Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday - Stage 1

Friday morning I woke up sick, sick, sick of the stomach. Eating and drinking are essential to stage racing. Falling behind on either spells doom, especially given temperatures close to and above 100. This was the first low point of morale, especially in the context of two teammates who had already been/were currently sick - I thought this was supposed to be a bike race not some illness boot camp. At 10:30 we boarded the bus, lorded over and driven by Kiki, the organizational maestro of the race, to head to the start line by the ocean. After 1.5 hours on the bus, we arrived at the sea, where we climbed to the outdoor patio of a seaside restaurant to be served a pre-race meal (that of course I would not eat). Bands played loudly beside us; Kiki danced with racers; there was lots of laughing; and I wondered if I would be ok today. Hiroko ate crackers and tuna; I had some cereal. At 2:00, we finally started, with the temp at 40C. The course featured rolling hills for 50k, a number of tunnels, and a 10k finishing climb. I was in the unusual role of being the gc rider who would sit in and conserve energy and try to do as well as possible on the final climb (Kathleen and Hiroko would also conserve; Megan, Mandy, and Andrea would cover breaks as necessary and get us water). This is kind of tough for me since I like attacking and wild breakaways, but it's probably good practice in being patient. Plus, when I don't feel well, even I don't much feel like attacking. There's also a sense of responsibility to your teammates - that when you have an easy ride to the climb you had better deliver a good effort up that thing. I am pretty strong right now but not so confident in my ability to scamper up hills with Colombian mountain goats. I had on a super easy gear - a compact crankset with 34-27 as my easiest gear, practically suited for mountain biking! The lead team had won the prologue and set a steady tempo on the rolling hills of the first part of the course. The gearing allowed me to sit and spin up everything, never needing to waste energy standing. My team rode well, positioning well. We went through some tunnels where visibility was basically nil. Here's us riding by the sea, in a photo stolen from El Diario de Hoy. I am #15, in green riding by the race leader with her yellow jersey. Local hero (and very good bike racer) Evelyn Garcia #1 in El Salvadoran national champion light blue; Longo beside me in French colors; Colombians in white with horizontal stripes; Brazilians in green and yellow; Tatyana the blond in green and yellow at the front; teammate Andrea at the top; Colombian Lozano just ahead of her in young rider's white leader's jersey. The approach into the final climb was awesome - we turned off a highway into this small town with twisty streets and even cobblestones. Evelyn Garcia drove it through the cobbles. I was second wheel so got to use her good line as people behind had to make up ground in corners and take worse lines. Unbeknownst to us they had rerouted the course due to an accident, so the mileage was off. I wasn't so sure how far to go, but oh well! Evelyn attacked hard on the first pitch, taking probably 15 with her. I did not follow the surge and was soon picking people off as the climb started. I caught the Colombian Lozano, who is my opposite in terms of climbing style, especially this early in the season - a little person who will stand up and surge, then sit down and rest, then surge again. We worked together but I might have worked too hard, since when Longo came up to us later in the climb Lozano could follow and I dropped off. I got 11th on the climb and felt I did my best, especially given the morning, with maybe a few tactical errors. Hiroko and Kathleen also climbed strongly, finishing close behind. After the race there we were in this tiny mountaintop town, a big spectacle for the locals with dance music blaring. And this is when the race becomes an exercise in going with the flow: Hiroko is really sick, I am not tip-top, we've been sitting on the ground for hours, changed but filthy and exhausted, and there is no way we can leave because we have no idea where we are and must travel in the bus and in the caravan. Finally we are leaving - it's dark out - but then it turns out we are going to a banquet. At this point I am feeling bad, nauseous and depleted and overheated. Eating and drinking is a major chore. Hiroko and I sit in the team truck for another hour or so until we finally leave. The other teammates are still healthy (and perhaps crazy) and eat something at the banquet, or at least drink some soda. We drive 1.5 hours and return to the hotel at 9:30. I eat tunafish and bread. We leave for the next morning's stage at 7:15.

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