I love to watch top-class athletes push themselves to their limit, suffering in the pursuit of glory. I hate racing. I hate pushing myself to my limit, suffering in the vain pursuit of glory.
At Canmore, Canada, I experienced the double-edged sword of racing. The World Cup circus is in town, complete with a full card of races for the average Joe like me. With a three-week tour in my legs, I figured that it could be a good opportunity to utilize some rare fitness to show these Canucks how it's done down under. After all, Cadel will be doing it in the W.C., so it's up to me to fly the flag in the Masters 30-39 class!
RACE TIP No. 1: You need a bike to race! I didn't have one, the Brodie I'd used on the tour was gone, so a quick stop at one of the local shops garnered me a GT XCR3000. Now, being a hardtail devotee, I thought maybe this bike will help me get over my rear-shock phobia. After two practice laps, it was back to the shop for a swap to a nice, unforgiving Avalanche. Ahhh, climbing on start at 8am Saturday, so a pre-race schedule was needed; out for beers Friday, obligatory pasta for dinner, then a few more beers to ensure proper hydration. A couple of cigarettes topped things off nicely. A late-night munch-out on muesli bars and bagels provide extra fuel for non-breakfast-eaters.
Morning brings an empty stomach, a dry mouth, a dull throb in the head and RAIN! Maybe I'll just stay in bed. The logical smidgen of my brain reminds me that I've paid over $100 for a bike and entry fees, so into the cold wet morning I trudge. And God is it cold! The ride from our lodge to the course does little to warm me up, in fact, I'm now saturated and freezing compared to just freezing. I don't feel as fit as I thought I was on the tour, but it's only two laps.... how hard can it be? Gee, some of these guys look a bit serious, next to me in baggy shorts and a t-shirt, hungover and hungry.
RACE TIP No. 2: The start line psych-out. Your you on the line, and this is a perfect opportunity to fill their heads with crap. "Is that a broken spoke?" "Yeah, my mate's Litespeed snapped at the head tube, just like that" (snapping my fingers for added effect). "Shouldn't you be wearing something warmer?" The guy next to me says it's stupid to wear baggy's in a race, and I tell him that I'm Australian, and my name's Evans. My ego is inflated, while he just looks bewildered. We're off! 86 thirty-somethings without much sense on their side, pedaling through the rain and mud in the pursuit of supposed glory. I've rooted already. But wait, there are only a dozen or so riders in front of me.... there's a major bottleneck behind on the singletrack climb, a chance to get away. But it hurts like hell! Oh, shut up negative brain, this is your chance... World Cup glory! There are some burly guys ahead of me, surely my skinny frame will help me on the long climb. Cool, they're walking... time for some pain, bro. I pass 5 or 6 walkers in about 2k's, so I figure I'm in the top 5. Woohoo!
On the ultra-steep and technical Chute downhill, there is carnage when I arrive at the top. Three guys are picking themselves up off the deck, and I pass to the small crowd gathered. Arriving for the bell lap, I can see three riders ahead about 500 meters, and I hear the P.A. announce that yes, some Aussie guy is in 4th! I panic... can I hold on for another lap? Will I die from hypothermia at the side of the track? Do I get paid for this?
RACE TIP No. 3: Don't think too much. My brain is working overtime, pondering whether to go harder, or just hang on. But you've only got one shot, and the pain will end soon... I'm going for it! Won't I look good on the podium, baggy shorts, beer, and a smoke! Do we even get to go on the podium? Where can I get a beer? God, I'm cold! Hey, you're thinking too much again. I've almost caught them. But they're riding the climb this time, I'm gonna have to Pan are crunching and grating in the granny ring, so a shift to the middle is executed (literally!) and stomping replaces spinning. Now a different set of leg muscles feel like they are about to snap, but it's working. As I join the leaders, tactics start to cloud my mind. Two km's to go... should I hang with them and try to out-sprint them, or go for the solo breakaway? I'm doomed either way. I just want to get off and lie down.
We approach the flat, grassy start/finish loop, locked together. Well, I'm actually dragging along just behind with a lung hanging out, trying not to get sucked to the front just yet. All those Tour De France videos paying off at last. There's a small overpass bridge about 200m from the finish line, and an attack on the short rise over it is the plan. A wheel is grabbed, the speed quickens and there's daylight ahead going wheel to wheel with the guy on the Litespeed which, unfortunately, didn't crack! The line seems like it's a mile away. My saturated baggy shorts flap around as I flail on the pedals, and I'm thinking maybe that guy was right, maybe lycra works. No time for a product review right now, time to raise the arms in victory as the vanquished bow their heads in defeat.
RACE TIP No. 4: Have some thinking friends come with you to the race. If they are really on the ball, they will be waiting with refreshments for their tired hero. And they'll cheer for you, making other racers and spectators think you are really popular and/or fast. So with a coldie in one hand, ciggey in the other, I stood atop the podium to the rowdy, semi-drunken chant of my comrades...."Brett, Brett, Brett...."
Slowly the chanting became fainter until there was just a solitary voice...."Brett, BRETT! Wake up man, we gotta get to the race!"