"You do four laps of a circuit at the end, there is a short sharp 1km climb on the lap, it's narrow, cobbles down the centre and tiles on both sides."
Our team meeting took place on a ferry on the Danube river, close to the center of the Hungarian capital. Luka, our DS, explained the course and emphasised the importance of good position into the finishing circuits, they would start at 155km. "The weather is looking good, but there is the potential for crosswinds, so be alert."
There was a 15km neutral section before the official start. We were taken as a procession past the parliament house. I was happy to take the opportunity to be a tourist for a minute, in true tourist fashion, thinking the age old question, how the stuff did they build this thing. I had a nice little conversation with myself, one part of me suggesting "UFO's" and a more rational part countering with "perhaps more likely to be a lot if man power and a nice chunk of years".
Then, we made our way out of the city, keeping pace with a yellow tram as it snaked it's way through the city. Then, we diverted and jumped the tramlines, then another set and another. This was a precursor to the roads to come; pot holes, train crossings and splits in the tarmac, all par for the course.
Early into the actual race, with my tourist hat packed back in my bag, I ended up in a verbal fight with an Italian. I was squeezed towards the side of the road as a third rider dropped back through the bunch after a mechanical. This forced the Italian into the dirt as he was trying to sneak up the inside of me. He was not happy, I was not happy at his unhappiness. I asked him if he was "some kind of imbecile, "what did you want me to do, run into the back of the other guy?" I explained the whole situation to him, of course, he understood nothing. So as you do in such situations, he just yelled back at me. I understood nothing. The heated exchange was extinguished as his rear wheel slammed into a crack in the road "psss." As I watched him slip back through the peloton, I decided I had won the argument and let that be the end of it!
Then came a shot stretch of crosswind around the 60km mark. I'm not always good at staying in a great position, I like to "drift" in the bunch, keeping stress off, bringing it, and focus back in when needed. This can play against you. I got caught out. I ended up in a group of 30 riders off the back. Fighting to get back into the race. I felt like an idiot, I hoped this wasn't race over. It can happen quickly. I found it hard not the think about what the DS would think. "Shit, shit, shit", thankfully, it came back together. I took the opportunity to move to the front... and stayed there.
Charging into the circuits, I hit the climb around 40th wheel (out of 160). I find it difficult to fight for the top position into climbs, which I need to work on. It was hard not to get "caught in traffic" on the climb, my legs felt ok, so I tried to jump up a few riders whenever I got the chance. I made it over the climb just off the back of the front split and managed to fight my way on after the top.
A group of maybe 35 riders came together on the flat before hitting the second climb. As I was still recovering from my last effort, it was hard to move up before the next time over the climb. I hit it in about 20th. 5 wheels or so in front of me there was a split. I managed to fight my way out and try to get across. Unfortunately, I narrowly missed making the front group of just 15.
I went on to finish 25th after another two laps. However, my teammate, Ziga rode himself into 3rd place!
I was disappointed to miss that front group. But tried to focus on knowing I can be competitive.
SLOVAKIA, Bratislava On the start line, it began to rain.
35km into the race we hit a 8km climb, the rain came heavy now. My glasses fogged up. My vision doubly reduced, well, actually, tripply reduced. When you consider being cross-eyed from the effort of climbing into a good position and my not-so-great eyesight. It was one of those moments where the grimness of the situation actually enhanced it. It gives me a boost. I crested the hill with the front group (maybe 35 riders). My enjoyment of the grimness faded. I realised I now had to go DOWN the hill! Fast descents in the poring rain are not fun. You know that feeling when you pull on your brakes and feel yourself begin to slow - yeah, that feeling is gone... You are pulling harder and harder hoping to feel something... I locked up my rear wheel coming into a tight corner. I was getting desperate to feel my brakes do something... and pulled too hard. Fortunately, I only experienced a small bit of drift before I got some grip back and made it around the corner. Shortly after the base of the climb the group swelled back to 100 or so riders.
The race finished with four 17km circuits. I hit the first one in around 70th position. We had thought wind might play a factor early in the race, but it made it's real impact now. The first lap was carnage, I moved myself up a bit and tried to hang on, hoping if I could hold on long enough it might ease and I might have a chance of moving into a better position, nup! It split into multiple groups, riders spread all over the road. Some poor individuals blowing completely and drifting back into oblivion.
It's like those movies set in space. If you are in the ship your safe. But, if someone puts you in that air lock and presses the red button.. whoosh, your out in space, all alone and you self combust. Except, in a bike race, it's you that presses the button. It's you that decides you can't do it any more. Maybe an ever better analogy, is to consider how in movies, when a plane looses a window, people are holding onto anything they can find, gripping for dear life to the foot of a chair, grabbing a handful of seat belt or a fist full of someone's hair.
Eventually, I lost my grip on the foot of the chair, and was sucked out the window. Fortunately, as I fell, I fond a group of riders that had already been "sucked out". They were busy trying to build themselves a NEW plane! They planned to build a better one, so they could catch back up, or if that failed, at least land it safely (in this analogy, land safely means to finish the race - to be sucked out of the plane and left alone, and not link with a group of plane builders means you will not finish the race). This new plane needs to be built quickly and efficiently if you are to actually catch back to the group in front. Unfortunately, the best plane builders are usually still on the damn first one.
Wow!! I'm glad I've finished that section. My head hurts from trying to hold that analogy together (kind of together).
Anyway, in the end, our plane was not built efficiently and quickly enough to catch the others up the road, but it did land safely, if not a little bumpy. (Seems the analogy was not actually done).
As a team, we had a few riders dispersed amongst the groups split over the road. But, no luck on a result for us today.
There is however, lots to be learnt from getting caught out in the wind. It's not until you are in these situations that you get to work on your plane building skills. So hopefully next time, we will all be a little better at it.