Sprint for the line, cool down and into the car park. Right, where are we racing next week? I’ve not even taken off my numbers and already I’m thinking of pinning them on again. Ah, for god sake man get a life!
The search for the two points required for A3 has become all consuming. The last three weeks have been a mixture of race, recover, race, recover, race… I have a new-found respect for the men of the Rás or any multi-day event who plough through day on-day off.
A man of the Rás once told me that bike racing can be one of the most stressful things you can do. Every time you put your wheel on the line that’s a stressor. There’s the stress of self-expectation, “will I do well?” or worrying about specific parts of the race “Have I got the legs for the climb?”. Add to that the stress of avoiding crashes at 40kmph when you are pumped up to the eyeballs on sugar-gels and caffeine. In some case’s there’s the incessant shouting and cursing from nervous riders. Finally, if you make it, there’s the stress of throwing yourself head first at your absolute max into a bunch sprint with bikes, legs and elbows flying all around you.
It’s all become a bit much. It used to be a case of “I’m heading out for an hour or so, not sure where…” It was busting a lung up the Hill of Tara because you felt like turning yourself inside-out and greeting the tourists with a red face full of snot and spit. Those efforts were always satisfying and never felt like work. Weekends used to be a time to chill-out, a relaxed breakfast followed by a long spin with brunch of the classic coffee/scone combo. Now Sunday mornings are spent scrambling for gear instead of eggs and frantically packing the car to drive to a race in a town you previously never heard of.
It’s waking at an ungodly hour to squeeze a session in before work. Everything is carefully paced, dulled down with the fear of over exertion and all possible metrics controlled: pace, cadence, heart rate or power all keeping you from getting too excited. When you feel shit – go easy. When you feel good – take it handy. Each race is bookended by Friday pre-race activation and Monday post-race recovery rides. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are for Intervals. Thursday is the club league. #NoJunkMiles – You couldn’t even ride to the shops without some kind of interval.
Stick to the plan, believe in the plan and it will bring results. Every little helps. Every little is starting to feel like death by a thousand cuts – Chronic tiredness, sore back, tender hamstrings, cramping feet and a hip that seizes up after any tough spins.
On Monday evening I was a broken man. A league race in Donore had my hip screaming at me to stop. By the time I got home my dodgy hip and me had agreed that we were ready to stop racing for the year. However, it turns out the week the Tour de France kicks off is probably the worst time of the year to retire. Cycling is everywhere, not just on cycling websites but Wada, the UCI and Chris Froome made sure it was all over the place. One last blast wouldn’t kill me. Would it??
I spent the latter part of the week searching Strava files and segments of the Moynalty circuit convincing myself I’d be able for it. My main focus was the sharp climb before the end. I figured it would be 3 minutes 30 seconds of hard work on each lap – I can do 7 minutes and if I just hung on in the sprint I might nab a place. The race stuck firmly to my plans, exactly 3:30 for both climbs.
Midway through the second lap my chances increased dramatically when a change in pace caught a few off-guard. In the confusion a touch of wheels brought some guy down in the middle of the road. I narrowly avoided it and sprinted to join the rest of the escapees. Once a safe distance away I looked back at the carnage. There was about 20 of us left.
Immediately there were calls for us to get in formation and put a gap between us and any chasers. Careful not to waste too much energy in such a big group, I picked my turns and only rode to the front behind the biggest guy I could find. The work stopped when we realised we had a big enough gap on any stragglers. Just before the final climb two guys decided the pack wasn’t for them and rode away, working strongly together and without chase we only managed to catch a glimpse of them sprinting for the line ahead of us. A quick check of the numbers, 6 more places to go. I attempted to drag a sprint out of my tired legs. One last blast, all I need is 7th, all I can manage is 8th. 1 more point earned ,1 more point to go – how can I quit now!?