20
Jul
11

Four sleepless nights and one inadequate breakfast later….

The Eiffel Tower in Paris (TX)

I’m writing this fresh from my return from the event, so that I can recall some details which are important, but this may be a little convoluted, so hang in there…

The 2011 Tour de Paris, TX Rally, located about 100 miles from Dallas, gave me an opportunity to hit a rally that I had not seen in at least five years, and see if I could continue my trend towards some top finishes, in fresh terrain, and under the challenging conditions which riding in July in North Texas offers, mainly, THE HEAT!

I decided to title this entry this way because I felt that it described a key element in training, racing, competition, and life. I once read a Sports Psychology book from a guy named Jim Garfield, and in that book, an Olympic  High Jumper says, “It’s not the nights before that count. It’s ALL the nights before that.” So, take the heat, the fact that it wasn’t cooling off at night, staying up late watching the Tour and then the news and talking about our days with my wife, dealing with two or three early mornings, and then a full moon on top of that, and the ingredients were there for a lot of insomnia this week. I also decided to attend this rally really late in my planning, so that added one more late night and early morning, to the mix. Sleep meds don’t help in situations like this, and sometimes I find that they leave me drowsy on the road (Dangerous as hell), and with a high heart rate the remainder of the morning, once the rides start. I also did not adequately plan my car and bike and coolers, so I dealt with ice and gas at 4:30am, instead of going over to either of my favorite greasy spoons and eating a calorie-dense meal. A tuna fish sandwich from 7-11 at 7:30 with about 20oz of milk does NOT make for an adequate pre-ride meal.

That said, the way the rally played itself out was… different. One of my favorite guys from Matrix took off from the time the siren went off, and blitzed through the town square, and out on the course, rolling at a really impressive pace. Then, he drifted back, and you know, I never saw him again until the turnaround! So that was weird. At the beginning, the course rolled over the same set of train tracks… twice. And for the second time in 5 weeks, my left-handed Arundel bottle cage ejected my 750ml, super-expensive Camelbak water bottle from the down tube location. I asked for it after the ride, but the volunteers had either drunk it, pitched it, or had not turned it in. The first 7 or 8 miles were on a State Highway, with a pretty good shoulder, but it also included a closed off lane for the return trip. In the middle, there was the ubiquitous rumble strip. So, with this wheel-eater in the middle of a shoulder that had some tire debris, and a chipseal lane on the left, we had to make a decision, and stuck to the shoulder. Once we turned off the highway, things were fine, and we took the lane, but ya gotta remember, shoulders are not the panacaea for cyclists that advocates want you to think they are, and

the size of the strip, along with the ubiquitous shredded tires, made for an interesting paceline. Once we got off of the highway, things got better quickly, but I guess I would’ve enjoyed the road more.

Sidebar dumb Q of the day: Why put rumble strips on the edge of the shoulder? I mean, you want people to drift OFF the road, not on to it, and you don’t want sleepy drivers over-correcting and going IN to oncoming traffic, right? It’s a DOT mystery to me.

The 18 or so leaders rode single-paceline for quite some time, and I recognized more than a few faces. I also counted Power Meters, noting at least 5. That said, there’s always a jackwagon in the pack that either skips turns repeatedly, doesn’t ride smoothly, keeps his cadence way too low, or pulls too hard. After about 10 miles of it, I decided I’d had enough, and tried to get everyone to roll in a double-paceline. It worked a little bit better, but we only shelled it down to about 12 riders or so, and some of the ‘riskier’ riders stayed with us. I wasn’t feeling great, but about 5 miles before the turnaround, on some good, honest rolling hills with 1-minute efforts, a regular RBM’er put in an attack, and shelled the pack. I was one of two or three people to go with him, and we eventually shelled the 3rd rider. He and I alternated pulls all the way to the turnaround of the 110k, and kept going. We were led by a great Harley Moto official, and I think we even had a trailing EMT for a while. We alternated pulls in 30-45 second bouts, and I kept drinking, going through 48oz in 1 hour, and emptying the Camelbak in 90 minutes or so. I figured we were on track for a 23-24mph average, but fate, in the form of heat, energy management, and a change in strategy from the previous weeks, intervened to leave me OTB and solo-ing in.

About mile 40 or so, maybe even around 35, I began to overheat. I had changed my strategy to include the camelbak as a drinking device, and not as a cooling device, and I had also ignored my usual, and successful, pre-ride meal of a hot breakfast with lots of carbs, protein, and fat, usually at Denny’s or Cafe Brazil. Instead, I drove out early, and did not eat until about 7:30, and the meal was just one simple Tuna Fish sandwich. So I showed up short on stored calories. The Camelbak as swamp cooler worked all through June, and I should have known not to mess with success, but I wanted to try and drink what was on my back, instead of carrying all those extra bottles. As the minutes ticked by, however, my pulls lacked the usual 240-280w averages (they’re always lower in the heat – make sure you recognize that your performance may drop as much as 10% across the board), and were instead in the 180-220w range. They were also shorter, and I was drafting longer. Then, my GUT began to cramp. Rack THAT one up to, well, not having a peaceful constitutional prior to the ride start.

I informed my breakaway partner of my diminishing capabilities, and he asked me to hang on until Mile 50, when we came up on a water station. The Tour de Paris people know that their ride has inherent risk due to the heat, so instead of stations every 10 miles, they placed them roughly every 5 miles apart, and it makes a BIG difference. I heard there were people who literally rode from station to station, just to keep their bodies cooled via towels and ice baths. Knowing that I might end up in a situation like I had a year previously in Waxahachie, I bid my partner good-bye, and rolled in to the feed zone, where I was IMMEDIATELY refreshed with two ice cold bottles of water, promptly dumped on my head and back, and one down my throat. The stop was only about 90 seconds, but in that time, I was passed by at least two or three other 110K riders, and while I rolled out to try and catch them with my refreshed energy, I could not bridge the gap. At the next station, the Boy Scout troop there was completely unprepared for the riders (disappointing), and I rode to the next station. Along the way, I began to notice riders from other route distances hiding under trees in the still air, some sitting upright, others on their backs. All of them looked exhausted. When I got to the next station, I alerted them about the situation, and the SAG wagons got in to action. My final 8 miles or so were spent back out on the highway, between the cones and the rumble strip, facing traffic, which actually was driving pretty slow and in control. I rolled in at about a 3:16, disappointed that I’d broken my record of top finishes, but also completely aware of my surroundings, and what I’d done wrong. The ride finish was enhanced by the sight of two clients taking a photo of the iconic “Eiffel Tower”, and we chatted about the heat, our performances, the trip, the course, and strategy for the rest of the summer’s classes.

I think the most important lesson from this rally is that you don’t mess with success. IF you have a routine that works, stick with it. I failed to eat a big meal, and I did not use my Camelbak as a swamp cooler, instead using it to drink. Next time, I’ll ride loaded for bear – Ice-filled Camelbak, five bottles of Secretdrinkmix, and Coldblack gear. The decision to make this trip was made far too late in the day to adequately prepare, and when combined with the stress from the heat, a lack of consistent sleep, not eating enough, and changing cooling strategies, well, I didn’t deserve to ‘win’ the rally.

That will change in two weeks, at Goatneck. See you then.

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