I took the opportunity of the stop to get a coffee. I was starting to feel like I needed all the help I could get.

When we arrived Col de Cal Reis P I moved to the front and tested my pacing. And it worked beautifully. 8 minutes, 280w, 158bpm and I was absolutely fine when I got to the top of the climb. I was now more convinced that I should follow my plan.

We descended Sa Calobra. Got to the parking and following the planned intervals we started to ride. I was rider 5 out of 10. 

It took me about 50 meters to clip both pedals since I was given the go shout but I didn’t get nervous or worried. I had a plan and I started to execute it fairly well. 

Only until at one moment I distinguished a Kinston Wheelers jersey ahead of me and another one behind me. “GC” Denis was closing the 1 minute gap that I had on him rather quickly. I knew that I could go a bit faster but at the pace “GC” Denis was approaching I feared I wasn’t going to be able to hold on to his wheel for long.

Still, I stuck to my plan and kept riding steady and that was making me close the gap to the rider in front of me. I passed Marc, gave him some words of encouragement and he wished me good luck. That detail elevated my morale.

Kept riding trying not to look back in an attempt to keep my cool. My heart rate was slightly higher than I wanted but I was still happy with how everything was going. 

Even more when I saw TY ahead of me. I was catching riders and no one was catching me. I looked back and couldn’t see Denis. That was another morale boost. 

Far away I saw what I thought was Richard L. passing JFW. I got the impression they were very far away but before I realized I was catching JFW. It was at a hairpin bend and I passed him in the interior standing on my bike. At the precise moment that one of those photographers that is taking pictures of cyclists aiming to sell them later to them was taking what must be a fantastic picture. JFW complained about me passing him in front of the photographer and he almost made me laugh. I then realized I was having fun. I was enjoying the climb.

Closing the gap to Richard L. took me longer. On one hand I didn’t want to push it too hard because I feared he would be waiting for me and he would attack me as soon as I got to his wheel, on the other hand I realized we were getting closer to the top. I was at risk of running out of mountain to catch him.

When the famous 270 bend came I took the opportunity the road gave me when it gets a bit less step and I pushed a little bit harder to close the gap. I was in Richard L.’s wheel. 

What did I do? I changed the screen of my garmin to hide my heart rate and prepared myself to stay on his wheel no matter what. I had no intention whatsoever to pass him until the sprint to the line.

I was expecting to be able to recover sitting on Richard L. 's wheel but that actually didn’t happen. He was riding at a pace that was challenging enough to make me think he was accelerating to drop me. I had about 1 km to hold on his wheel. I was confident that if I managed to hold his wheel I’d beat him at the sprint. 

The problem was that I looked back and I saw a rider approaching us. At the time I thought it was Denis but later I learnt it was Bidders. Anyway, having a rider approaching from behind made me think I would have to attack Richard L. if he were to slow down. Luckily for me he was not slowing down and, in my mid, if we were to keep riding at that pace we wouldn’t be caught. The win would be for one of us. 

And then, somehow, I got distracted. I know it is difficult to believe but I lost track of how far we were from the line and of Richard L.’s gears. And as if he had sensed my distraction he attacked me. 

He took me completely by surprise. I first checked if we were approaching the line and indeed, we were approaching it. Then the idea that he was attacking too early passed my mind but then I looked at the gap he had and I knew I was in trouble. I changed gears as I was putting pressure in the pedals. My bike started to accelerate and I started to close the gap…  Slowly, too slowly. I had to change gears again and to start what felt like a mini-sprint within the sprint. That was the moment I heard Richard L. shouting something as a sign of surrender. I had beaten him to the line for half a wheel. I had won the KW Saturday Gang race up Sa Calobra. I don’t think I have any other race win as important as this one in my palmares. I probably should retire from cycling now that I’m at the top of my career.

The ride in Strava:

Take care

Javier Arias González

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