Friday, 13 July 2012

2012 Knysna 100km Cycle Race

It has been 4 months since my last race and I have missed the excitement of race days. Putting out and checking kit the night before was accompanied by the usual worry of something being forgotten, when eventually a point is reached where I submit to the mantra ‘whatever happens – happens’, and a knowing that I will just deal with it. Luckily at some point that evening Faridah asked if I had my transponder, which till that point had been totally forgotten, and was tucked deep in a bag so as not to get lost.

Battling a cold and blocked sinus for the entire week before race day, whilst medicating myself with Sinutab and Corenza, was not the best way to go into the race. I had not gone out on my planned workouts during the week in an attempt to allow my body some recovery and this left me feeling less prepared than I would have liked to be.

The rain forecast for Knysna over the last 2 days had not come, and the forecast for race day was clear skies, strong wind (30kph), and a cold 8 deg.Celsius. So dress warmly was the order of the day.

After a good night’s rest, and early morning prep, I rode from the Blue Oyster on cue for my warm up. The air was cold, and I was properly dressed for it. I was also pleased to find the wind not as strong as it had been sounding from the confines of our room during the night. The adjustments made to left brake hood and handle bar the day before felt perfect. The new Zipp 404 wheels felt ….. Revolutionary!!! They spun into speed so smoothly and seemed to exaggerate the effort applied to the pedals. The acoustic accompaniment to this acceleration was new to me, and had a very seductive quality about it.

In the start pen the air was filled with excitement, and positive energy. My starting group, AA, was counted down after the Elites and Tandems, and my Knysna 2012 Cycle race was underway.

I wanted to get to the front of the bunch, so initial effort off the start was high. Hr avg 90%, speed avg 35kph, for the first 6min of the race. I had been positioned in the middle of the starting pen, and to get to the front lot would prove to be too far for me to bridge. When the gap opened up, I was already going flat out, so I kept to the second group that was forming.

Within 6km, we were onto the first climb heading out of Knysna in the direction of Sedgefield, 2.4km 5.6% gradient. Over this climb, hr avg – 98%, which was much higher than usual. I stayed with the group over the top and the downhill was a welcomed relief. On the 3.5km downhill, speed avg 49kph, top speed 65kph. The downhill speed felt great and these wheels were making me smile. I carried quite a bit of speed onto the next little hill, still heart rate maxed out into zone 5, and I was feeling the effort of it.

The next 15km was relatively flat, speed avg. 33kph, and heart rate more manageable in Zone 3. At this point I was feeling good. We could see the first group ahead, our group pace was good, and we were moving along at a good race intensity. 

There were some some rolling hills ahead. Speed was high and I was keeping up with the group. Effort was hard, often going into the red, but I felt positive. On these hills I was slightly losing ground going up, but easily closed the front down on the downhill. Future improved climbing ability was a promising thought. At the 1hr28mark, we reached the bottom of Hoekwil, the turnaround climb. Speed avg for the race thusfar was 31kph, which I was satisfied with, considering the wind advantage on the return route.

Hoekwil has a gradient of 8% and is 2.4km long, so quite a tough ascent. At the start of the climb the group splintered, and I got off with the first few. After a few hundred meters I could no longer hold their pace and settled into my own rhythm. The climb felt long as I was mostly on my own, and at the same time I was satisfied that I was not being caught. My hr climbing Hoekwil was well within the red zone, and I was starting to take strain.

On the descent from Hoekwil, all the hard riding from the first half of the race took its toll. This is when the effect of my cold and sinusitis started hitting me hard. I also think it the main reason for my high heart rate throughout the race. Once on the flat after the descent, the inside of my thigh from above the knee started cramping first. If I kept cadence high with light effort then the pain would subside, but as soon as cadence slowed or effort increased, the pain would build. A group of 3 riders came past and I increased effort to stay with them. This was very short lived due to the knife twisting pain in my thigh.

I resolved to settle into my own pace, eased off the effort and allowed the discomfort to subside. I looked back and saw no groups in the distance. A few lone riders came past, but I decided to recover some more while waiting for a bigger bunch to come by.

After 30 min of solo riding, a group came by, and the front rider shouted some words of encouragement to pull into the group. I gladly obliged. They were going at quite a pace, +40kph on sections, and this was bringing my average speed up again. I sat on the back of the bunch nursing my fatigued legs, which were gradually feeling better. We reached some rolling hills and I was pleased to see that others were dropping off before me, and the front rider slowed down the pace to allow them back on. Over the top we would crack up the pace again and I was managing to hold on. I was with this group for 20min when my hamstrings started hurting. I managed to hold on a while longer as we passed some of the lone riders that had come by me earlier, before I succumbed to my aching hamstrings, and watched the group take off.

I felt somewhat despondent by other muscles starting to seize, first one side of my leg now the other. My pace slowed and my average speed was dropping, and I did not have the strength to stop it. By this time the long route merged with the shorter route, and I was slowly passing the 50km riders. Some faster 100km riders came by, but unlike earlier I did not have the legs to slot in with them. I just steadily kept my own pace, longing for the finish line.

3Km to go, on the flat run in to Knysna, around the lagoon, a group of 6 came by and I recognised one of the riders from previous races. We were of similar strength, and I tried to put down a harder burst of effort to pull onto the group. My legs hurt like hell but it worked and I had got onto their back wheel. The pace was fast, 40kph, and I found that I could hold on by applying a few high power strokes at short intervals, between intervals of coasting. This was working to hold on, and the excitement of the race took hold of me again. The guy in front of me started cracking and as he pulled out he signalled for me to close the gap.

This was awesome, the adrenalin was pumping, and again I loved the effect, behaviour and sound of the Zipp’s. We were now in the final run to the finish, 5 of us, single file, going very fast. A right hand bend lay ahead, with the finish line about 200m beyond it. I kept my trajectory smooth and tight on the wheel before me as we swooped through the bend. My speed exiting the corner carried me pass one rider, and I was alongside the guy I had earlier recognised. There were 4 of us battling the final sprint, 2 in front of me side by side, and another alongside me. The feeling was exhilarating, +50kph sprint, I pulled ahead slightly and took 3rd place as we flew through the finish.

A challenging race, all the more so due to my cold, but a very rewarding one too. A reminder of the hard work still needed to get into shape for Spring League, 2 months away. Race time was 3h21, 15min better than last year, a reward for work already done this season and an indication of improved race times that lay ahead.

Let’s Ride !!!

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