Thursday, May 7, 2009

Suffering On In Silver City: Gila Time Trial and Crit




The body's a tough thing to figure out. You may nail your training preparation and feel like you've done everything right – but your performance on the bike sometimes doesn't cooperate. My best guess is that my time here at altitude, after living at sea level for the past year, is taking its full effect.

Prevailing theory says that an athlete's third day up high is the worst. The body is in full red blood cell production mode in response to the thin air, and it's tough to do much else at a high level – let alone chase the top athletes in the world.

In the time trial, my power output was down dramatically from where it would normally have been. I race with a powermeter and had target numbers for various segments of the course, but it quickly became obvious that I needed to readjust my goals on the fly.

Although conditions were significantly faster than last year, my time was slower and the power output down a whopping 25 watts.

All that I could do was pace my efforts as well as I could, to recover whenever I could on the descents, try to give what I had on the tough climbs, and keep myself low and aero whenever possible. There aint no lying in the “race of truth,” but tactical dosing of my efforts helped to minimize the damages. All things considered, I'll take my 90th place of 147 riders, and will move on to day 4 hoping for better things.

In the more newsworthy highlights of the day, Levi Leipheimer scorched the roads for a new course record of 32:59, besting Nathan O'Neil's former mark by about 15 seconds. Tom Zirbel (Bissell) rode an incredible race to take 2nd in 33:52, 30 seconds ahead of Lance Armstrong in 3rd. And the other Armstrong – Kristin, that is – showed why she's the reigning world and Olympic champion by uncorking an amazing record-setting ride of her own in the Women's pro race at 37:36.

Downtown Silver City Criterium

I'm tucked in on the right. My grimace tells a story...
I'm tucked in on the right. My grimace tells a story...

If struggle and suffering build character, I'll have character coming out of my ears after this week. Struggling in any race isn't exactly fun, but when trouble strikes in a crit, it's particularly painful. The entire 40 lap race, covering about 43 miles, felt as hard as the last five super-fast laps of a criterium typically do.

The speeds were pretty fast but, unfortunately, that wasn't the trouble. My body's not cooperating and I was holding onto the huge 145+ rider peloton by my teeth for the entire day. As you can see from the course profile below, there wasn't a whole lot of room for recovery.

OUCH.
OUCH.

As in the previous day's time trial, I did everything I could to save energy. My main rule of thumb was: Take it when it's free. In other words, any time I could move up in the pack with little to no effort, I was all over it. The further up I could get, the more buffer I would have in case I started to feel really bad before coming off the back. It was all about self-preservation.

I allowed small gaps to open up on some faster corners, then slightly accelerated into them. This saved me a little of the effort of having to brake into corners and re-accelerate back out. I stayed out of the blustery wind whenever possible, looked for seams in the pack to open around me that would allow me to take more efficient lines or find a better position, and took a couple of extra pedal strokes on the descent when I had the energy to move on up.

Truth be told, I felt absolutely horrible today. Only one year ago I was in the decisive breakaway in this same race and we were only caught in the last lap. It gave me confidence to do more big races. I'm trying to not have this experience make me feel the exact opposite.

But I'm also proud that I was able to gut it out. I clung to the lead pack and managed to get the same finishing times as the leaders, despite getting caught behind Levi Leipheimer's crash with a little less than two laps to go. His tubular tire rolled off of his rim on a corner as he was setting out on an attack. Several riders crashed and a huge portion of the pack, including me, had to come to a stop. You'd think these guys would have better mechanics although, to be fair, this is probably the first criterium any of the Euro-pros have done in several years.

Levi was able to finish the race without losing any time, thanks to a quick bike change with teammate Chris Horner. Congrats to Roman Van Uden (Land Rover/Orbea) for piecing together a win out of the chaotic finish. And for the Lance watchers – he took 11th in his first criterium since 2002.

Tonight it's eat, drink, rest, and hope for the best. It's an early start for the epic Gila Monster tomorrow. 106 ridiculously hard miles to come... and I'm planning on finishing!

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