Friday, October 14, 2011

What, we're going home already?

This post is long overdue, and since we're already three weeks into CX season, i figured i better get my Paracycling Worlds update done before too much longer.  So first, just let me say, Worlds was a great experience.  I didn't place as well as i hoped, but had a great time racing with Sam and Jon and felt good about the teamwork we did to get good finishes for both of them.  And considering I was competing in Paracycling Worlds only 13 months after my amputation, i can still be proud of my performance, and i come into the next year with even more determination to train smart and hard and do even better next year with an eye on the 2012 Paralympics in London. 

We got to Roskilde the Sunday prior to our road race.  Racing actually started on thursday, but the C4 RR wasn't till Sunday, and each country only gets two slots for the TT in each classification, and since i was 3rd at Nationals, that means i was not on the start list for the friday TT.  We traveled with about 21 athletes and 8 staff, so you can imagine getting that many bicycles, handcycles, and all the necessary equipment, including four massage tables, left us with quite a bit of luggage.

We made it to our hotel in Roskilde without too much lost luggage, got our bikes put together, and set out for a ride of the course, a 15 k lap that goes out of town, through some beautiful countryside and a couple of small villages, then circles back into town.  The course had a few short hills, but nothing over 200 meters and nothing very steep, but what struck us all was a) how narrow it was and b) how tight some of the corners were.  Overall though, it was a great course with good road conditions through some nice scenery.  Over the next week, we all rode the course countless times as we prepped for our races.  Tuesday and Wednesday the weather was terrible: windy and rainy. There was no clothes washer or drier in the hotel either, so we all had to hand wash and hair drier dry our kits each night so we'd have something fresh for the next day.  Fortunately by thursday when the racing began the wind died down and little and the rain stayed away.

By the time everyone started racing thursday, i was ready to go, but still had three days till our sunday race.  The hardest part was the waiting and getting a little psyched out by the unknown.  I've obviously never raced against any of these guys, so i didn't know what to expect.  I knew the competition was going to be hard, but i didn't know how hard. I didn't know who was a factor and who wasn't.  Fortunately Sam has been racing these guys for a few years now and could point out some of the different riders as we saw them riding around town, but i was still dealing with the big unknown factor.  And then just getting antsy.  I watched for 2 days, then 3 days as everyone else raced, just dying to be doing more than easy laps as i tapered for sunday.

Finally Sunday rolled around and we got up at 4:30 for our 8:30 start time.  Our race was five laps of the 15k course, so just under 50 miles.  Most of my recent races here in Utah had been more in the 75-100 mile range, so i wasn't too worried about the distance, but shorter distances usually means more attacks and an overall harder pace for the duration.  As the race started, Sam got the no. 6 callup because of his UCI ranking, but because it was the first race for Jon and I, we didn't get called up until the very end, yea, we were starting at the back of the pack.  We were a bit nervous about being able to move up on the narrow roads, but the race started out a moderate tempo, and we were both able to move up pretty easily.  But then the attacks started.  And as i had imagined, they kept up for the duration of the race.  For the first three laps i was staying near the front and marking some of the attacks, but i'm afraid i exerted a little too much energy chasing down attacks that i shouldn't have been worried about.  Again, since i didn't know all the racers, i wasn't sure who to be concerned about and who not to worry about.  It took me about half the race to figure out who the players were and what i should be watching.  On the fourth lap an italian and a german opened up a small gap about 5k from the start/finish.  I saw them getting some ground, so i jumped from the group and bridged the gap.  We rode hard, but got caught by the group on one of the hills just before a hard right turn that led to a 1.5 k straightaway into the finish line.  As soon as we got caught, i attacked again, and the german went with me.  This time, however, a bunch of other racers jumped started to close our gap immediately and we were soon reeled in.  Sam and Jon were right in the group that caught us, as a group of C5 racers passed me and moved up the road (they race the C5 and C4 classifications together. Theoretically you are supposed to be able to tell the difference because C5 racers are supposed to wear red helmets and C4 racers wear white helmets).  I paid very close attention to all the racers who passed us and noted that they all had red helmets, because i didn't want any C4s to get ahead of our group.  Sam rode up next to me and confirmed they were all C5s and we didn't need to worry about them, so we settled in with the rest of the group and the small pack of C5s opened up a gap ahead of us as we started into the 5th and final lap.

As we crossed the start/finish and made the first turn out of town, i knew my legs were getting tired from my efforts, so i sat on the back and tried to recover a bit. Because everyone realized no attacks were going to succeed and we all thought the C4s were all together, the pace eased up a little.  Eventually i moved up to the front of the pack again just to be in a better spot, but as we moved through a section with a cross wind, i dropped back with Jon to give Sam some cover so we would be fresh for the sprint.  We paced Sam into the final hill when the pace picked up and i knew my legs were done.  i hung onto the back of the group, barely managed to stick with the group through the sprint out of the corner, and then gave it my all for the last long drag to the finish line even though my legs had nothing left.  Jon gave Sam a great leadout, Sam was in good position for a podium finish, but had to scrub speed when another racer moved into his line, and crossed the line in 3rd.
It wasn't long, however, before we found out that an Italian C4 had snuck into the pack of C5s that had gone up the road on us, and he had come across the line a minute ahead of us, putting him in 1st, and bumping Sam into 4th.  We were of course bummed that Sam barely missed the podium, but pleased overall with how we raced and that Sam got 4th and Jon got 6th  (i came in 15th).  It was the best finish for US in the C4 classification for some time, and we are looking forward to improving on that in the future.

Allison Jones, Me, Sam Kavanagh, and Jon Copsey
So now, i had raced, i loved it, was disappointed i had no legs left for the finish, but was ready for more.  And then we got back to the hotel, and immediately started packing to go home.  "What?" i kept thinking, "we're going home now? Really? I just started racing?  can't we race some more?"  But unfortunately the racing was over and we had to come home. Like i said, it was a great experience, and i can't wait for more.  I love racing the local scene in Utah, but there's certainly something to be said for the international experience and being able to compete against riders from all over the world.
Thanks to everyone who has helped and supported me over the past 13 months that helped me get there and continue to offer support.  I'm looking forward to an even better, stronger 2012.

Most of Team USA taking in a skate park on a group ride before the racing started.
Danish podium girls wearing gowns that had some kind of recycling/energy conservation theme.
Italian rider Michele Pitacollo in the World Champion rainbow jersey. He won the C4 division. Note his legs, he has two of them and they are both very strong!!

Sam in the start house for the TT. 

Our gold medal handcycle relay team.  Overall team USA brought home 14 medals and led in the gold medal count.
And prior to the relay, Oz, Muffy, and Matt warming up.

A short little incline on the race lap, about 3k from the finish. Pre-riding the course here with Jon and Sam. 
Some of the narrow country road we raced on. 

My post race pizza, yea, i ate the whole thing.

Roskilde Cathedral
Great bike shop in downtown Roskilde that had the derailleur hanger i needed.

It was awesome to hang out a bit in a country where bikes are a part of everyday life and everyday transportation. Living in Italy a few years back i saw this, but the Danish take it to a whole other level.
I loved all the tote cars and kid carriers and seeing moms and families riding around doing errands with everyone on bikes. And even with the lousy, wet, windy weather, they keep at it.
Course marshal volunteers headed out to their stations on the race lap.

Hats off to our team of mechanics.  It takes a lot of work to keep a  30 bikes and handcycles in top working condition, especially when each rider has his or her own special adaptations because of the variety of disabilities, but Myke, Eric, and Kimmi were great.

There's a reason they call these Danishes.  Overall i found the Danish cooking rather bland, but oh my goodness, i think i ate about half a dozen of those raspberry danishes every morning.

For a few more photos from Joe, visit the gallery on the DNACycling FB page

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