Saturday, July 23, 2011

Final Race report Part 2- L'Etape du Tour: Bringing it home

So where was I.... oh yea, heading into Murat.  It was downhill into Murat with beautiful sweeping turns on smoothly-paved roads.  A cyclists' dream. I think I was going 43 mph. Things started to dry up a bit now. Again, all the town's people were out and about and cheering all the riders on. From there, it was a long slog up and down and up and down. Then I climbed up to the highest point of the route, where they thankfully set up a fuel/feed station.  I quickly dumped my 2 bottles, filled both bottles with new drink.  Had a banana and some type of of hot liquid they had waiting for us.  Knowing that this was the last push, I took on this last 50km with the knowledge that if I didn't crash out, I was going to finish this bad boy.  Most of this last section was downhill but for 2 climbs- one with this great castle on top of the hillside, and then the final 2km into the town of Saint-Flour.  An uphill finish, of course...

The Finish.
By the time I got to this last 2km, I was spent.  Completely done, toast.  Several riders were passing me with energy as if they were fresh.  I didn't let it get me down, as all I wanted to do was cross that finish line.  Countering my slow speed though, were the hundreds of fans lining the final run up to the finish line.  As I passed the 1km sign, the cheering became louder and louder.  At around 500m left, you take your last hairpin turn to the right (like a u-turn) to bring it home.  (I specifically remember watching the pros only a week earlier on TV- Contador, Shleck, Evans, etc., take this same turn and make the final uphill push to the line.) At this point, it really felt as if all of those lining the course were coaxing me to give it one last push.  With that, I gathered up all of the energy I had left, dropped the bike into a big gear, got out of my saddle and pushed it as hard as I could to the line.  With no one else around me, I could hear the announcer calling my number out over the loud speaker and pushing me on for the last 30 meters.  As I crossed the line, so many emotions came over me. Finis!!  The final carnage?  Approximately 1850 finishers of the 6000+ that started this event.

If you ask me today if I'd come back and do another L'Etape, I would say absolutely. The experience certainly lived up to the expectation, and then some. Not sure if I'd be saying that if it were a beautiful sunny day, but I'd like to think so.  It can't go without saying how much my wife's "support" in this endeavor has meant to me over the last 6 months. It all culminated with hearing Melisa's voice somewhere near the 30 mile marker yelling "Go Ed!!". Amidst all the general cheering going on, I could clearly pick out her voice. Those few words of encouragement cut through the air and gave me the needed push to carry on for the rest of the day's event. I love my wife.  (Melisa tells me that the little one inside her was kicking away in excitement too.  I'll have to ask him when he's a bit older if he remembers that day...)

Thanks to all of my friends, family and readers of this blog for your supportive emails, tweets, and general comments. This whole L'Etape blog idea started as an additional way to guilt me into keeping up with my training, and if nothing else, a way to diary my thoughts over the last 6 months. It's turned into much more than that for me, and I hope it's been entertaining for you.  Maybe I'll be back with another blog for my next adventure.  Until then, train hard, be safe and most of all, show your support for your family and friends in everything they do.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Final race report Part 1- L'Etape du Tour: Be careful what you wish for...

What a day, what a day.....where do I start?

Saturday- July 16th
Woke up in the hotel and grabbed a quick breakfast (well, actually 2 breakfasts: one at the boulangerie across the street at 6am- nothing like fresh croissant and pain chocolat, and the other at the hotel- more croissant and pain chocolat). The trip organizer, Sports International (a company out of the U.K.- awesome logistics I have to say) had a coach bus waiting for us at 8am to travel to the race/event village, first to handle registration and then the build out of our bikes.  Registration was smooth and quick, leaving loads of time to purchase teeshirts, jerseys, etc.  Then went to build up my bike. Things went smooth.  A couple of small adjustments by the guys at Wiggle (they had 1/2 a dozen mechanics on site in case anyone had issues).  After the build out, we all left our bikes at a secure location which was monitored and watched 24/7.  Back to town by 3:30pm, I set off to prepare for the next day's event: clothing, food, supplements, etc.  Then it was a quick dinner and got to bed early.

Sunday- July 17th (Race Day)
While I knew that rain was forecasted for the early part of the morning, no one could've predicted how this day would roll out.  Downstairs at 4am for breakfast, then it was back to the room to get changed into race gear (should've been Armageddon gear).  As I looked out the window, it was clearly raining.  With that, I brought along on the bus to the event, a rain jacket, a rain vest, both full and half fingered gloves, arm warmers, over boots.  I assessed the weather while picking up my bike and determined that I'd skip the rain jacket and over boots, and go with the rain vest, arm warmers and half-fingered gloves.  In hind-sight, some potentially poor decisions (or guesses rather), however I now know that none of the gear available would've made one bit of a difference.

I checked my bike, my cycling computer, the air pressure and then jumped on my saddle for the quick 2 km ride to the start pens (I think there were 12 pens holding in total approx. 6,500 racers).  The very first thing I noticed was the overwhelming security and seriousness the French treat this event (and cycling in general).  Yes, I knew that the roads would be closed for the race, just like in the Tour de France.  But, I immediately felt like a pro as every single intersection along the race route was closed off personally by police, with thousands of others assisting in making sure we were on track and avoiding the various road furniture. (The only way to describe it is to literally watch a stage of any major cycling race, and just replace the pros with regular folk, although there were pros racing this event that happened to skip the TdF this year.)  Now I'm in my pen at around 6:30am and the rain (which had stopped and caused me to make poor clothing choices earlier) started again.  Then the wind picked up and never let up. So, all before the start time of 7am, we were all shivering and wet, hoping we would get warm when we started to ride.  I'm not exactly sure what time I actually got off as the first pen was released at approx. 7am.  I was in the 7th pen and certainly didn't leave before 7:20am.  I wasn't worried about the timing as the bikes had an electronic chip that would set off once you crossed the start line.

Off we go, it was as I expected.  The very first mile, everyone's getting situated and up to speed, and then comes the craziness (as always). The pace immediately shot off to approx 24-28 mph.  Everyone grabbing the wheel of the guy in front of him.  I'm loving the pace as I'm tucked in a peloton of a hundred or so riders, but all I can think about are the conditions.  Very wet roads and very twitchy/nervous/aggressive/anxious riders.  Bad combination. My group catches the rear of what must've been the back of the 6th pen.  This is all great as I'm on course to do about 24 miles in the very first hour, but then remind myself that we're not even close to the climbs yet.  I immediately let the peloton go and settle into my own pace at the very first feeling that they are moving at a pace I wouldn’t be able to sustain for an hour. (I remember looking down at my odometer and at the end of the second full hour I had logged in only 30 miles total. A drastic difference from the first hour.)

Before the start of the race, I was thinking that bad weather would work to my advantage.  My thoughts- sure, anyone can ride in the beautiful sunshine, but turn on some mixed weather and only those who can tough it out would survive.  Little did I know how that thought would come back to test me on a personal level.  Not less than an hour into the race did the heavy rain and gale type wind (and cold) settles in on the region.  For most of this miserable day, it was b/n 35 degrees and 44 degrees.  I was wet and cold as was everyone else.  For a while the heat I was generating just barely compensated for the coldness and wetness against my body. But soon all things started to fail.  I wasn't staying on top of my nutrition b/c I couldn't reach into the pockets on the rear of my shirt to grab some food because my arms were so cold and hands numb. (More than anything, this made me very nervous as I couldn't really shift nor eel myself grabbing my brakes too well.) Thus without eating I wasn't feeding the furnace which only led to the continuation of the vicious circle.  (Why didn't I simply stop and eat? Good question, but the concept of stopping when you're in the middle of a group who is partially shielding you from the wind wasn't an option.) Everyone, I mean everyone, was suffering.  Once of the oddest sites I've ever seen were all the abandoned bikes along the road.  I'm not talking your average Schwinn, but HUNDREDS of hard core carbon fiber bikes just leaned up against fences along the course.  (Note- we were told that if you get pulled off the course for injury or choose to quit, there will be a "Broom" truck that will come by throughout the day and pick up the bikes left along the road.)  It was clear that the riders must have already been picked up or grabbed a ride in the many ambulances who were dealing with what seemed like hundreds of hypothermia cases.  (Obviously you got to be pretty miserable to simply leave your wheels on the road.  Granted, the public wasn't on the road that day so maybe the fear of having you bike stolen was low, but just an illustration of how ugly it was.)  I saw countless of cyclists in the doorways of people's homes trying to get warm, or being toweled off by the local residents.  Hats off to all those residents who stood out to watch the event and shared what they had with all of the participants- food, hot tea, towels, clothing and their homes. This is all BEFORE the first feed/drink station.

Feed Station One- Pure carnage.
The approach to the first feed station was a long fast 2 miles down a steep hill. Barely being able to feel my brakes, I safely found my way into the town of Allanche where they staged the first fuel pit stop.  There, I quickly scoped out where the food was, the bathrooms, etc.  EVERYONE was shivering uncontrollably (me included).  I've only felt that uncontrollably cold once before and it's no fun. The worst part about this was that the event organizers weren't prepared to deal with the sheer numbers of soon to be hypothermia cases in Allanche, nor the numbers who were quitting the race all at the same time.  (Literally, how to transport the thousands, yes thousands, of riders now stuck in this little town.)  I didn't realize the numbers of people quitting, until I saw the lines and lines of bikes leaning against each other in a penned off area. Stupid me, I thought that all these bikes were from riders on a bathroom line.  (But no line anywhere.) Then I noticed race staff taking bikes from riders and the riders going into the (warm) coach buses. I must have seen at least 1,000 bikes, maybe more. Shivering uncontrollably as I was, I scanned the square for a bakery or cafe.  Having found one I leaned my bike up against the wall of the cafe (there were hundreds of people scattered in bakeries, butchers, cafes, etc.) and quickly went inside and ordered up a hot chocolate.  Then another.  Not able to warm up after what must have been an hour, I went outside to decide whether or not I was going to continue on or throw in the towel. (How quickly nature can make you consider shelving all that you've trained for.)  I stood outside by the pen of bikes all waiting to be loaded onto 18 wheeler trucks, getting rained on some more in an attempt to make up my mind.  I can't tell you how many times race personnel asked me if I was "finis"?  I would simply respond "Je ne sais pas" (I.e., I don't know).  With a smile they would walk away and must have been thinking that it was only a matter of time until I too gave up.  After 5 minutes back in these miserable conditions, I didn't give it another thought- on my bike I went.  Not sure what it was exactly that got me back on my bike, but I kept on reading the potential final scripts in my mind- "Ed comes to France and quits...", Ed decides to continue and ends up in a ditch on the side of the road, frozen..."; "Ed decides to continue and finishes somehow".  With Melisa in mind, Alpe D'Huez (the name my father in law gave the yet unborn child) and my mother in law Grace, who's in a current fight for her life, makes my near hypothermia seem insanely trivial, I put down a ton of calories and was off into the freezing rain and wind.

Fighting back the chill
Once back on the bike and with belly full, I just kept thinking "baby steps".  Just focus on one mile and then another mile and so on.  Soon, I seemed to be gaining a bit more of my heat and the rain slowed to a mild drizzle. The air still cold (and much colder on the downhill portions), I tried to vent my shirt as much as possible to start the drying process. As you would imagine, there weren't many riders out there in front of me at this point.  (Remember, I was in a cafe for an hour and didn't see many riders leave that town after I got there.) As I would pass through the little towns, the people lining the streets would cheer loudly egging me to continue yelling "Bon Courage!" and "Allez allez!".  What a great lift those towns’ people gave me throughout the day.  Eventually some other riders road up to me and we decided to ride together for part of the next hour or 2. Luckily the sun came out for a bit while I approached a long 2 or 3 mile steep climb.  I knew I'd be burning the fire real hot on the climb so I used this time wisely to open up my rain vest and pull down the arm warmers in an attempt to get a bit dryer.  It seemed to be working.

The French...
Feeling a bit rejuvenated for the first time, I pushed on fairly hard and came to the base of the Puy de Mary. (It's one of the big climbs on the route.)  There, there were about a dozen or so riders who were stopped and clearly arguing with race officials.  Apparently, the race officials and the police were not allowing the riders to go over the Puy de Mary since it was snowing on the pass and was 35 degrees.  In fact, they were sending back the riders who hadn't already passed over the other side of that summit. With more riders coming now to this point of the course, the arguments and pressure of the moment b/n racers and race officials was getting quite heated.  Then more police showed up and a "broom" truck and several coach buses (obviously the plan was to convince the riders to quit and hang it up). Gotta love the way the French reasoned with the riders- essentially we've decided how things will go and that's that. Not interested in getting caught up in this commotion, I wanted to figure out a way to continue to ride. I recalled from the race map that the route went over the pass into the town of Murat. I also remembered that about a 1/2 mile back up the road (yes, straight up a 10% grade I just bombed down) there was a road sign that indicated straight to "Murat". (We had turned right and came down the hill.)  I mentioned that to one other rider and in an instant we started to ride back up the road to that intersection. (We didn't want to be involuntarily pulled off our bikes by the authorities.)  When we got to that intersection with the sign to Murat, the race staff who had the road blocked off just let us through and we continued on to Murat.  (As I understand it, anyone that came after us to that intersection was told they could carry on with the race but had to avoid the Puy de Mary climb.  (I felt bad for those 50 or 60 riders who were now arguing with race officials as they probably threw in the towel, either out of disgust with the race officials or b/c they were convinced by the officials to call it a day.)

Part 2 tomorrow....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Arrive en France

We finally made it in to Claremond Ferrand late last night but not before pulling over to have a great dinner in some un-named town along the way.

Got up early this morning and walked to the local boulangerie and picked up fresh croissants (plain et avec chocolat). Surprised at how much of my French has come back so quickly. (My friend Maria would be proud....and surprised.)

Well, it's off to the start town of Issoire this morning to register, build the bike, take it for a little spin to make sure all is in working order, buy some additional (probably uneeded) cycling gear, yada, yada....

While it's absolutely blue sky today with highs in the high 70's, tomorrow's weather looks like it's going to be a wet one all day. What fun!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Slow Start....Brief update

Let's see- our plane from Newark to Brussels was delayed as it had a bad fuel pump. Finally get on the plane and arrive in Brussels only to miss our connecting flight to Lyon, France. So instead of arriving in Lyon at 10:30am, we are sitting around the Brussels airport waiting to catch a 5pm flight that will get us in at 6:30pm. Fingers crossed.....

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tour de France- Stage 9 Issoire to Saint Flour

In case you've been following this blog, today's stage of the Tour de France (Stage 9) is the stage I'll be riding next Sunday.  You can watch it on the Versus Network (If you're a Verizon cable subscriber, it should be on channel 90, or digital 590). Have a great day!

Friday, July 8, 2011

8 days and counting...

Less than 8 days until Letape.  Last Saturday was my last 6 hour ride in my training program.  With that last big ride under my belt, Ive started to get a sense of relief, joy, etc., for the first time. And it couldn't have come at a better time as I've been feeling tapped out physically.  A friend who joined me for part of Saturday's ride asked me how I feel.  "Really fit, but not fresh at all." I know I'm as fit as I've ever been as a cyclist, but, I'm sore and feel like the tank is empty, nearly everyday.  Thankfully, the recovery portion of this training program has started this week.  (Well, I go from a 12 hour week, to a 9 hour week.  That's improvement, right? At least next week, the final week, is only 3 hours.) With 2 people in my office gone on vacation and having to pick up the load while they are away, the lighter training schedule couldn't have come at a better time. 

Now i need to get the gear and nutrition for the trip dialed.  Sports International, the tour company providing logistics for this event, just forwarded the final detailed itinerary.  One of the things I was looking forward to was the fact that SI is providing it's own pit stops along the route.  This is typically great since it's reserved for only those traveling in their party, thus giving the ability to avoid the water and food stops provided by the race organization for the masses. (I think there are 4,000 people riding this event.) Unfortunately for me, these "private" pitstops won't accommodate my request to bring along the fuel I like to use.  I mistakenly thought that I could have them bring to each scheduled stops the fuel I wanted (Hammer Nutrition Products) thus giving me the ability to carry less food with me along the ride. As it turns out, the Powerbar company is handling these pitstops for them and won't carry another company's products. Go figure. So if I want to use the products I've been using, I'll need to carry all of the product for the full 208 kilometer ride. 

With a goal of about 250 calories per hour here's what I think I will carry:Hammer Heed to start with in both water bottles

6 Hammer Fizz tablets
6 xsmall baggies each with 1 endurolyte, 1 race cap, 1 ammonia buffer
2 flasks each with 4 scoops of Perpetuem (made into a thick paste)
3 Cliff Shot Bloc packages
6 Hammer Gels

On the gear side of things, here's what I think I will bring along for the ride:
Cervelo R3 bike
2 CO2 canisters (I'll have to buy these in France since you can't fly with these)
Mini toolkit
2 water bottles
2 spare tubes
2 tire levers
Credit card
Camera? (would love to take photos but maybe just use phone)
Garmin Edge 800

Castelli race top (think I will wear white but maybe red)
Castelli "Garmin/Cervelo" body paint bib shorts
Swiftwick "Mellow Johnnys" socks
Specialized body geometry fingerless gloves (and set of full fingered in case of bad weather)
Mellow Johnnys arm warmers (just in case)
Sidi 6.6 shoes
Belgium Butt Budder (for those special body areas)
Nubutte chamois butter (yea, I mix this and belgium for a nice combo)
Oakley Jawbone sunglasses
Cateye Whisper Plus helmet

Be back soon....

Monday, June 27, 2011

A cause to ride for...

Melisa at 23 weeks
I can't believe how long it's been since I've posted a note on this blog. Most of the time since the last post has been training, recovering, thinking about what I ate, what I'm going to eat, sleeping, thinking of when I'm going to get more sleep, how many calories I've burned, how much power I'm generating (or more likely, not generating), etc.....  And while doing all of this, I've been thoroughly focused and distracted at the same time.  What do I mean?  Well, the thought of having a "boy" in October has my mind completely preoccupied.  (Oh yea, small note-  Melisa is expecting our first child in October!!) 

The thought of a child on the way has completely changed everything I think about and how I process even the smallest everyday decisions.  Maybe that's overstating it (which in time may pass), but as I wind up my training for L'Etape over the next couple of weeks, I catch myself thinking about the following- I'm simultaneously riding at my best, feeling extremely fit, and yet, I'm completely terrified of what might happen if I crash and get injured.  (I guess that's what life insurance is for, right?) I mean, I've crashed, broken bones, torn tendons, had chunks of flesh ripped from my body all in the name of self-indulgent "fun", never once going into any of those activities nervous about the outcome. As a good friend of mine used to repeat over and over when we were growing up (and when we were doing stupid things), "Hesitation Kills".  I've kept that motto in my mind for years and, for the most part, it's treated me pretty well and kept me (conversely & ironically) "safe".  However, now I find myself questioning that "theory".  Has Melisa's pregnancy shifted the laws of physics and thus the theory, or is it just my brain playing games? On a conscious level I know the answer to that, but....

Anyway, getting back to the matter at hand, training has been going well.  Got myself a new, Fizik saddle- The Antares.  I've had long Saturday rides now for many weeks that go 6 hours in length. This saddle has made all the difference in the world, literally.  My butt has found its match (thankfully).  This IS the last 12 hour week of heavy training- next week is 9 hours and the week leading up to the event a mere 3 hours.  (Can't wait!!)  As part of the next blog, I'm going to lay out all of my clothing and nutrition products.  This is my selfish way of forcing myself to get organized about what I'm going to wear and eat.  So, once I post it, I'll have gotten that portion of prep out of the way. Thanks.  Having said that, it's been months and months of trying out things that have worked (and many that haven't). I feel it only fitting to give major props to the products (and their makers) that have supported me in this effort (and for some products, over many years). Until then...