Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay: Stage 1

New to the party? Get caught up with yesterday's post.

Breakfast the next morning, besides being nearly 45 minutes later than the posted signs said, was--you guessed it--a repeat of the previous day. The little ham and cheese sammies weren't too filling, but I was more interested in the dulce de leche (Caramel for breakfast?! Don't mind if I do.) and the yogurt. After all, it's a 10-day race and getting just a little behind on calories can have huge repercussions later.

Our more astute readers caught the foreshadowing in that last sentence.

Anyways, the bikes had not arrived from the airport yet. Our 'guide' was Carlos, a man strikingly similar to my late Grandfather, so that was a bit bizarre for me. He had grown up in Uruguay and knew everyone, and had secured for Soladay a more suitable loaner bike to race on should the bikes not show up in time.

We headed out for some openers to get the legs going again, while previewing the TT course for later in the week. Aside from blowing snot everywhere, I felt alright.

When it came time for our post-ride massages, we faced our first logistical challenge: Amanda's massage table was among the missing luggage. Nothing slows Amanda down, though, and we had our massages on a long folding table with a bench cushion atop it.

Amanda had to joke about it during the massage, "Just think, someday when you're old and wrinkled, you'll be telling your grandkids about that time in Uruguay..."

"...that the airlines left behind our luggage..."

"...and you got a massage on a folding table..."

"...with a pew cushion for padding...."

" the hotel hallway because the rooms were too cramped...."

"...with the automatic lights that kept turning off...."

"...and the Colombian director that awkwardly complimented your tanlines...."

Dinner was okay. Dessert was great. Who doesn't like flan and its flobbery wobbliness?

A quick shot of the sunset and it was off to bed after enjoying some Spanish Simpsons to brush up some more. I was enthusiastic about [re]learning another language.

I stole this photo from Zirbel
5:30ish wakeup...and my sinus issues had mysteriously disappeared. We had to have our bags downstairs before breakfast so they could meet us at the day's finish. I used the early wakeup to sneak some time on the internet--we had realized the day before that all the  racers in the hotel crashed the internet pretty easily, and the best bet for a connection was first thing, before everyone got up.

Breakfast...same story, just more chaotic. I managed to eat a good deal, as I was motivated for the race.  Before heading back to the room, we snagged our Clif products for the day from Amanda's roller bag so she could put it on the truck. This was tricky...Amanda only packed exactly as much race food as we would need for the race, and half of it was in the missing bike bags. We were operating under the impression that the stuff would show up in time.

Another logistical issue: we had no backup bikes, and only 2 sets of spare wheels in case of flats, one of which Bob was borrowing from another team.

We had a contingency plan in place for the bikes to find us should they show up, since we would be traversing the country over the next few days. Fingers crossed.

Another logistical issue: race bags. Our big luggage was on the truck, but we still had our backpacks with a change of clothes so we didn't spend all day in our chamois. Normally, dealing with race bags is not an issue. But when this is your caravan vehicle, space is a concern:

Wohlberg being all kinds of awesome in the Geely
Thankfully, Amanda made friends with the Brazilian team (FunVic) and would ride with them to each day's finish in their team van, along with our race bags.

Before rolling to the start of my longest race ever, I made the morning visit to the restroom. Everything was fine. Jersey back on, start walking, immediately flip a u-turn and get back in there because everything is no longer fine. Uh-oh.  I'd been careful! No fresh fruits/veggies, and only bottled water! And my medicine was in my big luggage. Mental note: medicine goes in the race bag from now on.

The start was the usual affair...roll to sign in, stay hydrated, and wait around. Stage 1 was 121 miles from Montevideo to Trinidad.

Speaking of 'stay hydrated,' our final and most delicate logistical issue: water bottles. Want to guess where half of them were? For the time being, we only had 55 water bottles. It's Uruguay, so it's warm. Figure on 6 bottles/day/rider for 6 riders, and you have a logistical issue. We couldn't just get more bottles, either. The only bottles available down there are the little ones with the pop-tops that you get for free in goodie bags at Fun-Run 5K's, that rattle around in the bottle cages. We, with our big-mouth screw-top bottles, were the envy of everyone.

Also, there were no feed zones. 1000 miles of racing, zero feed zones. All feeding would be done from the caravan, which would mean dozens and dozens of runs of fetching the empties from teammates before heading back to the car to get more bottles. And yes, that got tedious pretty quickly.

Time to race!

On the way out of town, we crossed a few railroad tracks...and dodged a lot of small water bottles that had been sent skidding.

My first thought when racing started? "Racing down here is much louder than in the States!" We had a dozen police motorcycles giving us a rolling enclosure, and their sirens were always on.

I hadn't given much thought to the race route, but it was quickly apparent what was in store for us: highways. The average road in Uruguay is pretty rough, so the only suitable roads for racing were highways. 121 miles, 3 turns.

Any racer can predict the style of racing on a road that is straight, flat, and wider than the peloton. It was very aggressive and very fast. The wind was gentle, so it was just attack after attack. There were two pro teams racing: us and Movistar Continental. Anytime we moved, riders were on us like flies. The accordion effect was the name of the game--as an attack was caught, the front riders would sit up and the back would come blasting by. With only 120 racers, you could find yourself at the back in a hurry because the field inverted so quickly. Conversely, you could also get to the front quickly.

It was just fun racing, plain and simple. Constant attacking, staying in the 53x11 all the time. As the team with the largest aggregate weight and height in the race, we were biding our time for some serious crosswind sections. The wind was blowing gently from the side, but not enough to do much damage. That is, until the Sprints or 'KOMs' came up. Then the field would go full-gas in the gutter for a few kilometers. I kept getting caught off guard when they would do this, and I got split off 2 separate times.

The first time, I worked hard to chase back on, but soon realized that these guys were absolutely cutthroat in the gutters. In America, it's tough to get an echelon going in the crosswind. You move over, they follow, but you cannot get them to pull through. In Uruguay, they won't even follow you out into the wind because they think that means you're blown. Only after you're well off the back will they work together at all.

The second time, I sat in and let the other goobers pull us back on. Also, I didn't have much choice. My stomach had recently notified me that it would no longer be accepting donations. Any time I went hard, things got...uh...intestinally uncomfortable. So I had to wait for that to settle down.

The break that Ken was in finally came back (he had somehow snuck away to bridge without any of the other teams seeing him), and we decided to do the blow-by leadout with 1.5K to go. That involves getting ourselves lined up on the outside, but hanging back until the last minute before exploding to the front for one all-out effort.

I got pinched off from the guys in the chaos with 3K to go. I had to get back up there, they needed me. But I was stuck in the middle of the pack, which gave me one option: the long way. I had to back off and work my way to the edge of the pack, slowly falling backwards. Finally I was on the outside, at the very back, with 2K to go. The guys were already taking the front without me, and I had to get there immediately so they wouldn't drop Ken off too soon and leave him hanging. I blasted up the side of the pack straight to the front, sliding in front of Zwiz, and set about using my last match of the day to get them to the last corner, a K from the finish. Before the corner, Zwiz took over, powered through, and then Zirbel gave Ken a monster pull to drop him off with 250m to go.

For those that have never done it, giving a proper all-out leadout is miserable when you're also trying to finish on same time.... That sprint took forever, and I just managed to stay with the lead group to the finish.

I rolled around for a few minutes trying to find out the outcome, fending off all the children asking for my water bottles. It was hard to be concerned about anything else when I finally found out:

First Optum UCI win in 2012
Ken and Carlos

It was a tiring, but rewarding day
-What will become of my stomach issues?
-Will the bikes show up?
-Will SuperKen make it 2-for-2 for the Americans?
-Does the ham and cheese start tasting better?