The Long and The Short of It

According to my Gemini heritage (I was born Gemini, raised Catholic) I am destined to always battle with duality. True to this astrological flaw, I have of late been participating in both long endurance events and short, fast races. Unfortunately, due to the very different training and physiological demands of these two types of cycling, I am destined to suck at both.

Last Tuesday was crit #2, and I had vowed to play it smarter. This time I would not be the sucker at the front doing all the work. Here is how it played out:

That’s me, at the front. At one point I actually thought I was going to win. After spending a good part of the race squarely on the front, I had a decent lead with only 2 laps to go and had to decide if the group was really tired or just playing possum. If I really put the hammer down on this second last lap I would either get a good enough lead to be uncatchable, or tire myself out and get totally pummeled. If I slowed down, I could recover while the group hurried to catch me then pull out all the stops and kill them at the line, or just end up getting caught and lose the sprint anyway. As I was trying to figure out the psychology and mathematics of all of this I was caught by the group on the last lap and battled it out for 3rd place, getting beat out by a tire width by some kid half my age and twice my racing smarts.

I did, however, get to try out my “bike throwing” skills. Bike throwing is the cool maneuver you see the pros do at the end of a race right at the line when it’s a real Nascar-type photo finish. The concept is pretty simple, it really is throwing your bike. The fact that you are still on the bike makes the execution part a bit more tricky. At the critical moment, with a final push of the pedal, you thrust the handlebars forward, hyper-extending your arms while you drop your head and slide your butt all the way to the back, or even off of the the saddle. All of this has to be done in a single explosive motion, timed perfectly so the final push happens just as your front wheel crosses the finish line. I threw my bike about 6 feet too soon, crossing the line at a coasting roll, head down, teeth bared, and ass squarely in the face of the poor kid behind me. Next time I think I’ll just throw my bike for real. Or maybe just my helmet.

Not to be deterred by failure, I eagerly agreed to another 200 kilometer brevet on the following Saturday, despite the dismal forecast. At one point it looked very bleak, sure the weather was going to be bad, but even worse was the fact that other than me, the only two other people who were committed to the ride, rain or shine, are very strong riders of the “hammerhead” variety. For those who haven’t heard the term, a “hammerhead” is someone who loves to go hard. And fast. And doesn’t even realize they are going so hard and so fast that they are effectively killing everyone around them who is trying to keep up. Or in cycle speak, “ripping their legs off”. You can understand my concern. But Brian and Michael are also two of the nicest and most considerate guys you’ll ever meet, and I figured as long as I had enough strength to say “slow the hell down”, they would comply.

I was thrilled to arrive at the starting point to find a handful of other eager riders. The sky was dark but the morning was dry and warm. It stayed that way for the first 50km, after which point we experienced weather that can only be described as biblical. Everything went black as night as we got soaked by rain and pelted with hail while lightning and thunder flashed and crashed around us. The sunscreen I had foolishly applied to my face now ran painfully into my eyes, making it even more impossible to see the wheel in front of me. Funny thing, it never occurred to me to stop. Perhaps because that would have been the sensible thing to do. Visibility was poor, which can make for dangerous riding when you have cars whizzing past, inches away at highway speeds.

Thankfully our first control stop was right when things got really nasty. We waddled wetly into the gas station in St. Anne Manitoba (pop. 1,534) much to the dislike of the poor girl behind the counter who would be responsible for mopping up after us. She was amazed to hear we were riding “for fun” and happily signed our soggy cards, likely in the hopes we would leave. We waited to see if the rain would stop. It didn’t, but we were starting to get cold so we set out in the rain to sunny Beausejour, a town that gets it’s name from the French phrase “Beau, se jour”, or roughly “What a nice day”.

Starting back out was hard, we were very wet, very cold, and the impact of the pea sized hail pellets was close to breaking skin. It was at this point some members of our little group started having second thoughts. We pulled into a nearby church where, Esther told me later, she was trying to fish out her phone to call her son to come and pick us up. But we had no idea. She was rather shocked to see us hop on our bikes again and start heading off down the road, and had no choice but to follow (I say no choice because she knows we would have been merciless had she turned back). Here she is modeling the latest in technical rain gear, a rather large garbage bag with holes for head and arms. Apparently it worked very well to keep her warmish and dryish, and I must say she pulled it off marvelously.

We stopped in Beausejour for breakfast, made a mess of the place and were very tempted to dip our frozen feet into the coffee cups. It’s amazing how good a greasy spoon breakfast can be after riding 120km. Greasy hangover breakfast good.

The last 80km or so of the ride were downright pleasant. I even got a sunburn. According to Michael’s ├╝ber-computer we finished the last 100km in 2h55 minutes, no easy feat even on a nice day and without 100km to ride beforehand. Average speed for the ride was close to 31km/h.

So that’s the long and the short of it. Yah, brevets are a little too long, and crits are a little too short. But for me, a little bit of both is just right.