Tuesday, November 07, 2006

OFM Classic Race Report

The first time I started to feel pressure about the race was at our cycling club’s end of year function. Yolandi’s boyfriend had come 11th in the Amashova, and he was just one more strong contender in our group, the Vets 30-39. The next day, after an easy 45km ride, I had lunch with Alex and CJ at Pretty Gardens and both of them made stabs at how far they were going to beat me. CJ estimated a 10 minute margin.

My legs didn’t feel very fresh on the Saturday ride, and this worried me. Deciding to focus on what I could do, I cooked up a nice pasta and had my clothes and water bottles ready by about 6pm. Despite sleeping in the afternoon, I zonked out at 11pm and slept fitfully until just after 5am. Sunday morning, as expected, had a chilly bite. I met Barendine and Koen on the corner of Saint Andrews, and then glided towards the start where we slid by plenty of famous faces.

We went off 5 minutes behind schedule (behind the elite ladies), and from the word go the pace was frenetic. All around me was the best equipment, and guys, fighting fit, apparently in the prime of their lives. You can’t expect to line up with a pair of Zipps and expect any advantage equipment-wise – the guys in my age group have the bling to afford the best, and what’s more, they’re very competitive. So you have the combined effect of a massive bunch about 50 metres long, and the fact that you’re flying so quickly, there’s almost no time to anticipate or avoid holes or rocks in the road.

Before we’d even exited Bloem the bunch had strung out and I was in my biggest gear. That’s when I realized the quality of the field. Riding with them is like being part of the nuts and bolts of a hich tech, high speed Japanese train. Wssssssshhhh. I felt quite jumpy in the beginning, and the early pace was quite unnerving. I’d settled down by about 20km out, and going along the racecourse my brother pulled alongside. Soon after I pulled next to Alex, with this quip: “10km to go then I’ve won.” At Pretty Gardens he’d said: “If you’re with us at the top of Lucas Steyn I’ll be very surprised.” Lucas Steyn, in Heuwilsig, was 10km and a few challenging climbs to go.

Since our bunch was rocketing forward, we were sucking up the dregs of other groups, including tandems, youngsters and female riders. What I didn’t anticipate was a sudden surge after we made a tight turn. And because I was distracted by the effort to stay with the group, it took me a while to notice that we’d caught the massive bunch of the elite ladies, and were moving through them, like one half a pack of cards moving through another half. Since I was unfamiliar with the rules, I thought the girls would hang on to our group (for as long as they could), and so if I stayed in the middle of it I’d be fine. About 300m from Barendine’s home I noticed a 20-30 metre gap between what appeared to be an only ladies group and my group. Even worse, a bunch of girls – including Arien and SA Champ Anriette Schoeman were swarming in a line in front of me, and quite aggressively slicing in front of my line. So I was stuck for the moment, unable to eject myself left and move forward.

Then we turned at the Shell garage and I noticed my bunch was just 20 metres ahead, and not going too fast. As we crossed the intersection at Waverley the girls slowed up, so much so I had to pull brakes. Now I was really pissed off. So I vomited myself out the right hand side and tried to bridge the gap that had quickly doubled (during our decelaration) to about 40 metres. I caught a guy who was halfway across and then ran out of steam going into a headwind. This was the 2nd tactical the error. The climb towards Harrismith is where you really need to conserve your strength and here I was erupting and pushing. About 200m from Harrismith the girls caught me again and going up my legs were already fairly totaled. By the top of Albrecht (close to where I live), almost the whole girls bunch had slipped over the top. Or so I thought; I heard later that Barendine and San Marie had dropped off much earlier, even before the small bridge going over the railway. I was on my own from Albrecht to the top of Lucas Steyn, and then I started consolidating. I chased down a group with about 5 riders, and we caught two more strong guys, one with a red and yellow colors covered in a spiderweb pattern. From here three of us set the pace while the girls tucked in, enjoying a free ride. I lead our group most of the section going onto the N1 and down to Pitstop, so that by Sunnyhill we were really close to the big bunch of elite ladies. Just before the bridge I road over a small black stone and felt it crunch under my back wheel. For a few moments I thought it was Race Over for me. Meanwhile, the girls were just ahead of us. If I’d taken it easy going up Deale road I’d have been with them all along!

We finally merged with ladies under the last bridge, where the N1 becomes a single laned highway. I moved to the front but none of the guys I’d worked with were around me so I just hung out, while the 16 year old guys jumped around like puppies. After the bridge at Glen I was right in front again. A squirt pulled up to me and told me to do something. It was the 2nd or third comment that didn’t really seem to make sense. Coming around the bend, the Commissaire ordered me to the back of the bunch. As I fell pack Arien threw me a little wave. According to the rules, I was supposed to either pull clear of the bunch of wait at the back. Great!

Now we turned into a headwind with sharp teeth. I moaned to a guy on my left and within a minute our former group decided to get together and ride off the front. Very dumb! Especially since we’d taken 30km to catch them in the first place, and we were now starting a very difficult piece, made even worse by a headwind.
So guess who takes the lead? I pulled off the front of the girl bunch, again, and then we hit a tough little climb, and soon after that the girls just swarmed by us again. It was at this point that my original minibunch, including Spiderman, lost contact. I hung on and gritted my teeth, riding with two other ladies that fell off, and closed a 30 metre gap on the other side of the bridge. I was riding comfortably with the group at Sunnyhill but spent 3-5km approaching Pitstop 10 metres off the back. I think I should have ridden in the last third of the bunch, instead of right at the back as instructed. And the Commissaire kept ordering me to go left (while everyone was riding on the right). Thanks buddy.

It was at the shower at Pitstop that I finally let the whole bunch go, but I caught a girl in green (first thought she was a he). She gave me a short motivational speech. I responded with: “Just 6km to go.”
We caught two more riders and dropped them, and then I went ahead. She couldn’t keep up over the last 750 m. About 1km on the other side of Engen the VB guys (with Andrew MacLean) raced up, easing down as they got to me.
I was annoyed to be caught, so did a small jump. Another booboo. Did I really think I could stay ahead of them with 2km to go?
Going into the slip way they charged past, slipping on either did of a white taxi. The taxi driver got a fright, and jerked his car to the left, narrowly missing a rider that was about to squeeze through on the inside. The day was filled with high quality bike handling skills.

I crossed the line in 2:56, fairly comfortably below my target of ‘just under 3 hours’.
CJ and Alex were waiting for me at the end but I didn’t see them. Alex had ridden a 2:39 and CJ had ridden a 2:52 (not quite a 10 minute advantage).

Given some pretty poor judgements, and plenty of riding on my own and playing catch-up, I think it was a decent ride. I was thrilled to be part of such a quality field, and next time I’ll know – when I see the ladies – to treat them like the plague, and get through and away from them asap.

Here are the stats:

Time: 2:56:37
Distance: 105.5km
Average speed: 35.9km/h (Maximum: 61.7km/h)
Average Heart Rate: 156 (Maximum: 169) – incredibly low values!
Kcal: 3037

Other results:
Koen: 2:46
Petrus: 2:36 (5th)

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