Sunday, September 30, 2012

Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay: Stage 3

Stage 1
Stage 2

Regardless of how we felt about the day's results, we still had a job to do: eat. To get food and fluids in us immediately after the finish, Amanda said she would be 100 meters beyond the finish, on the right, in the nearest shaded area. That sounds like an overly descriptive meeting place, but trying to find anybody in the throng and chaos at the end of a long race is a tall order.

Sure enough, there she was, hopping up and down shouting "Optum!" Once one or two riders find her, the rest just have to spot the orange jerseys.

As we knock back some Coke or other sugary beverage, some chocolate milk and cookies, and rehash the race, we must simultaneously fend off the crowd of people standing less than 2 feet away. It's like they've never seen cyclists before, and this new experience turns them into water bottle zombies. They can hear us speaking English, so they adopt the international "Can I have your water bottle?" pose: point at the bottle and look at you with their best impression of puppy-dog eyes. Then it becomes our job to shoot them down like a quail on the opening day of hunting season without sounding like selfish American jerks, because we really do need every last one of them.

By the end of the stage race, Amanda became a bottle-ninja. She'd have our bottles off our bike and in her backpack before we'd even stopped moving. One of her many daily tasks was to rinse each bottle out, soak them all in the tub with bleach, air them out, and then refill with drink mix/water/coke and cap them with the corresponding top so we knew what was in each.

This particular hotel was old school. No elevator, and the locks on the doors....

After showering/doing laundry and verifying that the internet connection was garbage, we set out for lunch, which would be a bit too far to walk. We stuffed all 6 of us, whose average height was probably 6', into the Geely. 2 in front, 4 in back. Even crammed next to each other we were nearly a foot too wide, so we had to offset our hips by turning sideways and offsetting ourselves, made more amusing my the fact that only one of the back doors worked. Then we set off in pursuit of food. The only obstacle: the hotel's driveway. Not willing to exit and re-stuff ourselves in there, we just committed....and left a 6-foot drag mark on the pavement with everyone watching. Americans, right?!

Lunch, nap, massage (stacking two squishy mattresses together and schooching to one side...a massage platform slightly firmer than a water bed), Steve Irwin (croikey!) with Spanish subtitles on a 15" TV, the walk of the unconnected (wandering around with laptop in hand, searching for a signal), and it was time for dinner.

This time we piled into the Geely while it was in the street with about 50 people laughing at us. When the door closed, they applauded.

At breakfast the following morning, I nearly lost my appetite when I looked at the ham and cheese. So I had a few pastries, some shortbread cookies, and knocked back a few glasses of the yogurt. Then I went back to my room to dunk a few oreos in dulce de leche. Nutrition is key in these long stage races.

The stage start was a few miles away at the old velodrome. We signed in, they started the neutral rollout, and we slowly headed over to the big park only a few blocks from the hotel where they stopped us so that we could start the race. Confused yet?

Anyways, the stage finish was 100 miles away, so to make the stage a bit longer we would do a handful of hotdog loops around the park. It was in the turnarounds that I first realized that hardly any of the other racers knew how to handle their bike through a corner...a symptom of 100 miles races that have 2 turns.

The race wasn't very interesting. I don't really even remember much of it...the usual attacks, the full-gas pace at every sprint/KOM (I've been saying KOM, but really they just picked out the biggest false flat in the area to put a line at the top of...most KOM sprints averaged 30+mph for over a minute).

4 hours after starting, it was time to get ready for another sprint finish. The distance markers weren't in quite the right spot with 10 and 5k to go, and we got to the front to start leading it out. Then the 3k sign came well after we'd expected it to, and we backed off the pace just a bit too much and got swarmed. By the time we made the last turn, I had been pinched off and was nearly at the back again, but at least I was on the inside.

The final turn was a fast left-hand sweeper, and I sprinted up the inside and took it hot. Remember how I said they can't turn well at speed? Well, they missed the apex by a long shot and I could've fit 3 of me side-by-side through that hole. I stayed on the gas and motored up to the front, just like stage 1. Ken hadn't lost any positioning because he's brilliant at negotiating a pack...I still had learning to do. Only Zirbel was with him, though, and as I reached the front he was ramping it up. I slid in front of him but surged too hard because I was too excited and gapped him. Ken jumped around and slotted onto my wheel.

I looked up and saw the big banner up ahead, just 500m away. I put everything I had into the pedals, and about 300m from the banner I started sprinting. The Brazilians' leadout train was right next to me. I kept going, kept going, and finally had nothing left. I looked between my legs and saw Ken's white shoes on my left side, so I faded right and dropped anchor to watch the sprint unfold. Just as I was going crosseyed, I made out the words on the banner.

"Bienvenidos a Paysandu"

Uncomprehending in my exhaustion-induced stupor, I just happened to see the plywood on the side of the road: "1K". Further up the road, the finish banner had just come into view.

I had burned my last match to dump our sprinter into the wind with a kilometer left to race. He was unable to get back in the draft with good position or fresh legs, and came up short in the sprint.

If we were upset after stage 2, we were livid after stage 3. We'd failed to assemble properly and take charge even though we could have, and we'd left Ken hanging out to dry. The tension was building.

-Okay, seriously. Are the missing bikes going to show up?
-Can we find our mojo again?
-What's a chivito?