Friday, January 24, 2014

Sweltering

I've endured some pretty sweltering summers at home in Australia. I've seen the thermometer go over 45 degrees Celsius many times and usually retreat to air conditioning or a swimming pool to escape it. 

The last thing I would do in those temperatures is ride a bike. Or if I must, I would leave home at 5am to avoid it as much as possible. 

Here at the Tour de San Luis, it appears that they have the opposite idea. The temperature has been consistently above 40 degrees and the stages start in the middle of the day, resulting in the hottest days I have ever spent on the bike. 


I thought stage one was hot. I thought stage 2 was hotter. Then came stage 3. 173km with an average temperature of 43 degrees. Not a single bit of shade and to top it off, the entire stage was fought in strong cross winds. 


From the moment the race started, I was thirsty and it seems that all we did the entire race was to go back and get water bottles from the car. In the 24hr period of the day of the race, I estimate I consumed close to 17L of water and it was still not enough. 

With stage 4 being another long, hot day with a climb at the end,  it was a race to rehydrate before it began. Drinking water alone was not enough as you have to replace the huge amounts of salt that is crusted to your kit when you finish each day. 


Stage 4 started with some respite.  Although the temperatures were still in the 40's, a slight tail wind made it a little easier and at times you forgot just how hot it was. Then we hit the final climb. 

At the base, it was 45 degrees. It seemed that no matter how slow you went, the body was producing more heat than what it could get rid of. As a result, riders were pouring water on their heads in an effort to cool down. 

A few km's up the climb and we started to run out of water, realising that there was still a long way to go. At this point, riders started to beg spectators on the side of the road for water. Anyone with a bottle with anything to spare so that they could pour it over themselves. 'Agua! Agua! Por favor!!'

I'm not gonna lie, I was one of these people begging. I felt like my head was going to explode and my feet were burning from the heat. I had unzipped my jersey, taken off my gloves and sunglasses in an effort to cool down but it felt like it did nothing. Several times, I genuinely considered stopping in what little shade I could find. 


The last few days have been, by far, the hottest I have ever spent on a bike and I still have 3 more to go. At least it is going to make the rest of the season feel easier. Or at least it better!

Monday, January 20, 2014

First race for 2014

I have not turned a pedal in anger since November last year. So when I found out that the Tour de San Luis was going to be my first race for the 2014 season, I was a little concerned. With 12 World Tour teams making their way over with some big names on the start list, it was going to be tough.  

On paper, Stage 1 was supposed to be relatively easy, with the sprinters expected to battle it out at the end. 
 

The first 80km was slightly up hill at around 1-2% with a small crosswind while the last 80km was all down hill with a tail wind. As per the usual script, a small group of 6 riders were 'allowed' off the front as the bunch waited for the sprinter's teams to take control. 

Omega Pharma-Quick Step sent a rider to the front for the next 40km and held the break at 4mins for their sprinters while the rest of the bunch just cruised along behind, barely averaging over 30kph. 

Then they realised something. Up the road, in the break, were some overall GC contenders including last year's winner. The sprinters teams did not want to do the work for the others so they sat up. On top of that, the temperature was upwards of 45 degrees Celsius and no one was too keen on putting in a hard effort in what felt like an oven. 

For the next 10-15km, there was a lot of confusion over who would do the work and the race pretty much came to a stand still. The breakaway blew their lead out to almost 12mins before the GC teams reluctantly took up the chase. 

When calculating how much time a breakaway is 'allowed' to have, there is a bit of a general rule. The chasing bunch can generally bring back a minute every 10km. With 80km to go, the time gap was at 11min40sec and was looking out of reach. 


The race turned down hill with a tail wind and pace went up. Right up. We sat at around 50kph for the next 40km but it was already too late. With 40km to go, the gap was still at 9mins and when we finally reached 10km to go, there was still over 6mins to the leader. 

The race sat up again as everyone saw the writing on the wall. I was relieved as the heat made it feel like my head was going to explode and my feet were on fire. 

We crossed the line a long way down from the winner. I'm happy to have the first race for the season done and dusted. Despite this, it means that the overall contenders are going to have their work cut out for them over the next stages, and so do I. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cross Training

I hate walking. In fact, I'll do just about anything to avoid it. My wife finds it quite intriguing that I can ride hundreds of km's but can't gather the energy to walk around the block. Despite this, almost 12 months ago, I agreed to ring in the 2014 new year with a 3 day hike in Freycinet National Park in Tasmania with family. 


I had no idea what to expect. I have done day walks before and I have gone camping before but I have never combined the two. I soon discovered that doing both at the same time, meant that you had to purchase a large amount of hiking, camping and mobile cooking gear. It felt like we had enough stuff to remodel a kitchen but at more than the cost it is to refit a house. I still felt under prepared. 


We all arrived in Tasmania, ready to start the hike but thanks to Jetstar Airlines, a lost back pack meant we had to postpone all plans by a day so that they could locate the bag. (I could start an epic rant about this but I won't)

My back pack was heavy. Like 30kg heavy. We had to carry enough food for 3 days as well as about 6L of water as the creeks may not be flowing for refills. I struggled to put it in the car, never mind lugging it around for 3 days!


Walking with a heavy back pack is a lot like driving with a trailer. You can't accelerate as fast, you can't slow down as fast. You can't corner very well and you always have to remember that it is there or you will run into things. The main difference is that a trailer doesn't leave you with an aching back and shoulders!


Despite this, the hike was amazing. On day one, we covered 15km on our way around The Hazards (4 mountains that are, well... hazardous), along Hazards Beach to Cooks Hut for our first camp site. At this point I was feeling particularly energetic and did an extra small 6km loop to check out Bryan's Beach. I probably shouldn't have. 


At Cooks Hut, we were lucky enough to have access to fresh water and a composting toilet that made the worst public toilet I have ever seen look like Buckingham Palace. Just before dusk, we were lucky enough to see a wombat venture out for food- my first ever wild wombat sighting. 

 
 
We woke tired and sore the next day for what was the hardest day of the hike; 11km hike over the top of Mt Graham at 579m and a drop down into the iconic Wineglass Bay for night 2. It was like doing a 6hr gym session made up entirely of leg squats. 


Despite this, Wineglass Bay is an amazing place that was definitely worth the effort. Interestingly, it is named for its appearance after whales were chased into the bay and slaughtered, turning the water a 'wine' red and making it look like a glass of wine. 


The final day was a relatively short hike over The Hazzards and back to the car park. The relief of taking off the back pack was amazing. Removing 30kg of weight made me feel like I was going to fall over when ever I walked because my balance had been thrown out but also so light that I could jump 10ft in the air and slam dunk a basketball. 


The hike was 36km in total and was tough, yet rewarding. My feet are sore and my shoulders hurt to touch but I would do it again. It is something that I have always wanted to do and something that I look forward to doing more of. Now that I have all the gear, it should be a lot easier!