My second race for the year was the Circuito del Porto, a one day flat race in Cremona, Lombardy region, Italy.
The town itself, upon extensive Google research, turns out to be famous for making Violin's. Unfortunately, the closet I came to anything resembling one was the race course. We had to do 14 laps of it, totalling 180km. It could be imagined, that from an Arial view (if the Violin had a broken stem - don't know the proper name, but stem seems appropriate considering the cycling context), also if the violin was less curvy and more like box... Ok.. it wasn't much like one at all. On to the race.
Unfortunately, it was pouring rain and just 5 degrees at the start. I put on my jersey, a gabber and a vest in an attempt to keep warm. Then, I realised I had no shoe covers! I mean, I already knew I didn't have any. But, once I was standing in the cold with 180km ahead of me... I went rummaging through the back of the team van for something plastic, anything. Apart from nearly missing the start, the garbage bags I found did a perfect job - I got a little carried away trimming the edges to ensure I didn't have any flappy bits. Hense the near Miss of the start. Oops.
Due to the flat course, as a team, it became about looking after our sprinter. This meant we needed to have a rider in any threatening breakaways. The idea here is not so much to try and win from the break. It just means, if the break happens to survive, you have a card to play. It also means that as the race wears on, it becomes the responsibility of teams who don't have anyone in the break to chase and not yours.
The rain only lasted for the first 4 laps. Then cleared. The road was still wet, so on the technical course you had to be aware of the extra risk. For some reason, I noticed that as the rain cleared there was a distinct smell of detergent in the bunch - yep, it smelt like soapy water. I'm thinking one of the teams must have been sponsored by a detergent company. Sticking a little in their pockets as subliminal advertising. It kinda worked on me. I actually caught myself riding in the middle of the bunch thinking this was as close as I'd get to ever actually being in a washing machine - my mind wandered. I imagined being in a huge washing machine, set to warm and on 'delicats'. Can't you see it? Gently moving up in the drum before falling down in the the lush soapy water as you reach the top and gravity takes over - oh s"*$, I'm in a bike race! Yes - these were my actual thoughts. The middle of races are often times when not much is happening and a little daydreaming helps count down the kms. No breaks had gotten away and it looked very much like the status quo would not be broken.
As things got closer, it was time to start stripping off some clothing. Not so much because it was hot, it wasn't, but because you need to be able to see the race numbers at the end of the race. And they, of course, are pinned to the race jersey, a few layers down. At a designated spot on the course there was a feeding zone where we had a member of staff holding bottles. So this also became our 'clothes drop'. One lap, I'd take off my vest and chuck it, the next, my winter gloves, the next, my gabba (rain jersey).
With two laps to go, a group of 25 riders got up the road. No biggie, they we're 5 sec up and coming back - then - a crash! This stalled the chase and very soon they had 30 sec... NOT GOOD. We wanted a sprint! We also had no riders in this group of 25 - really NOT GOOD. The bunch was also not putting in a concerted chase. Really, really, NOT GOOD. I also didn't have a group of teammates close by to organize a chase. Really real.... You get the idea!
In this situation there is only one thing to do, unless you want to watch the race disappear. If you want any chance of a sprint for your sprinter you have to chase - and have to do it STAT. I was around 20th wheel so had to hit the wind and ride full gas. Before I got to the front another small group of 5 had gotten off the front, it was getting messy and fragmented. This is a time where you have to totally forget about your own race. It does not matter if you finish the race, it only matters that it comes back together and your sprinter gets a chance. I buried myself - it became a nice confirmation that my form is starting to come on. I caught the group of 5, carried on straight past, head down, not expecting anyone to help. If it was coming back it was on me. Eventually, I completely shut down the gap and the race was back together. Phew!
After taking some time to recover, I started to move back up the bunch. I'd made it to about 30th wheel (out of 180 riders) BANG - I got caught up in a crash and hit the deck. No major injurys, so all good My job was done anyway. At least our sprinter didn't crash....
A rider in front of me had his Garmin come off when he crashed. He had jumped up desperate to get back into the race and not noticed it. I was not so desperate. It had taken awhile to climb out from under the pile and unless you are back on your bike before you hit the ground, you are in trouble. With 5km to the finish, your day is done. So, I pocketed his Garmin, wrangled my chain back on, and rode towards the finish.
I saw another Ljubljana rider up ahead. I hoped that it was not our sprinter. It was... He had been caught up in the crash too. Maybe 20 riders went down. Damn! But, he was also ok with no injury.
My final kms became about riding through the trudge of battle weary and freshly scarred riders, checking to see if they still had their Garmin's. As I crossed the line, I saw a rider talking to his mechanic and looking flustered. He was young, maybe 20, and he had no Garmin. He was most relieved to be reunited with his technology.
So, no success story at the end of this one, but in bike racing, as in life, it doesn't always pay off. And we did get a Garmin back to it's owner, so that counts for something, right?
Till next time..