Thursday, March 20, 2014

Good sensations

This time last year I was still back home in Australia preparing to go to the USA for a season of racing. VISA delays meant that I did not leave until early April so I had a lot of early season preparation. 

This year has been very different. I have been racing since January and this weekend will be my 22nd race for the season! And there is plenty more to come. 

On top of the heavier schedule, the racing here in Europe is much harder. The level of the field is higher and it reflects in the speed of the race. More people are wanting to get into the early breakaway which means that the race goes much faster from the start. In today's GP Nobili, we covered the first 100km in less than 2hrs!

Climbs are longer, higher, faster and there is more of them. Couple this with more riders in the race and smaller roads, and it means that position in the peloton is the most important element of the race. If you are not at the front of the race, then you have no chance of finishing at the front of the race. The problem is, you are fighting with 200 guys for the same position on the road! If you are at the back of the race, or even in the middle, you have to brake and sprint out of every corner and fight for your place. There are more crashes, more risk and you use much more energy than the guys at the front. 

So far, the 2014 season has been a big learning curve but, as they say, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. I am definitely in better shape than last year but the harder racing means I feel like I am not going as good!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Vuelta Mexico estar loco!

4 days before the start of the Vuelta Mexico, we were still unsure if the race was going ahead as we had very little details of the event and no itinerary. The race route was found online but it changed on a daily basis. At one point, it contained a 100km individual time trial but 24hrs later, this changed to 2.5km!

Despite this, we arrived in Mexico City the day before the race. Although Mexico City is not at the top of a mountain peak, it has a deceptively high altitude of 2500m. This means that riding a bike felt like someone was standing on your chest while you tried to breath. 

Stage 1 was a relatively short stage of 81km but started with a 30km climb up to 3000m of elevation. Within 5km of starting, riders were struggling to get oxygen and dropping off the back of the bunch. Altitude is a cruel beast. 

Before the start of stage 2, we were told that there was a number of speed bumps during the stage. In fact, there was over 180 speed bumps in just 145km of racing. 

The stage started with a fast downhill section before a short climb and another steep descent. We started the first downhill section at speeds around 70kph when the lead vehicles hit a small problem. Bikes could easily maintain their speed over the speed bumps but the cars struggled to take them at high speed. Halfway down the hill, the neutral spares vehicle at the front of the race hit a speed bump and it's roof racks (and bikes) came flying off!

The race went past without any problems but it meant we had no lead vehicle anymore and we were basically riding alone on the roads of Mexico! When we began the first climb, the cars eventually caught up and neutralised the race.

This turned out to be extremely lucky, as we began the second descent, we hit a section of cobble stones. This was not your typical cobble stones that you could ride over with relative ease. This was more like a bunch of rocks that someone had thrown on the ground and called it a road. 

Water bottles went flying, tyres exploded all through the bunch and riders crashed as they tried to navigate their way through the chaos. Once the race started again, it only got worse as cracks in the road that were wide enough put your hand in, caused even more crashes, punctures and general craziness. 

Many riders were left stranded on the side of the road as their team cars were held up while trying to help others or slowed by the endless speed bumps! As the race continued on, many were still trying to catch up but thanks to all of the obstacles, it made it almost impossible to maintain any speed! At the end of the stage, some riders finished over 1hr behind the winner after being left alone and getting lost!!
Over the next couple of days, many riders including myself, suffered a case of Montezuma's Revenge after some consuming some dodgey food and the race became more about survival than anything else. The altitude eventually got the better of me and I withdrew from the race. 
By the time the last stage rolled around, many were pretty keen to leave, especially the rider that had his bike stolen at gun point before the start of the stage! 
Needless to say, the Vuelta Mexico was an experience that I won't forget. Everything about it was crazy!!