My last race in France. A little bittersweet this morning. I was feeling the effects of all the testing earlier in the week, both on the pursuit and time trial. However, I was excited to race my bike.
We drove to Saint Salvy de la Balme. A small town about 2 hours away. Roll up into the town, and you see all the familiar sites. The banners, the spectators, and the bikes. We pre-rode the course once we got there. I was moving as slow as molasses. It was a 8k or so circuit. It went up and up and up in steps, and then slight downhills, sharp right, up and up to the KOM. Then a 3k descent back into St. Salvy de lat Balme. Fast, fast descent…Chris told us when we saw the steeple of the church we knew we were close. When descending at 50mph I had a hard time noticing a church steeple. Sweeping left turn at the bottom, and you are 300m to the finish in a false flat straight. Interesting course, a selection would be made, but it would be hard to get away.
We lined up to start the race. The once again all familiar all French instructions for the race went over my head. I kept hearing Jeannie Longo’s name, but she wasn’t even at the race. I guess she epitomizes women’s cycling in France. Chris told us to attack from the gun, which wasn’t anything new. That’s how they race here. They race from the very start, even if it is 80 miles long, they race from the gun. I worked on gaining some position in the relatively small pack. And got ready to attack.
I drove the pace up the climb. Lindsay countered it. I attacked. Devon countered. Girls were dropping already due to the steepness of the climb and the pace. We had a break of 8. We started attacking the break. Lap 2. We attacked ourselves into a group of 6. Ascending the last climb of the tiers of climbs, I counter-attacked. One girl jumped with me. We had a gap. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, so when she said, “Allez! Allez”…I wasn’t impressed. I nodded, and pulled through, but didn’t believe it. I knew this girl was good. Chris told me to look out for her. She won the whole French Cup series last year.
We blew up the rest of the climb at a blistering pace and had about a 10sec gap. We entered the descent and started rotating through as we flew down the hill at 50mph. We could gain some time on the breakaway on the descent since we were even more organized. I didn’t try to speak English, but understood the universal code of the elbow flick, and the “Allez”. We started Lap 3. Only 8 laps to go.
Lately, I have taken pride in the fact that I am a breakaway rider. As I saw the lap card read 8 to go, I was just focused on holding high power and increase the gap. Settle in, and find a rhythm. However, that is much easier said then done. It is a painful rhythm. I was just trying to convince myself that I wanted to be there, I instigated this attack and it was time to drill it. Speaking of slow, those laps moved like molasses. I started second guessing my breakaway racing strategy. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to be in the pack right now?
15sec gap on the third lap, and we moved it up to 35sec. Chris was telling me the splits, and then eventually he just started telling me that I was in the lead, and I was doing great. Feel free to take her whenever you want. Take her? My legs are shaking, I think I might cramp, I am dying. Take her? Not yet. We were working hard. Just to take this one step further, I am on her wheel suffering in the draft, and she turns her head, and all of sudden-chunks of gel and whatever else come spewing out of her mouth and get on my legs. Did she really just throw up on me? I can take her if she just threw up, right? Or maybe she is really all that crazy, and i don’t want to take her. This girl is racing so hard she is throwing up on me. She tried to apologize, and I just laughed and said it was fine. No worries. I don’t think she understood that. I didn’t want her to go that far and explicit with our “universal language” of bike racing. After the throw up incident, we settled back into our rhythm and tried to maintain our gap. Our gap wasn’t increasing, but it wasn’t decreasing. We were maintaining status quo and suffering. Excellent. 7 to go. 6 to go. 5 to go. Etc.
2 laps to go. I started contemplating how was I going to win this bike race. Two of us, 2 climbs, and 2 descents to go. I could attack on the climb, but it was hard to keep that a secret. I tried to attack on the climbs, she stuck on my wheel, but we were both gased. We actually started laughing and let how sighs of exhaustion. The language barrier allows for gasps and slight giggles to show that this was hard, and we were making a go at it. I attacked again, and again. She jumped…and I turned to look at her, and she just smiled/grimaced at me. I was seeing red, and I could tell she was too, but we both found this entertaining. That’s weird. She attacked me. I stayed there. She just laughed and shook her head. We were going to enter the final descent together. Friends no more. Battle on. Win the bike race, win the bike race.
We started the descent on the final lap. I thought I would go for another attack. She caught. She attacked. I caught. She took that last corner, and went for it. I stayed on her wheel until 200m to go and jumped. I keept going and going. Was I sprinting? I have never had to sprint for the win? Can I sprint? Go go! Allez Allez! I think I am gaining. What was that bike throw that Laurel taught me once? Threw it. Photo finish. I lost by 1cm. Did I just sprint? And lose? I lost. Sprinting is hard.
This race from very hard for me both physically and mentally. I was a little fatigued in the break and it was hard to keep pushing the pace. Then, once it was established I had to try to figure out how to win the bike race. I was telling myself I wasn’t ready for that. I figured out how to make the break this week, but now, how do I win? I attack on the hills, and I attack on the descents, but sometimes it will come down to a bingo game, and I will try to win the sprint. I was disappointed after the race because all of the came down to 1cm. As disappointing as that can be, it also makes you want to keep coming back and racing your bike. It also makes me want to learn how to sprint better.
2nd place wasn’t so bad. The town through us a reception with food, flowers, wine, Coke, and kisses. Apparently there were Sprint Points and KOM Points (Haut de la Montagne)….Who knew? I guess that’s what the announcer was saying in French at the beginning. Maybe that’s why she kept attacking me over the climb and kind of “easing by” over the Start/Finish. Tricky tricky. The town was very happy that the Americans were there, and so they wanted to show us. Devon ended up coming in for third. It was a good USA Team Podium. Jerika even got 3rd in the sprint points. We got enough Euro to make Chris and his wife dinner tomorrow night!
Once again, humbled by the art of bike race. Yet, I want to get out there and try it again.
Big Blue walked by our van and said, “Bonjour”. I told the rest of the team to not let her fool you. She can speak English.
I was bummed after the race, but that is bike racing. Mission accomplished. I raced my bike and I learned.
Pictures coming soon!