I was looking forward to the 2013 Centurion at Horseshoe Valley. Last year I had ridden a good pace and had finished in the second group, despite starting a long way from the front. This year I had higher hopes. I feel fitter and have gained some good experience from racing the O-Cup series. My plan was to start at the front and try and hang on to the end with the front group.
Well things definitely did not go as well as I had hoped.
I experienced several setbacks that probably should have made me call off the race. It’s a long story, but here’s the short version… I went for a ride late Saturday afternoon and broke my chain. It was 5:45 pm on a Saturday and the bike stores were closed. I had a special dinner party to attend that evening so I didn’t have much time. I ended up staying up until 1:30 am unsuccessfully trying to repair the chain. Got three and a half hours sleep and decided to drive up to Horseshoe and hope that I could get a new chain at the event, which I did.
When I arrived, it started raining, sometimes really hard, and it didn’t stop until after the race. By the time I got registered, repaired and ready, the race was starting. 500 riders were already lined up and just started to roll out as I was riding up to the start corral. Instead of going to the back of the pack I just did a 180 turn and joined them right at the front. Hey, at least one thing worked out! However, I hadn’t had a chance to warm up, and my legs did not respond well to the immediate steep climb on Horseshoe Valley Road during the neutral rollout. We hit the top of the hill, passed through the start line and the race was on. I was on the front and had to hammer it right away. I wasn’t going to try and go with the breakaway but was determined to try and stay with the first group.
At this pace, my legs seized up after a couple of kilometres and it was very clear that I would not be staying with the leaders. I drifted back and got passed by another group before two more riders arrived that I could hold on to. It was just the three of us for a few more kilometres before a group of about fifteen riders caught up and we latched on. I got into the rotation for a while, but after a couple of pulls I was feeling like crap. All my ambition was sapped from me and I was painfully aware of my lack of sleep, my shocked muscles and the two glasses of wine and two beers I had the night before. I dropped back and went into survival mode for a while. It was raining so hard at times I could hardly see. At least it wasn’t cold.
The first hill felt like a wall. I had to stand up almost immediately. I’m not much of a climber, but I know that I have improved in this area over the last few races. Today however was the slowest and most painful that I can remember. I was soaked through, suffering and miserable and we were only 15km into this race! I chased back on after the next couple of hills but I was struggling more and more. Each time the gaps got bigger and it took longer to close them. The accordion effect of the rolling hills was so tantalizing for a while. Every time I would gain speed on a descent while the group ahead were slowing on the next rise, they would almost be in reach and I would get my hopes up that I could make it back on. But then I would hit the grade and my pace would drop, while they went over the crest and surged away again.
Eventually I got dropped for good. It was a feeling that I was used to, just not this early in the race. Usually it happened at the end, during the final surge. I still had 50 km to go!
As the group disappeared out of sight, I looked behind me and there was no one to be seen. I was alone in no man’s land. I was soaking wet, tired and I was feeling lonely. It was Fathers Day and I started to wish that I had stayed in bed, gotten some rest and woke up to enjoy the pampering my wife and kids would surely have bestowed on me. This made me miss my family and that motivated me to push on so that I could get home. Home to a hot shower, and a hug from my kids.
After a couple of kilometres on my own, another group of riders caught up and I latched on. This was encouraging. I rode to the end with these guys. I even took a couple of pulls. I didn’t know it, but this year they moved the finish line and shortened the course, so I was surprised to see a sign saying 5 km to go when my Garmin showed we’d only raced 88 km so far. Now the group was starting to think about how to beat each other to the line and a couple of guys went off the front. I think three of them got away and the rest of us sprinted for the line. It was an uphill finish this time. Not my forte, especially today, but I dug in and managed to pip a few guys at the line. (I guess I just can’t help myself!)
I had no idea what place I had finished and I didn’t care. Today I just didn’t have anything in the tank, mentally or physically, and just had a really bad day on the bike. It was such a contrast to last year. It was grey, cool and wet and I was feeling dejected. Last year it was hot and sunny and I was on a high. As I made the longer than usual ride back to the resort, the experience began to sink in. I was disappointed, but that indescribable sense of gratification was still kinda there. I don’t know what it’s like for everybody else, but for me, this is what bike racing is all about. Sometimes you fail. Sometimes you just don’t have it. Sometimes you have bad luck. But you always go hard. You always suffer. You give it everything you have, hoping that you might get a little glory one day. And you just do it.