Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Back to racing

The year 2016 started the same way 2015 ended for me. Train early (to avoid the worst heat), eat, sleep, repeat. Tried to fit in a few hours of studying too. Normally gave up when I started reading sentences 5 times and still didn't know what I had just read.

The only difference was that I was nervous. Itching. Wanting to know if my training the last couple of months has been good, wanting to race again. I've never had it that bad before, at least not as far as I can remember. This was by far the longest period without racing for me, as usually my last race would be in November/December. Last year I stopped in the first week of October.

Intervals took over from the long rides although 4 and 5 hours were still frequent on my program. The first week of intervals is always the worst. You're able to ride 5 hours straight at a high steady pace, but once you have to dig a little deeper and go over the 250 watts, you start coughing up phlegm  that feels like it's been stuck in your lung the last couple of years. You feel like you're on struggle street too. No sign of fitness whatsoever.
But before you know it your lungs are clear and you can easily hold 400 watts for 5 min multiple times.

Then the racing started. Windhoek Pedal Power Series Race number 1 held on the Dordabis road. Leading up to the National Championships it should've been an interesting race to see who's done their training and who hasn't. Unfortunately I punctured after the turn-around at 55km and instead of a spare wheelset in a service car I had a saddlebag with an inner tube and a pump. Knowing I wouldn't catch back up with the leaders I took my time changing the tube, and then did some time trial training. Funnily enough as I analyzed the data later on, I finished 6 minutes behind the winner, the exact time it took me to change the tube.

Don't judge the saddlebag. It saved my race

A week later a brand new race was on. Westlane Loops. A welcome change to the usual "out and back" type of race we have here in Namibia. The circuit was 24km in length and featured a few nice twisty roads and little climbs.  Unfortunately my main rival overslept and there was still no seeing how strong he was ahead of nationals.

I did a little test attack towards the end of the first lap and found myself on my own. Soon afterwards 2 riders followed and a little later 2 more. We worked well together and left the chasing pack wishing they had come across when they had the chance to. One rider dropped on the 2nd lap and we were left with 4.
We kept the pressure on until the last lap where I attacked with 8km to go (into a headwind! Stupid me...) and immediately got a gap. From there on it was head down and suffer into the wind all the way to the line which I crossed 2 and a half minutes ahead of my breakaway companions. That shook off a lot of doubt about nationals although the 2 main rivals weren't there.

Here a video of an interview I gave after the race: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoxGz2a5T-w
Attack mode

Winners are grinners

Nationals! The big one was upon us! It started out with a 33km Time Trial on Friday afternoon. My confidence was a little shaky as I was the only one out of the riders that finished in the top 4 without a TT bike. I did pimp up my bike a little with a disc and clip-on bars though.

I tried to save some energy on the first "lap" (it was an out-and-back course again) and managed to do so on the way out. However at the turn around point I saw Dan, who started behind me, had already made up ground on me and started getting a little nervous. The way back was a lot tougher with a head- or cross-headwind and the road went up gradually all the time up to a short steep kicker towards the finish.

The plan had been to go all in on the second lap, already on the way down. I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep the pace because I went a little deeper on the first lap than planned, but tried it anyway.
Down was great, no problems whatsoever. Coming back hurt. A lot. The rain showers that already cooled me off on the first lap came back and with it terrible gusts of wind. Every time I lifted my head out of the aero tuck, the wind had pushed me a lot further towards the middle of the road.

Coming towards the last nasty kick before the finish I had my 2 minute man in sight (the 1 minute man had been caught on the first lap) and had a nice carrot to chase, which made me forget a little about my aching legs and the taste of blood in my mouth.

Looking at the stats after the line I was very surprised. The average power wasn't as I as I expected (310 watts), but looking at the average heartrate I don't think I could've gone much harder. 190 beats per minute. For a little less than 45 minutes! The speed was a little disappointing too as I missed my goal of averaging 46 kph as I only had a little above 44 kph. To be fair, the wind was tough.

Stats aside, the ride was good enough for a win and I was a happy, happy man! Goal number 1 not only accomplished but smashed, as second placed Dan Craven was 42 seconds down and the winner of 2015 Gerhard Mans 1:38.
Proved a point to many people too who already pitied me the week before that "I would have to be satisfied with whatever place I'd get, since I would not be able to win without a TT bike". Not that I was a 100% sure all the time that I could do it but after all you have to give some credit to Lance Armstrongs quote: "It's not about the bike".

Tough conditions but all worth it
Top 3: Dan Craven, myself, Gerhard Mans

Alongside childhood friend Vera Adrian who won the women's event

On to the road race.

Side Note: Namibia qualified a spot at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, which made the Nationals an important event as it was one of the races taken into the selection criteria at 40%. However win or lose the spot was practically impossible for me to get as I had scored a total of 0 Points in the other qualification events like African Champs and the Africa Tour due to non-participation.

The race was held on a brilliant course. Short and steep uphills, some technical corners and some flats for the powerful riders too. Nervous but confident at the same time I rolled around the first 2 laps without showing myself too much. On lap 3 I decided the show had to start. 2 riders were off the front just under a minute ahead of us, but were almost immediately reeled back in when I attacked over the first 2 steep climbs at the beginning of the lap.

Unfortunately the wind was terrible. The places I hoped to be able to ride away alone were straight into a headwind so my only chance was to hit them on each of the short climbs lap after lap.
Coming into the 6th lap there were around 7 riders left and I decided to hit them hard this time. So I kept the pressure high on the first climb and put in a hard effort on the next one. Just as I was about to fade towards the top, Dan Craven came past me to keep the pace going and the three favourites, Dan, Costa and me, were left.

Dan and I shared most of the work, with Costa skipping many turns, but putting himself in the wind here and there too. I had hoped Dan would throw in an attack himself here or there, but all he did was roll through and follow when I attacked once more. It got to that point that they just knew I would attack on the climb, forced me to go in first and just held on tight when I started the acceleration. So a change in tactic was needed, but it didn't make much sense to attack anywhere else, I even tried out a few different spots but it was all for naught. My 2 passengers were still sitting on.

The last lap came, now it was only Dan and me working together with Costa sitting on, not willing to waste more energy and hoping he'd hold on and beat us in the sprint later. My last efforts to shake them off came but the result was the same as always.
The last straight with the full on headwind was nerve-wrecking. I didn't think they would risk attacking now, but you could never be sure and you had to keep going, but didn't want to waste too much energy before the last sprint.

Dan was forced to take the lead through the last couple of turns and we were nervously eyeing each other, not wanting to miss any movements of the other 2. Dan in the lead, myself on his wheel and Costa behind me. The finish was around a slow lefthand bend and Dan kept as far to the left side as possible, to be able to watch what we are doing and to get the inside line in the sprint. The headwind was still there so I didn't want to be the one opening up the sprint. Then Dan went...

For a moment I thought I got this. Almost immediately I was alongside Dan, but not for long as we hit a speed-bump and my backwheel jumped to the side, robbing me of valuable momentum. Coming around the bend the wind got stronger and my gear seemed just a tiny bit too hard to push after losing the momentum. Being on the outside line didn't help either. I was making up ground but not fast enough. The line came closer and I was still a wheels length behind. Then a bikethrow... and I the line was behind us.

Am I disappointed? Most certainly! The nationals was one of my goals this year and losing out by a wheels length after animating the race all the way through is bitter. I didn't even race for the Olympic spot, just for the jersey to take along with me to Europe. But it wasn't to be. Dan's goals of getting the Olympic spot put him in the drivers seat, as he only needed to finish in the top 3 to secure his spot. So he let me do the attacking and waited for the final.

By now I'm a little more optimistic about the whole race. I showed myself all the way through the race and did what I could to wear the others down. I still have the win in the TT and after all the season has just begun.
Also a massive applause to all the organizers of the event. The course was the most exciting I've ever ridden in Namibia and the rest of the organization was brilliant too. Not to forget all the spectators who came and cheered us on. Big things happening in the local cycling scene.

Launching the attack
More attacks
Even more...
Agonizingly close

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