Monday, May 21, 2012

Digging Deep: the Grand Tour weekend.

I am a short twitch guy in a long twitch sport. I know that I have limited endurance for an endurance athlete. My best performance tends to be in races that last about an hour. After two hours I tend to fade. After three hours in the saddle I'm riding for survival. I hope that as I get older my endurance will increase, but I never see myself as a randoneur or mtb marathon racer. I love cyclocross for just this reason.

Yet I am very aware of the benefit from logging mega mileage rides before an intense racing season. I see the results that some racers get from doing stupid long rides like the 200 on 100 or the New Hampshire 100 or the D2R2. My plan for this past weekend was to race Crank the Kanc TT, 60 +/- miles with warmup & ride back, then the Grand Tour short route on Sunday, 80-90 miles with 5,000 feet of climbing. I was also planning to train my usual 100 miles during the week. All together it would be 4 race level efforts in 5 days for a total of 250 miles, 10,000 feet of climbing. A one day piece of cake if you're the Wilcox, or Matt Roy, which I am not.

grunting out the finish on the Kanc TT
I was not entirely looking forward to Crank the Kanc. I was defying the old maxim by "racing my weaknesses" rather than just training them. I am a mediocre time trialist and I climb long hills like a bowling bowl. So putting a 4.7 mile 7% grade climb at the end of a 21.2 mile time trial is just wrong for me. Yet I wanted the training benefits of the race and the early season focus for xc races in June.

Despite my lack of talent for a time trial + hill climb, I do still have some pride. I had a time target and average power goal for Crank the Kanc. Justin Spinelli of Luxe Wheelworks built a beautiful powertap race wheelset for me this winter. I would be able to know my exact  power output through out the event. Unfortunately that meant I knew I was 15% below my target just 2 miles into the race. My legs were blocked. I would push, they would cramp. All I could do was ride tempo and hope my legs would feel better in a few miles. They never did. I kept pushing to the end, squeezing out a threshold effort for the last mile. I had a fair result at 7th in the M35-44 group, but I was a little disappointed. Riding back to the start with my team mate Lou, my legs were still crampy & now sore.

Sunday was a gorgeous morning for the Grand Tour. I was tired but not burried. This ride brings out every type rider in the region; racers, ex-racers, fitness riders, randoneurs, even some of the mtb crowd. Normally the grand tour breaks up into dozens of clusters of similarly matched cyclists. This year was different. I admit I felt horrible at the start. I let my group go ahead up the west side of Kanc because my stomach was doing cartwheels. I thought I would suffer to the top and return back to the car. By the time I got to the peak, I felt a little better. An hour of spinning and burping up the hill had warmed me up. A group of 30 or so had congregated at the top. I thought that if this larger group stayed together, I might make it over Bear Notch and up Crawford with out collapsing. So on we went.

We had a group of 25 going over Bear Notch Road, and by the time we were half way up, I actually felt good. The pace was moderate, the company was pleasant, the weather was sunny. When we got to the lunch break in Bartlet, about 10 more cyclists joined our group. We took a nice partial group photo and started up to Crawford Notch together. A peloton of 35 or so rolled up Route 302 in double pace line. Unlike past years, no one wanted to drop the hammer. We rode a nice steady group pace until the base of Crawford Notch climb. Then things got punchy

part of the lunch stop bunch

The real climb on Crawford Notch is only 2 miles long, but it's a 12% wall for a third of that distance. The group shattered as the fast kids sprang ahead. I paced at the back of the first chase group of 4. Up the steepest section I stood up to lead the chasers. Just after we crested the Notch I got a puncture on my front tire. Fortunately there were plenty of friends behind me ready for a little rest. I was starting to feel the accumulated effort of two long hot days, and I had 30-40 miles to go.

Before the ride I told everyone that I was not going down the Franconia bike path. I detest the bike path. It is always narrow, bumpy, and covered with kuck. On a warm spring day I imagined it would be swarming with gawking tourists too. In short, it is an accident waiting to happen at 30 mph. Instead, I planned to ride over Kinsman Notch, adding 12 miles and 1000 feet of climbing to the route. But by the time we got out of Twin Mountain I was salt streaked and worn. I was drinking a liter of fluids every 20 miles. The cool shade of the bike path seemed like an oasis in this desert of open sun baked road. I certainly did not feel like fighting a cross wind solo up Kinsman Notch.

I lead down the bike path just to be ahead of any incidents. Fortunately very few tourists were out despite the weather. Unfortunately, I got another puncture. By this time every one was riding their own casual pace. I yelled out for a tube. My good friend/ team mate Dana stopped to lend one. 7 miles later, and one botched town line sprint, and we were back to North Woodstock. The time in the saddle was 4:20 minutes with 3,500 calories burned. I've never downed a coconut water or devoured a bag of chips so fast.

Will the long weekend of hard riding yield race fitness results? Time will tell. I only know that this years Grand Tour was truly grand.

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