Project 5 Racing

Leland – a cold hell, April 16, 2011

Hell is not hot – it is cold, rainy, windy, with a bit of haily snow thrown in. Oh, not to mention mud and slick roads.

Shawn raced the 4′s first with Lance helping in the feed zone. Conditions at start of his race: 45-48F, drizzle, wind out of west 15-20mph. Final 25K Conditions: 35-38F, blowin 20-30mph and gusting much higher out of the west. And it would only get worse as the day went on. As a result, other races were cut short leaving Shawn as the only P5 racer to complete the full 100k scheduled.

Survival became the new goal at Leland – not the placing on the scorecard. Shawn helped out a fellow racer with some food during the race. Shawn recounted, “The fellow racer came up afterwards and said good riding with you while we did, and thank you for the support out there. That made my day. He finished, and not last! And that’s why this is the best sport on the planet and why we do it. If we can get a result from time to time that’s a bonus. For the conditions we battled and endured at Flatlandia’s Leland Kermesse; everyone who turned a lap out there on Saturday deserves a Jens Factor badge because that’s exactly what it took.” ‘Nuff said.

The Leland course is a 25k lap with 3 gravel sections that make up about 40% of the distance. Well, not gravel today. Two wet-clay slick strips with wheel-sucking mud in-between and on either side of the strips. And while walking the tight rope is difficult enough, the wind was like someone poking you with a stick, keeping you off-balance and wiggling to stay the course. And when you weren’t battling the slick muddy roads, the wind swept you from the asphalt to the muddy edge or just made you feel like you were standing still.

The Men’s Masters 1/2/3 lined up with the Women’s 1/2/3, so John, Pascale, J, and I were together at the start of our scheduled 100k of racing. Even though some at the line commented about cold-numbed fingers and the like, we did not really know yet the hell that lay before us.

At the first left turn, the men went up the road while the women settled into a rotating paceline – although there was concern that one of the women might have been with the men.

Heading into the first gravel section, I moved to the front and laid down a solid pace. At the left turn, three of us noticed we had a gap, so we started rotating and kept the pace high. When we hit the asphalt, a fourth racer bridged up – the racer we thought was ahead with the men. Ahh – so we were the front of the race!

I now had 2 XXX and an unknown racer with me. As we turned into the second gravel section, I again went to the front and pushed hard. After the first rise, we were down to 3 – 2XXX and me. We started rotating and worked together solidly.

The cross-winds hurt us more than the headwind. We would set up on the opposite edge of the road and in a couple hundred yards we were wind-pushed across to the other edge of the road trying to stay on the pavement. Repeat.

On the 2nd lap, at the 1st gravel section, I again went to the front. The mud was much thicker than the first lap, the rain was coming down, and it was colder. I shifted to my small ring to try to keep the cadence up. I still felt bogged down. I had to ask…”Hey – is my tire flat?” To which XXX replied, “You wish!” And I guess I did – it was the beginning of my end. We started rotating again in the mud.

Just before the end of that gravel section, I lost contact with my fellow breakmates. Then my shifting difficulties began – a two-handed effort to get back to – come on! get up there – the big ring. Result? Gap had increased -significantly. Once in the big ring, I went back to work, trying to reel in the 2-XXX’ers that were up the road, but NOT working together! End of Gravel #2 – I’m closer and they are still not working together. While on gravel #3, I see the two-still-not-working-together racers turn right onto the pavement - directly into the viscious headwind – I push.  Before they crest the slight rise, I see them regroup as I turn into the cold wall of wind, alone. At the turn, the Tati 4′s women team is running alongside me, urging me on. In my head I envision one of them grabbing a bike and giving me a bit of a draft. Dillusions…

The survival instinct settled in…the wind was so strong, it became a small ring effort. Then the rain turned to pebbles- hail? WTF! Crosswinds were harder without partners to watch get equally windswept. Shifting gears was almost impossible.

Before entering gravel 1 for the 3rd time, I took a shot of gel and my hand got stuck in my jersey putting it away! I could not get it out. I couldn’t grab the brake with my free hand. The corner marshal waved harder and yelled louder as if that would help me brake, turn, or get my hand free. Nope – I barely missed him as I rolled off course and down the wrong road. A couple hundred feet later I got my hand free and turned around. He looked at me like, “What’s up?” I just said, “My limbs aren’t working.” I pedalled away in my small ring- gravel 1 done, 2 done, and 3 almost done – and I started psyching myself up for another lap.

Then I saw the most beautiful sight – Loch, on his moto, blocking my path to the final lap and directing me to the finish – oh, yes, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Wow. Back at the car, I helped John with his keys (I knew what it was like not to get the hand in/out of the jersey pocket), and shivered for a 1/2 hour or so trying to warmup. After congratulating and sympathizing with the other racers, I collected a few bucks for 3rd and visited Casey’s so I could enjoy a hot coffee on the ride home. The simple things.

Looking forward to Leland again next year – what will it bring? Bring it on!

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