Sunday, March 11, 2007

Beach-To-Beach 2004: Old Journal Entry

Beach-to-Beach 2004: Part One
I was digging around in my training journal the other day and found an entry about the 2004 running of Beach-to-Beach.

This is one of my favorite events.

The Course:
The 123-kilometer cross-country, point-to-point course, which starts at Birds Hill Park Beach and snakes it’s way through the prairie to end up at Winnipeg Beach . It was not very technical, and there were no climbs to speak of. There was, however, lots of extremely rough double-track, knee-deep bogs, and enough sand to fill every playground in North America. If it had been hot and dry, and the course had dried out, plowing through those infamous sandy trails would have been very slow, indeed. The sand pits would have become treacherous, endless, hike-a-bike sections. Fortunately, it had rained the night before and most of the sandy sections were still damp. There was also a brand new section in the last 20 km of the race to avoid some of the nasty stuff that had disheartened so many people in 2003. Overall, Lindsay and his volunteers created a fast, well-marked, interesting and challenging course.

The Weather:
Unlike the searing temperatures, cloudless skies and glorious baking sun that we've come to expect in a July race day, it was somewhat overcast, windy and downright cold. The extremely cool weather and threatening clouds however, did not keep the usual suspects from assembling at Bird’s Hill Park Beach at 8 am Sunday morning.

The Race/Event:
My goal from the start was to break into the top 8, so I was keenly aware that the long road sections would be critical. I knew from last year that the course was not particularly difficult, but that riders would have to battle strong headwinds and possibly unreasonable heat. I guessed I would have to suffer like nobody's business if I hoped to podium. But suffering is what cycling is all about. Right?

As expected, 40 minutes into the event, Neal upped the pace, allowing for a break of 5 or so riders who had caught his wheel. We all went clear of the main peloton. You could feel the nervous energy as riders jockeyed for position rather than working as a smooth-rolling unit. Phil, Neal and Paul set an aggressive pace creating fracturous breaks, as riders of lesser ability struggled to hold their wheels. Sensing a change in the mood of the pack, I carefully navigated from the back of the pace line, a dangerous place to be, to the front. Sure enough, Phil and Neal put the boots to the other riders, opening a 100-meter gap.

This was the moment. Either go for it or be relegated to the peloton to fight it out for last place. Daniel and I ramped it up and jumped across the 100-meter gap. Unable to hold the horrid pace, Daniel soon dropped off. Now there were just 3, Neal, Phil and I. To my credit I stuck with them for a piddle 10-minutes. That is 10 minutes longer than last year ;). In the interest of survival I too sat up and waited for the next group. It wasn’t long before “Dan the man,” Paul L and Allan S picked me up. I guess Alan S and Daniel N had blown a gasket to get that far and soon dropped off the back. Working together Paul L and I steadily put distance between the peloton and us.

With the bad weather, the boldness of our breakaway was not rewarded. The leaders were perhaps 900 meters up the road. Paul and I had been pursuing Neal and Phil for an hour or so into a strong headwind. Paul, a seasoned warrior and ex-pro racer, was worried about blowing up. Despite our best efforts, we were not making any headway on the leaders, so we sat up and rejoined a group of approximately 8 other riders. Unfortunately, this new group was no faster than just the two of us had been. Frustrated that the race was going up the road, I started taking longer pulls at the front.

Everyone settled into the rhythm of the eschelon with each rider taking his turn at the front fighting the head wind, then falling back to rejoin the pace line at the back. Pull, rest, drink, and pull.

Recognizing that the cyclocross dudes, who were an asset on the road, would be a liability in the sand, I swung wide as our chase pack reached the first dive into the trails; a hard left-hand turn into the sand. As expected riders went down, but I was clear of the carnage and hammering up the first sandy incline before they could spit the sand out of their teeth.

Once we were on the first section of ATV double-track, thrills of excitement surged through my body. I could breathe a sigh of relief. The gravel road section was the most critical, most dangerous, and difficult section of the event for me. The horrid pace and extra long pulls had been a strain, but I was in excellent form. I had avoided mishaps such as flat tires, derailed chains and spills on the loose gravel roads, which had marred the efforts of other races as we zipped along beside the wheat fields of Manitoba. Most importantly I had hit the trail in 5th place right behind Paul and Daniel. Paul had been hurting during the entire road section, but I knew he was an animal with deep reserves. You could never count him out. Daniel is improving every time he even ‘thinks’ of his bike, and has youth and a kick ass bike on his side. I also knew, however, that he has frequently blown up in the final stages of races. I felt confident. Traditionally I am strongest after 3-hours of hard riding. If I could just focus on keeping them in sight, avoid hugging any trees, and stuff myself with copious amounts of food and water (like that’s ever been a problem), then I might take them both down.

Eat, drink and ride was stage two of the plan.

We rode along at a moderate pace, each separated by about 400 meters….

More to come in Part 2

Coach Dave

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