K-W Classic OCUP: A Familiar Refrain

I like the K-W (Kitchener-Waterloo) Classic for a few reasons: 

It was my first-ever road race, even if it was a completely different and far less scenic course in 2013; it was the scene (sort of) of one of my stupider mistakes; and also because the race runs through Mennonite farm country, and the technical guide has this lovely typo (uncorrected in two years), that asks riders "when passing a horse and buggy please give the horses lots of room and do not make any unseen gestures to the Mennonites". (Like secret gang signs or Masonic handshakes, I guess.) And in truth there were a lot of horse-drawn buggies and black-clad farmers scattered around the course. (On the question of "who looked goofier to whom" I'd the say the cyclists had the edge.)

"I hope I never have to witness climbing that bad ever again."
Anyway, it's a nice course through farm country, with a few rollers and one longer slow climb near the start with a bit of a kick-up. The roads were mostly in OK condition, and a bit damp at first to go along with the regular bursts of manure, and there was a brisk SW wind that made the back half of the course pretty tiring (unless you were in the peloton, of course). The first two laps, that's where I was, happily motoring along at 37+ kph on 150-170W lap average and a comfortable 75% MHR. In lap one I'm in the middle of the pack somewhere; in lap two I'm at the back of the pack but manage to surf my way about a third of the way up. That's because I'm desperately trying to get some cushion for when I get passed on the one long-ish climb of the course, which is what happened on the second time up.

And on lap three, of course, everything goes to rat-shit. Third time up I was too far back in the pack, got passed by everybody like I was riding backwards, and was gapped at the top. Again.

Let me just pause a minute here and speak to the particular, small hell that is that moment when, as an under-talented & over-aged amateur bike racer, you lose the wheel of the main group. They are so close, so tantalizingly close, a matter of 10, 15, 20 metres...  and yet nothing can make your screaming legs push hard enough to cover the wattage difference represented by the Peloton Effect, and latch back on. Better men than I can heroically make this jump. But there's something about being gassed at the top of a dispiriting climb that just crushes the fight out of me. I'm like the left-behind Vietnamese kids on the roof of the American Embassy at the Fall of Saigon, waving helplessly as the last overloaded helicopter lumbers up and away into the burning sky, without them, forever. (OK maybe not that dramatic. But, y'know. A bummer.)*

What drive me nuts is if I were to put out the same power numbers I get while riding the resultant  shat-out-the-back time trial, inside the peloton – I might be in the thick of things. And actually do some racing.

Because here's how it looks:
Lap One: 16:44, averaging 37.2 kph, 150 HR (75% max) and 151W; cool; perfect.
Lap Two: 16:33, averaging 37.7 kph, 162 HR (81%) 171W; up a bit, but totally manageable.
Lap Three: Rat shit. 18:34, 33.2 kph, 177 HR (well over lactate threshold, uh-oh we know what comes next); but with an average of 205W. 205 watts inside the peloton probably means I'm chasing down a break or something. But on my own, it's just downhill from there, the laps getting slower, the HR climbing, and the power diminishing – but even on the last, slowest lap I averaged more power – 173W – than I put out on my fastest lap. How fucking stupid is that?

The culprit? that bloody climb. The difference? 5 seconds. Hawkesville Hill climb #3 was 5 seconds slower than climb #1 (1:42 vs 1:47). And that was the insurmountable gap. Climb #4, gassed and out of the peloton, was another 20 seconds on top of that. And it's a bad downward spiral that only got worse. The guys in the thick of it, on the other hand, had pretty consistent times up that climb (+/- 1:40), every time.

As ever, I found another guy to ride with for the last few laps (Kevin Gibson, Waterloo Cycling Club, high five!), so at least I'm getting good at recruitment. But even then, when he wanted to race in the last couple of hundred meters to the finish ("It's a race after all," he said, and I totally agreed, goddamn it) I couldn't even muster up a decent fight to the line.

So I gutted it out and finished, which is its own kinda victory (mostly I was driven by not wanting to be the only guy on the team showing a DNF when we posted results on the club Facebook site on the following Monday). But I will admit I was dreadfully envious of my teammates who were in the thick of it til the end, and got to talk about it afterwards. I'm kinda done with moral victories.

This I think is the nature of races in Ontario.  Really, all it takes is to be 5 or 10 seconds slow on one of those climbs and it's over. For me, anyway. So, at least I know, unequivocally, what I need to work on. And I have the Flyers' own racing & training guru, Warren Shiau, on the case helping me out with workout suggestions.

In short: Hello, Brimley Hill!

* A small homage to the late, great Spalding Gray there. Anyone familiar with "Swimming to Cambodia" will know what I'm talking about.

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