There is something pleasurable about waking up with nothing to do all day and the lazy cat feeling that comes from knowing you can loll around and do nothing other than be served breakfast in bed, hit the pool, catch up on some rays. Unfortunately for us, this is the total opposite of the expected agenda. The day starts early of course and breakfast is a wake-up affair with the first day’s efforts sitting on legs, and some disorientation setting in.
We have the biggest single climb on the race facing us all this morning. Apx 1 vertical km over not much more than 15km greets us. It starts on the road easy enough but soon accelerates to off-road climbing, huge gradients and the expected sand, gravel ensemble sure to unseat all except the lightest, strongest and therefore fastest riders.
Fortunately the morning starts out cool, which is a relief. The road is fast and winding and I put a bit too much gas into the effort. It’s not a bad thing to bank some miles I guess, and since I lack the mental discipline to hold back in a meaningful way it’s down to my legs and lungs to do the rest. My goal for this climb is simple. Stay seated, stay on the bike and avoid walking. Last time I suffered because of poor gear selection – this time it’s a different story and I’m able to spin a super big climbing gear on the rear (46 teeth) in order to avoid hopping off and walking. It’s only when the grade gets ridiculous that this becomes necessary – we’re seeing 30 degrees plus in pitch.
We reach the top of the climb eventually. Big climbing effort. Not as bad as I thought – maybe it’s worth going down and doing it again! The section is called Regua-Eolica PCR which is an HC climb. Takes me 1:39:47 as per Strava. The race leader Danny climbs it in 1:03:03 which shows you the power output difference between a casual rider like me and an all-in rider like him. There may be some weight advantages too. Anyway it’s interesting to see the difference in time that a 9.3km/hr pace vs a 14.8 km/hr pace makes. Now I just need to go Premium in order to see my weight class position!
The first checkpoint passed it’s onto a long rolling section high on the hilltops. Wide open roads is a nice chance to chat a bit and recover. The way is lined with amazing views and rows and rows of industrial sized wind turbines, which always feel slightly spooky when you’re up close to them. From this point the morning opens up into more traditional rolling vegetation, small villages, tight cobble lanes and farm paths. It’s also getting warm.
By warm I mean hot as hell for 2 hours in the middle of the day. The bottles empty fast and we’re stopping at water points regularly now. I’m trying to keep hydrated but it’s a battle sweating so much.
Still, the heat is all relative. For riders like Jorge, who lives in Mexico, where the temperature in his town is 44 degrees, the 35 degrees felt fresh for him. As a rider who trained exclusively indoors and in winter conditions most other guys wouldn’t dream of riding in I’m pushing for a winter stage race and inviting folks from the warm folds of the equator.
Eric and I ride together for a while. He’s a strong rider from BC, with great bike skills and solid fitness. My South Park song is soon heckling behind me. By that I mean the friendly Irish competition in my class is coming on strong. I hang tough, burning a good long match, but somehow gravity is defied and again he heads off ahead of me. I hit the café stop for some coke, I mean a coke.
I’m off the pace now, but not out. Just hanging tough. The day continues with endless weaving through small remote villages. Nasty little dogs. Nasty big dogs. Hunchback old ladies tending to the verges. Not much in the way of people to cheer us on. I would say the say overall the day was pretty good until 50km then its pure punishment. 5 ugly sisters is the way someone put it. I’m heads down and feeling rough when I get some salvation handed to me.
The course today ends in town, and I hook up with Johan, a Dutch rider living in London for the last 12km or so. He encourages and I respond – we hit hard and I pull strong on the front. We fly the last few kms, which is always the best way to finish. Thank goodness there is some downhill too in the equation.
He tells me a tale of woe about his Oregon 650, which is the same basically as my 600 but with a camera. He stopped to use it part way through day 1 and in taking pictures somehow managed to delete his gps track, which is the only way we keep track of our performance for the race organizers. Having lost it, he’s penalized something like 6 hours, which is like getting a full day’s ride as a penalty. Sucks totally.
The hotel is again beautiful, with a great pool, and after a post-race hangout and dinner with friends, hit the cold water, blast my legs and then fall asleep in the sun. That lazy cat feeling slips back in and feels pretty good to me…