Friday, September 28, 2012

Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay: Stage 2

Stage 1

While Ken was off getting his picture taken in the race's first yellow jersey, the rest of us rehydrated as best we could and set off for the hotel at Amanda's direction. After stashing the bikes in the underground parking garage for Bob, we found our rooms. Amanda had been busy--our race bags were waiting for us, along with sandwiches (sure, they were just ham and cheese, but she put mustard on them! A condiment!!!), bananas, chocolate milk, and cookies. To top it all off, this was a nice hotel. Morale was soaring.

My first task was to visit the very nice bathroom and let the demons out. I don't know what caused it, but it was not cool. And it would be another half hour before our big bags showed up and I could get some medicine.

In the meantime, I took the standard stage-race shower. What's that, you wonder? It's where you shower, then handwash your race clothes while you're in there. Don't even bother unpinning your numbers, just wash it all together, wring 'em out, and hang 'em up on the balcony. Then they're ready to go the next day!

The internet was even reasonably fast! Spanish Simpsons was on again, and the afternoon couldn't have been more relaxing, as we opened up Ken's victory presents like it was Christmas. Just from what I can remember from the 5 bags he brought back, there was a leather-encased cutting board and knife set, a bottle of Scotch, various household items like air-freshener and bug spray, and a few athletic t-shirts. Not a bad take.

Actually, the one thing that would have been nice was if we could've gotten the AC to work. While we sorted that out, we left the balcony door open to let the breeze in.

Before heading out for dinner, I meandered over to the grocery store to stock up on a few items. I filled my basket with cookies, a jar of dulce de leche, and other items that I would have no trouble getting down in the coming days. Also, I got a few bottles of gatorade and pedialite to rehydrate after my intestinal episode.

Dinner was predictable and uninteresting except for the part where Zwiz terrified a young boy on the walk over with a very creepy, very deep, "Hola..." The boy ran inside to fetch his dad, who hustled outside, only to then laugh at the harmless gringos walking along.

On the way back, Zirbel stopped at the grocery store for a carton of ice cream. He needed help finishing it, and I'm proud to say I jumped on that grenade. It's called being a teammate. You should try it sometime.

Before going to bed, we attacked the AC unit one more time with the only tools we had: safety pins and ink pens. I'm sure you're surprised to learn that our efforts were fruitless. So, we resigned ourselves to sleeping with the balcony door open, serenaded by the sounds of the street and its alarmingly loud scooters and stereo systems.

I awoke freezing cold, the AC blowing full-blast on me. Zirbel had grown weary of the noise outside and closed the balcony door. Wouldn't you know it, there was a tiny sensor on the door that triggers the AC.

It was another early wakeup for us, as we had a transfer before the stage started. The standard breakfast was growing old already, but I ate what I could and shuffled onto the bus for an hour of ipod time. I didn't know if my stomach issues had been resolved or were merely subdued as a result of the immodium. All was quiet on the front lines for the time being.

We rode the bus, the bikes were carefully leaned against one another in the bed of an empty dumptruck.

Stage 2, 103 miles. We were excited. As the team with yellow, we had to be extremely careful not to be caught out of any move with more than a few guys in it. The one thing we could not do this early in a 10-day race is to miss the move and be forced to ride the front. So we were all amped up, ready to wreck shop again.

Ken was extremely anxious, can't you tell? Painters tape on our stems marked the sprint/KOM points and other key notes
So the racing started, and then the most bizarre thing in all my racing experiences happened.

There were a few attacks, but nothing was getting away. Then, with nary a word, the entire front half of the field settled into a giant rotating paceline. I'm not kidding, 40 riders pulling through steadily. Riders from every team except ours. There was a gentle breeze from the right, so there was a slight echelon covering most of the road.

We didn't know what to make of it, and were afraid to talk about it and jinx it. The kilometers ticked off one at a time, with nobody off the front. A sprint point was coming up and the attacks started a few kilometers out, but immediately afterward the field wordlessly settled into its rotation again.

Like I said, bizarre.

I made a game of staying in the sweet spot as long as possible. Where might the sweet spot be? I shall try to paint you a word-picture.

Picture if you can a very large rotating paceline, fading gently from right to left, rotating in a clockwise direction. On the upwind side of that rotation, there is always a stream of guys that don't want to take a pull but want to be near the front. So they'll tuck in as close as possible to the rotation while skirting up near the front, effectively getting 75% of a draft. With nowhere to go once reaching the front, they inevitably begin falling back when they are passed by more riders on the upwind side doing the same thing.

Basically, they are making a wrong-direction rotation on the upwind side of the actual paceline, while trying to stay out of the rotation. Pretty ironic, huh?

So, the sweet spot: Right in the middle of the counter-direction rotation. By staying a little bit further back and holding the advancing riders on your upwind side, you become sandwiched between the advancing and falling lines, but staying in the same relative place in the peloton. It's pretty entertaining. I even made a picture of it in Paint because I have that much time on my hands.

We continued on like this until mile/kilometer 60/100, then just as inexplicably the race went nuts with attacking. It became very painful very suddenly. The field broke up a few times and then chased back together (in the gutter). My legs were feeling a bit flat, but not terrible. Ken had been caught behind one of the splits, so we worked hard to get him back up there.

As the final kilometers approached, the field was all together. All was calm for the time being as teams prepared for the sprint. I was working on getting to the front to set up the leadout when the 3K to go sign caught me off guard. Just then the field went full-gas and guys in front of me let go of the wheel in the gutter, and I never got up there. I chased all out, but ended up losing 40-some seconds in the final few K as nobody would help me chase.

The guys set up their leadout, but Zirbel was caught by surprise by a median in the final turn. He managed to get over it safely, but at the expense of one of our precious HED wheels. Ken got 6th without even sprinting...he had missed the 1K to go sign and didn't think the big banner was the finish banner. To be fair, the 1K to go sign was a piece of plywood with a spraypainted '1K' on it, propped up at the side of the road. And the 500, 200m to go 'signs' were simply words spraypainted on the ground. It wouldn't be the last time that one of us missed those signs.

There wasn't a lot to be excited about that time. Ken had lost the yellow jersey to bonus seconds at the finish. We were down a tubular wheel without backups. The bikes were still missing. I had lost time due to inattentiveness.

But tomorrow was another day, and we were determined to get that bitter taste out of our mouths.

-Will the bikes show up?
-Will I think of more euphemisms for stomach issues?
-Will I create more ridiculous drawings in Paint?
-Can we get back into our groove and start winning again?
-Will we turn to the Geely to cheer us up?

Wohlberg overwhelms the Geely with awesomeness