I spent a few years banking on donuts to get me to the podium before deciding that the chance (never again realized) of a donut-adjusted podium wasn't worth feeling sick for the rest of the day (and all those calories ingested in vain), and last year I took second place in my AG outright, one of my only podium finishes that wasn't directly related to a small number of entrants.
I approached this year's race with intentions of repeating my AG performance. I even recruited a friend to be my domestique (a crew which grew to three by race day). Last year I'd had to find wheels to draft off of; this year I brought my own. Between this and finally lining up quite a bit closer to the front than usual, I had high hopes for victory. Of course, one aspect of my race plan that was lacking was actual training beyond what I'd done in preparation for Dirty Kanza, and my morning nerves reflected the fact that I'd ridden maybe three times since May, none of these on my road bike.
|I have no game face.|
|Bill, Larry, Dave|
Larry set a strong pace once we were out of town, and I was chasing to catch back on. Some friends of the guys dropped a chain on their tandem right around the first hill, so Bill peeled back to help them out. We flew down the hill, and I was happy with how I felt on the way up the other side; the first hill in any race is usually the hardest for me. Once back on the flats, I shifted into a harder gear and immediately dropped my chain. Damn.
"Larry, I dropped my chain!" I yelled ahead as I pulled to the side. I saw him stopped on the side of the road as I put the chain back in place and started off again. Immediately I heard a clunk. Seriously? I looked down and realized my front derailleur was hanging loose on my chain.
|Bad news. :( It's supposed to be attached to the frame just to the left of the water bottle. You can see the whitish spots where the clamp broke off.|
As I stood staring at my bike in dismay, Bill pulled up. "What's wrong, kiddo?" I showed him my bike, and he told me, "You'd have to break your chain to get that off." Normally I carry bike tools, not because I know how to use them, but just in case I have a problem and they can help someone nice enough to stop and help me. Unfortunately, I'd left my house in a hurry after being up since 5 helping Jeff set up for day two of our yard sale, and all I had with me was a spare tube.
Bill gave me the number for the SAG crew and rode off, and Larry had already gone (I found out later that, seeing me get started again after replacing my chain, he'd started as well, soft-pedaling until I caught up. When two biggish groups passed him, he caught sight of a blue jersey and thought he'd missed me, chasing to catch up only to discover that it wasn't me. Our biggest failing here was not having a plan for what to do if there was a mechanical or we got separated).
As luck had it, there was a group of friends spectating the race about 50 feet from where my bike broke, and they offered me a drink and a ride back. I took the sweet tea but told them I'd just call the SAG crew. I made the call and watched as rider after rider passed, some asking if I was ok. "Yeah, I broke my derailleur," I'd answer sadly as they rode away. I'm used to riding with friends who can fix my problems, so this was definitely a reminder that I really need to acquire some bike mechanic skills.
The guys spectating the race kept looking at the bike. "I think if we undid this screw we could take [the derailleur] off," Jeff said, sending his son back to the house for some tools. He'd taken care of that and was looking over where the cable attached when the SAG guys arrived, having had to follow the back of the pack to my spot, and quickly removed the cable, leaving me unable to shift in the front but still having the range of gears in the back.
They set the chain in the small ring and cautioned me to stay out of my hardest gears lest the chain jump to my big (harder) ring. I did listen, but not well enough, and within a few shifts I hit one that felt different. I noticed a little later that...oops, I was in my big ring now. Well, if I needed to walk some hills, so be it. It certainly wouldn't be the first time I've walked a hill.
By the time the SAG guys finished with me, I was officially in last place. I was disappointed to have my race derailed so early, but I was also a little relieved. All that self-imposed pressure was gone; now I could just enjoy the ride. Well, sort of. Any kind of win was out of reach, but I still wanted to finish as well as I could, and my location at the very back of the pack (out of sight of the pack, actually) gave me plenty of carrots.
At registration we had the option of selecting whether we were competitive or non-competitive; you received a black or red number depending on your selection. I began picking off riders within the first mile back and steadily passed through a sea of red numbers. While it was really fun to pass so many people, my position at the back left me alone strategy-wise: there was no one fast enough to draft off of. I was stuck doing all of my own work, and I put in a hard effort. My first 5 miles (counting the time I was broken down and waiting for help) took me 42 minutes and worked out to be a 7 mph average pace; the next two 5-mile intervals took 14 minutes each, a 20 mph average pace.
My speed dropped slightly for the next 5 miles, down to 18.6 mph. Not sure what was up with that since this segment actually had a slight downhill trend. Maybe I was just getting tired. I was definitely getting hungry; along with the rest of my poor preparations for the morning, I'd neglected to bring anything with me beyond water and was starting to think about that second donut stop. Only four more miles til the donut stop, and then just another 10 miles to the finish. I'd finally started to see occasional black numbers, which was a slight boost.
After a fairly flat 15 mile stretch, miles 20-25 feature more hills. I was a little worried how that would go with my bike stuck in the big chainring but was happy to realize that the rolling hills gave me plenty of momentum to sail through them with a minimum of struggle. I still opted to stop for a donut at mile 24, reasoning that my time was already screwed and hey, I needed fuel.
Moving on...I maintained a donut-powered 17.6 mph average for miles 25-30 despite the biggest hill of the day (again assisted by a slight downhill leading into it). I felt like I was crawling up the long grind, but eventually I hit the top. I also found a temporary partner but after a minute or two of resting in his draft looked at my Garmin, saw a pace in the 16s, and realized it was time to move on. Incidentally, his donuts kicked in later in the race and he passed me back.
When I finally caught up with Jim and Michelle, who'd started in the wave 15 minutes after me but passed me while I was waiting for SAG, I was delighted to finally have some company. "Hey strangers!" I called out. As we rode I told them about the roadside repairs and mentioned how "fun" it was climbing hills while stuck in my big ring. Jim wasn't having any of that: "Just makes you stronger!"
The last 4 miles of the race have a couple of steeper climbs, nothing terrible, but you feel them at the end of a race. I was a little worried that I'd end up walking them, but on a downhill just before them my chain randomly dropped off. I stopped, frustration mixing with resigned amusement: this bike hates me...I guess I'm meant to ride this race by myself. Since I was about to hit the last hills, though, I took the opportunity to make things a little easier on myself and smugly placed my chain on the small ring. At least now the hills will be a little easier.
Two miles from the finish, the course completes a big lollipop and passes a road we'd previously turned on, the one where my derailleur had broken. I saw one of the men from the group who'd taken me in and waved happily at him. One of the women who'd also been there recognized me and yelled out, "I know you!! Goooo Kate!!" It was really nice to see them towards the end of a race that had nearly been derailed so early.
So, I finished. My total moving time of 1:51 was much better than the official 2:21 on the clock, but neither are what I wanted from the day. Still, maintaining a 18.4 mph average (moving time...my official race average was like 14.4) with no one to draft off of tells me that I'd have done significantly better if my mechanical hadn't broken up my little pack of teammates. That's at least a small satisfaction.
What did I learn from the day?
- When recruiting teammates, don't forget to make a plan for when/if things fall apart.
- Organize my stuff the night before because I can't be trusted to remember what I need the on race morning. (OK, that's a reminder...I already knew that one)
- I really, really need to acquire some bike repair skills. (another reminder)
- I should be spending a lot more time in the big ring because it turns out it's not too hard for me after all
- No matter how your race goes, margaritas, pulled pork, and hanging out with friends make for a good finish.