Note: I don't normally post twice in quick succession, but I wanted to get this one up as it was somewhat timely.
On Sunday, I toed the line for my third race of the week, and my 14th of the year. I had realized it much earlier this year, but the race was taking place on July 10th, two years to the day that Alfred Terry pulled out in front of me. Most days, I think "man, what a rough two years it's been," but the fact that I'm back out competing - and doing pretty well - keeps me going.
Following our Peachtree Adventure, I took Tuesday off, and made an attempt to go to Wednesday Night Ride. I wasn't sure how I'd go, as I was still pretty tired and I hadn't ridden since Friday. I met OJ at his place and we rode the 5 miles to Oregon Ridge. There was a sizeable group, which was expected since it was warm and no hint of rain, and we got rolling pretty slow. I seem to find myself in the front of the group as we go up Cuba, and I hate it. I don't mind doing work, but I've been quite tired with this group lately. I know I'm not the strongest rider there, and I make no claims to be, but if you're showing up to a group ride, do some fucking work. This frustration was only augmented on this day.
Determined to do as little work as possible in the first 20-25 minutes, I sat towards the end of the long line of riders as we turned onto Stringtown. The pace was yo-yoing and it was not fun. At one point I looked up and there were two splits in the group. OJ was trying to chase down the 2nd group. Nobody was helping him. Fortunately we reconnected with the 2nd group by the time we got onto Yeoho, and the front couple of guys weren't too far up. OJ and I put in some monster efforts and managed to pull it all back together by the time we got to York Rd, or about 35 minutes in. The pace had slowed, and the group had swollen up a little.
I no longer wished to do work for these lazy mooks, so I told OJ that I was going to go as the road tilted up a bit. Fortunately, someone else had a similar idea, and he went. It was earlier than I wanted, but OJ felt like it would break everyone's legs - and he was right. It was three of us as we bridged up to a couple of dudes, and we got it going. A few more had somehow caught back on, but as we went up Glencoe, one of the stronger guys went, and so it was him and two others, and then me, OJ and one other guy. We all got back together and rode it into the finish. It was one of the faster WNR for me, and I was pleased with the effort.
Thursday I got into the pool (finally) after a few days out of it, and then drove up to NJ for the weekend of racing and my little sister's birthday. New Jersey as of late has been a tough trip. It seems like everyone's got something to say to you when you're on your bike. Everyone. The drivers are never paying attention, driving super aggressively and EVERYONE is on their cell phone, all the time, even though we've had hands free laws in place for a decade. It is amplified on weekends in the summer when everyone is heading down my way to go to the beach, which really means smelly New Yorkers and all other sorts of Bennys driving around, stinking up the joint.
Saturday was the Belmar 5, the third race of the summer series. I had thrown away my own ambitions of racing, realizing I didn't need to with the tri the next day, but also because I wanted to run with my brother. I figured I'd run 4-5 miles before the race and then jump in with him. Last year he ran 33:45, so I thought that was pretty reasonable. It was very humid again at the start, what else is new, and my brother does not handle the heat and humidity well (not like I do, but I do slightly better in it). We were out in 6:22, which is really quick for him, and then it went downhill from there. Our pace slowed to a 7:36 mile 4, before picking it back up slightly by the end. We finished at 35:22, which was a tough run for him. After the race I was sleepy tired, and chilled out for a bit before getting on my bike. By a bit, I mean I didn't get out for my ride until 4pm. I wanted to ride for 3 hours, which would put me at 7pm. Man, that's a little late with an early race the next day!
It was well in the 90s that late in the day, and I went out to Allaire State Park and rode twice around that and headed back. Figured it had to be around 50 miles. Got home, ate a bunch of pizza, and went to bed. At almost midnight. With a 4:45 wake up the next morning.
I met Pat, Tommy, Jackie and Megatron at a rest stop on the Pkwy in the morning and drove up with them. This race, the Randolph Lake Sprint Tri, is a race that a friend of ours is the RD for. The competition seemed to be mostly just the three of us, and I thought it could be a fun opportunity to sweep the podium. These hopes were dashed around 6:45am when we saw the tall, lanky figure of Doug Clark running into transition on a warmup. Shit. We would now be racing for 2nd. Despite being 43 years old, Doug still owns races, and he's a super cool dude. We just watched him crush it at Philly Tri a few weeks back, and I think he won his AG at Kona last year.
The water temp was 79 so no wetsuits (glad I bought that really expensive Orca suit earlier this year which I've now worn once and will only get to wear at Arizona), and the water felt pretty good. I thought I was having a good little swim, but I saw 12:45 on the clock when I got out of the water and thought otherwise. My goal pre-race was to keep my margin to 1:30 back of Pat/Tommy out of the water, and I thought I might be able to keep it to a minute. I figured with that deficit, I could turn it around on the bike - a 16.4 mile circumnavigation of this state park - and maybe hold it together on the run for once.
I came out of the water and hurried onto my bike. The first few miles definitely tested my legs' resilience as I had completed my 3 hour ride just 12 hours earlier, but I made quick work of a few swimmers who did not look like they had much left. I passed Tommy pretty early, and as I passed the 5 mile mark, I saw the familiar form of Pat hustling up a hill, with a dude in tow. I then watched as this dick sat on Pat's wheel for a while, before deciding to move up. When I went by Pat around mile 6 or 7, I asked if it was just the two guys up the road who were ahead. He said yeah, and I went to work. I was riding pretty comfortably, except I really did not expect the course to be as tough as it was. It's not often I have to pop into the small chain ring, but I had to do it a couple of times in just a 42 minute ride. I came up on the pair, the same wheel sucking ****-sucker was now sitting on the leader, and I went by them. Hard. I was now in first on the road, and just kept going. The road surface was pretty shitty at points, with a lot of potholes, and there were a few sharp turns on descents with these holes that made for a tough ride.
I came into T2 in the lead, but knew that Doug, and potentially some other 40 year olds, not to mention my compatriot Pat, would be hot on my heels. My bike split ultimately wound up being 41:59, 3rd on the day, an avg speed of 23.4mph. Meh.
Onto the run, and being a sprint I wasn't as concerned with getting socks on. I still had a slow T2 as I fumbled to get my right shoe on, but once I was good, I ran through the woods onto this course. The first half mile was single track trail, bad footing, and then you popped out onto the road in some neighborhood. No watch, so no idea what I was running, but it felt like I was moving. As I hit the turnaround, I saw Doug Clark. Shit. I thought we started 2 or 3 minutes ahead of them, which meant the race was his. It was too late to do anything, but I still thought it would be cool to cross the line first. We ran back into the woods, now on single track trails AGAINST runners on their way out, before veering off into straight sand. This area, nicknamed "the minefields", featured small, sandy moguls, and was really annoying. I came into the finishing straight, crossing the line first in 1:15:23, but shortly behind was Doug, hauling in.
Then I found he started...4 minutes back. Ouch. He went 1:11:48, clawing back almost all over my head start. Pat came through in 3rd, after passing another guy late in the run, but was then sent to 4th as another 40 year old went faster. Crazy. Last year's winning time was high 1:17 or 1:18, this year that would have only been 7th place. I overheard someone remark that this year's race was "stacked" and wondered who "all these random people" were that came up for the race.
For me, I was very pleased with the effort. My swim time (13:02 after I crossed the mat) was 1:40 behind Pat, a little more to Tommy and about 90 seconds behind Doug. Doug then put 1:10 into me on the bike, and another :40 on the run. Yikes. Knowing the bike course now would inevitably help if I were to do this race again, and as this was the best relative run for me in any of my tri's this year, I was happy. Pat and I both ran 18:20, with Tommy running an incredible 18:00. While they thought it may have been a bit long, I think it was just the slow nature of the course - but, Doug went 17:48 or something and he did run 34 and change at Philly (10k) two weeks ago. I was 2nd place overall, equaling my best finish in a triathlon (interestingly I finished 2nd at last fall's Hunterdon Half, another race my friend is RD for, I will probably never finish better than that at his races).
And then I thought about it a bit more, and what a fitting way to ring in the two year mark of my injury. It was just this time last year that I was even beginning to train again, and even if it was a 75 minute race, I'm just happy I have the legs to be able to be in the mix.
Later in the day, my brother was going for a ride so I figured I'd get in some more miles. Out of the gate he was lighting me up. I don't know if he was doing it on purpose because he knew I was tired, or whatever, but I was getting dropped big time. After a few miles I warmed up and we shared some of the work, and then later in the ride he was falling off so I sat up for him. Got in another 33 miles, so close to 50 for the day, which made a weekly total of about 140 on 3 rides. I wanted to run a little more after the race, but didn't, so for the week I was 35 (for the third straight week, too) and my swim volume was very, very low.
The tense part of the ride was when I didn't realize which way my brother wanted to go to get somewhere, and we had to ride past the scene of the accident. I don't know if Alfred Terry is alive, or if he still lives there, but the point is there are a million Alfred Terrys. I slowed down and made sure I was near my brakes, and got through it without incident.
I got back to Baltimore and yesterday was a scorcher. But, as I had been planning on running to and from FHR, I figured I may as well just suck it up because it's going to be hot and humid at Louisville. Running down wasn't bad. I took an S! Cap after 25 minutes, and another after 75 minutes. We ran fairly quick on the way down and then slowed with the group, but we were still running in the 7:20 range. Given that yesterday was definitely a 6% day, that effort was akin to what we would normally put out for a 7:00 pace run. I could tell I was moving towards the shadow realm, as my body was not producing as much sweat, and I was getting cold. We got back to FHF, and once we stopped, I did not feel good. Snake Hill Gang rolled home and I felt better once we were running, but my legs felt heavy and just stunned, my socks and shoes were soaking wet. Made it back to Pat's and then I walked it in, probably only 13.5 for the night, but whatever, I got in over 90 minutes so that was cool.
For this week, I am actually going to attempt our track workout tonight, the first for me in quite some time, and then I'll see how I feel before I go up to Weds Night Ride. This weekend is going to be the first I've been home and can get in some longer efforts in a while so I'll take advantage of that.
And now, a couple of remarks regarding this year's Tour de France:
The people I've been most impressed with in the first half have been Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd and, I can't believe it myself, Cadel Evans. Hushovd defended the yellow jersey like a true champion, keeping it by a mere one second for days and days. He finished high up in every stage, keeping himself at least, for the time, a threat for the green jersey, and doing the Rainbow jersey justice. Gilbert has been amazing, scooping up green jersey points wherever he can, and never really looking like he's in trouble. And normally at this point, Cadel is out of it, as much physically as mentally. But every stage he's up there in the front over the last few k's, covering moves, staying out of trouble and even attacking.
Lance Armstrong didn't win 7 Tours in a row because he was the best, he won them because he prepared the best. There are three things that you have to have to be successful (in addition to superior fitness): 1. stay in the front, 2. always pay attention and 3. have teammates near you at all times. The only time I ever saw Lance truly vulnerable was in 2003 when his team had gotten shed and he was isolated; fortunately his rivals did not take advantage of it. BMC has been there for Cadel in a serious way, each and every day.
There is no longer a Patron of the Tour. If anybody liked Contador, or if he was a champion, maybe it would be him. But he is never paying attention, getting involved in stupid crashes, and never has his team around him. I think that perhaps Saxo Bank is hedging their bets that starting Thursday the Tour starts to get real, and that they weren't strong enough to control the race early. That's not a terrible tactic, but leaving your leader alone is incorrigible. So far, it looks like Cadel has both the fitness and the acuity to be a great leader of the Tour. He has a little bit of time in hand over Schleck, and more to Contador, and can out TT both. The question remains, though, will he be able to ride the mountains this year?
One of my favorite riders in the past decade has been Thomas Voeckler, he is an opportunist and is always thinking of how he can win a stage. The other day it culminated not with a stage win, but he now sits in yellow, and I wouldn't be surprised if later in the Tour he gets a win.
Quietly sitting there for now is Damiano Cunego, who once was the prince of Italy and their next big hope for Tour domination. A weird case of Epstein Barr knocked him down a peg, but he seems to be on good form right now and I see him at the front of the race every day. He got smoked in the final TT of the Tour de Suisse, but I think he'll place okay this year.
Some of the riders who have lost big time shouldn't necessarily count themselves out just yet. Leipheimer is like 7 minutes back, but in this year's Tour, that doesn't mean he can't do something. He won't be given a long leash, but if he can ride the mountains well and the one TT strong, he'll be alright. As long as he's not a pussy. Remember, as Arjun says "when in doubt, pussy out."
My final thought has been on all the crashes. There have certainly been more than in years past, but as the commentators are also quick to point out, it's because everyone is fighting to stay at the front, and the roads are too narrow to accommodate 198 riders. Add in some serious wind up in northern France and wet roads and you have a recipe for disaster. I've never seen this many contenders hit the deck every day, and a bunch have been knocked out. But the most deplorable thing I've ever seen was on Sunday, when a French TV car tried to pass the breakaway group of 5, and swerved to avoid a tree. They crashed into Juan Antonio Flecha, who hit the ground hard, and knocked Johnny Hoogerland off of his bike. He was sent somersaulting through the air, landing in a barbed wire fence. It was terrible and sickening and of course it was on Sunday - my own special day of terrible car accidents. I watched in horror as it happened. The two men courageously got bike on their bikes and finished the day, with Hoogerland getting to wear the polka dot jersey. I hope both make it to the end. I've never seen anything like that, it was terrible, and they need to ensure that it never happens again.