Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Rain in Spain

The Paracyclilng Bizkaiko Bira is a two day, three stage race in the Basque region of Spain. As the name indicates, it’s a race for the cripples (It’s ok, I CAN say that) so I was racing in a USA jersey, rather than a xXx one. The first two stages were short time trials- 11k and 13.6k respectively- followed by a short road race- 42k. Like most of my American teammates, I specialize in the time trial. We got up Saturday to a steady rain, and soaked roads. Luckily we all brought rain jackets as our trainers were broken in transit, so it was a road warm up for us. The course was pretty neat- the start was in the middle of a short, punchy climb, a brief false flat then a screaming descent, a U turn in the road, and back up the climb. All in the rain, under heavy tree cover, so basically in the dark. Unlike my usual style of cooking the descent (ask the people in Peachy Canyon in SLO ’09 about that) After catching my 30 sec girl in the first 5 minutes, I played it safe on the descent and probably gave up a few seconds rather than a minute or more picking myself out of the ditch. Made the turn, and rolled it uphill as best as I could. It was over before I knew it, and was soon back in the parking lot huddled with my teammates for warmth.

Back to the hotel for lunch and quick recovery before heading out to the afternoon’s time trial course which was supposed to be “a traditional paralympic cycling course” which translates to “flat.” Well, we got there and rode what we thought was the course. It wasn’t very flat either, but after riding for nearly 40 minutes, we realized we’d gone more than the 13k that the supposed course was. It took nearly an hour to find our way back to town to make our start times for the second race, on a course that none of us really knew… at all. But at least it wasn’t raining! If you’ve never raced a TT blind (And I don’t mean on the back of a tandem (which I'm sure is fun too)) I highly recommend trying it. What’s the worst that can happen? I feel that it’s a true-er test of your bike racing abilities. The parts that we didn’t ride were the bigger climbing bits, which made it tough to gage the effort, but really, what’s the difference between 350W for 2k or 3k? Exactly, not a whole lot. The afternoon was, on the whole, much better for the team, with almost all of us winning our respective categories (Think weight classes in wrestling).

Sunday brought the road race and more rain. All the bikes started together- men and women of all categories- which made a nice big pack to start. It split up pretty quickly with the higher classes (less crippled) in the front, and the lower (more crippled) classes in the back. My goal for the day was to just race with the men. I’d established a comfortable lead after the two TT’s and the road race was the time to really whip out and measure. My teammate was sitting 2nd on GC in his class, so I was working to help him in any way possible. The Spanish had a huge presence in the race, obviously, as this doubled as the Basque Country’s National Championships. My race was 4 laps. It was pissing rain again. After the first lap, we rolled through the start/finish and about 3 seconds later, I found myself on the ground, sliding across the fine, granite-like stone they paved the intersection with. An ice rink would have had more traction. I got up immediately and back on my bike to find a bent derailer hanger. No biggie. With the help of the guy that caused the crash, we chased back on pretty quickly without incident. The Brit put in a few probing attacks, and then one that finally got him off the front (the winning move for his class). The pace was reasonably high, but not high enough to weed out all the… less than stellar bike handlers. 

Halfway through the third lap one of these people decided he wasn’t satisfied with his spot four bikes from into the pack from the left and took a hard turn into someone’s wheel. Domino effect ensued and I was on the ground. Again. This time my luck wasn’t as good. Something was bleeding, my front wheel was pointing one way and my bars the other, and my bar end shifter (for my front derailer) was hanging on by a thread. It was stuck between the big and little rings but I was able to put it in the little ring, straighten everything out, and get back on the horse so to speak. Luckily, it was still raining.

The last lap I rode in my little ring (I did the previous three in the big ring) and found my way into a chase group. At this point, the pack was long gone, I’d guess 3 minutes easy, so it was just a matter of minimizing lost time, and rolling in to the finish mostly intact. The rain stopped for the finish which was very considerate.

It was a somewhat frustrating day for me because I had great legs, had no problem staying in with the men, and had a teammate to help. That said, I was happy I wasn’t hurt, and the damage to my bike was minimal.

My GC placing was all wrapped up, so it was off to awards ceremonies. It was absolutely awesome to see the podium dominated by Americans in the time trials. From our team of nine, seven people won their category. The other countries on the podium counted the American contingent and I’m sure, felt sad and intimidated by our complete dominance of the race of truth. With a new jersey to take home, came a  traditional Basque hat- the txapella (See Horner’s victory photo from Tour of the Basque Country)- and a champagne shower. Leave it to the guy that races the trike to completely drench me. The sun came out just long enough to dry the champagne in my hair and ears. Then it started raining again.

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