Friday, March 23, 2007

Saturday - Stage 2

After a quick night's sleep we are out the door. We joke that our team is leading the punctual jersey competition. I am falling behind on food and water, still sick. I've abandoned eating anything not bought from the store so am down to cereal, bread, and recovery drink mix. Hiroko is fighting hard, subsisting on blue drink mix and crackers. Today is 110k with some big 15k climb in the last 25k, then the same flat finish as Wednesday's Gran Prix de Santa Ana. Our team is going on the offensive today. Megan attacks from the gun, then repeatedly, but each time the Brazilians sit, defending the sprint jersey. Ay, negative racing is a drag. I made it through the first QOM in a comfortable fifth wheel, sprang across to a little break at one point but it got squelched. We had some of the bang-bang attack-attack that makes racing cool and that had been missing from this race, which was taking on the pattern of noodling until you get to a huge hill, then going flat out. One counter stuck, with the "local" team threatening for the leader's jersey. Leader Tatyana, the Ukranian who is 29 and has been racing since age 11, did what she needed to with a small and inexperienced team: went to the front and brought it back. For probably 10k we were lined out as she towed us through a headwind at 25+ mph. I sat happily 4th wheel. Our team missed the counter, and a break went of four riders midway through the race. Megan heroically got bottles from the car and kept us hydrated in the heat. Two riders in the break crashed. One was Caroline, the British rider, a super climber from duathlon who is basically brand-new to bike racing, and she came back to the field in quite a bit of pain. I was missing some horsepower but doing pretty much fine. The climb started and it was a nice tempo, no surging, that winnowed the field. We caught one more rider from the break, but two were still off the front, one from the local team and one Brazilian. I did not follow the sprint for the QOM and came over the top probably 30 seconds behind a lead group of about 10. Hiroko and Kathleen caught me at the top, and I began to drive it down a twisty descent through the race caravan. Oops - I dropped them. I caught on and they joined a few minutes later. At this point we still had some surprise climbs, and the racing was on. Evelyn and Edwiga Pittel from France were launching attacks, as was Tatyana, who was probably trying to improve her odds by dropping some of the local team and limit her losses to the rider up the road. This was the hardest racing of the week so far - and cool - on little mountain twisty mountain roads and through tiny villages. We came into the finish and I did not play it too well but did what I needed - no time gap and 10th place. Kathleen got 9th and Hiroko lost 57 seconds in a time gap. Those Brazilians can sprint. The Italian from Cogeas took the win with the long breakaway and moved into the lead. The Brazilian from the break held on for second. After the race we were by the car changing clothes when Megan appeared in the street, crumpled, and began screaming for a hospital, wailing with pain. Jorge picked her up and ran her to the bed of the truck. People were running all over to get a doctor. Her entire core was cramping. The race media scrambled to photograph her and I got in a fight with the journalist trying to get her some privacy and he was telling me all this "free press" garbage. It was terrifying. She was in excruciating pain, and had no idea what was going on. She had cramped on the side of the road and with the help of a race motorcycle cop gotten a ride from a local in a pick-up truck to the finish line. I think she thought she was going to die. Megan went with the race doctor to the hospital. I was very upset, head completely out of the race, worried and not sure she should be there alone. I haven't spoken much about our multi-lingual and gregarious director Jorge but he is incredible: cool, knowledgeable, super-organized, and versatile. He navigated the race like I have never seen anyone do. I trusted his judgement almost absolutely but at this point I had moments of questioning it, or maybe just questioning the circumstances of the race, of being there at all: this was over the top. And then we went to another banquet. Megan returned to the hotel later that day, in a great deal of pain but knowing that what had happened was cramping due to heat exhaustion. This for someone who delivers me bottles all day? The world is not fair. We went to the mall to go to the grocery store again. I bought a plain sandwich and bread at a gourmet restaurant - I was so hungry and could not eat more cereal. Others ate McDonald's, following Megan's previous strategy of going with the processed and uniform. My definition of health eating certaintly changed during the trip. Mandy continued to eat everything, a strategy that would keep her healthy for the entire trip, astonishingly.

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