I can’t walk, can’t even bend my knees. An ironic second place, second fastest overall, and two of my crew have to help me off the stage. Marco, the jovial & enthusiastic race commentator, asked me how I felt: I had never been in more physical pain in my life and hadn’t slept for 34 hours.
However, I was relieved to have finished, and finished well, especially considering that this was mine, and the team’s, first supported race, although I was disappointed that I hadn’t done better. Quite a baptism of fire: 800 kilometres and 10,000 metres of some brutal climbing over some terrible roads in the stunningly beautiful Abruzzo region, from Silvi, by the Adriatic sea, over the Apennines, to the Tyrrhenian sea, and back again. Half of the racers did not finish the course.
Even trying to sit down, get in the team car, and, eventually lie down on my bed to sleep, was further torture to my quads, but I had no one else to blame but myself, given that I had deviated from the race plan and pushed much too hard for the first 13 hours of the race.
How did I make this mistake? When shifting down to the small chainring, the chain dropped and got jammed in the gap between the frame and chainset, and I saw Rainer, the eventual winner, disappearing over the hill. I had also ridden my heavy Time Trial bike up a number of mountains, instead of one of my road bikes, wasting valuable energy. I had felt so comfortable on the TT bike that I pushed seemingly effortlessly uphill and the flat, averaging 20mph over 5,000m of climbing in the first 13 hours, until fatigue and muscle exhaustion set in and the energy seeped away from me, to be replaced with excruciating pain in my quads – it felt like I had torn every muscle fibre and I wondered if my legs were disappearing.
Despite all the drive train problems, including the jammed chain and a suddenly-discharged Di2 battery, the Velocite bikes performed well, especially the Velocite Syn with disc brakes (with Velocite floating rotors) and Venn wheels. The Venn Rev 35 TCD wheels, manufactured with a unique computer-controlled filament-winding process, proved to be incredibly robust over some awful roads. I wondered if the pope, in nearby Rome, had passed over this route, as many of these roads were indeed holy!
After the third and final Time Station, in Scanno, being egged-on by my crew for the road home, I was descending at 40mph, rounded a bend and saw a hole as big as a doorway, and deep as a brick. Seeing it so late, I bunny-hopped it but was only able to clear the front wheel. The rear wheel took the hit and, sure enough, an unhappy noise emanated from the back of my bike. My crew shouted at me to stop, I braked gently, and I came to a controlled halt. The damage was bad. The side of the rim was broken at one point, but clearly functioning fine, just brushing the frame, with the Panaracer Race A EVO3 tubeless tyre still, incredibly, fully inflated and well seated. To be sure, no other wheel would have survived and kept me from hitting the ground, and I suffered no punctures throughout the race.
The Last Leg
After a quick bike change, I continued on, with every climb becoming harder, every pedal stroke becoming weaker and yet more painful, with my seat feeling more and more inflamed. The crew likened my final climb to a lemon with the last bit of juice being squeezed out! So pained was I that, on the final descent, I decided to descend in just my short sleeved skinsuit, in order to numb the pain with the cold and keep myself awake. It brought tears to the eyes of my crew chief, Graham, to see my legs shivering uncontrollably, visible even from the support car, and they shouted at me to stop and don a gilet. Even rubbing my arms, in an attempt to warm me up, made me cry-out in pain.
The last 50 miles are flat and straight, but I feel sleepy and start having some hallucinations, with poor focus on the road, but ever closer to the finish, the surroundings become familiar and I’m able to make it to the finish, riding up the ramp onto the stage in the Piazza, where the bubbly and enthusiastic commentator, Marco, declares me as the second fastest racer – the race is done, the self-inflicted pain can cease.
A success or a failure? Runner-up or first loser? I can’t help but feel that I let the team down by failing to follow the race plan and a proper, steady pace. However, given that this was our team’s first race, we also had a non-existent budget (I funded the entire trip, with my family car temporarily transformed into a bike-and-crew-carrying support vehicle), we had a minimal, inexperienced, but skilled and enthusiastic crew (but without a professional mechanic, although Rich, our photographer, did a stellar job, being bounced around in the back of the car, whilst Graham and Chris shouted out the approaching corners), who have been forged into a close-knit racing family, the limited bike equipment available (all drive train parts having been scavenged from my other bikes, some of which failed during the race, desperately in need of replacing and standardising). I guess I am my greatest critic, so given it was our first race, despite my massive mistake in poor pacing, it must have been a success.
Photo credit to Rich Griffiths A.K.A “R3dfive”, follow him on Instagram