Tuesday, 30 October 2012

fireworks, freeways and farm animals

Day 2 of the vuelta a mexicali dawned early, or rather it dawned whenever it wanted to but unusually i was up to see the dawning happening. The second day also began with some leftover pancakes courtesy of Jose's wife and some nutella courtesy of my friend Marie. Having eaten our unbalanced breakfast we set off to the start of the race. having confirmed the location with the sponsor yesterday and the time with the race organiser we knew we were slated for an 8am start. Assuming the usual Mexican "time change" we arrived allowing plenty of time for warm up/ portapotty activity/ discussion of tactics which we would never actually lay down in the race/ trading action wipes for coffee and other such vital activities. All told we rolled up about 7:50.

Given that nobody does much on time we weren't overly put off by the absence of many other riders. I set out in search of a portapotty and found a set up which, whilst permanent didn't appear to be linked to any form of running water or a front door. Unperturbed i took a throne with a view and got on with the task at hand, and was pretty happy i hadn't traded my action wipes at that point. Having returned to our small group, consisting of some women's racers, our support driver, Jose and some Veterans. i gave the chain a good wiping and began to get a bit fretful as 8:30 came and went without any evidence of a bike race occurring. I pinned my number and selected my semi solid three course menu, opting for an amuse bouche of peanut butter gu before a main of island nectar roctane and a delectable chocolate raspberry course to finish.

My menu planning was rudely interrupted by some shouting, a walkie talkie being held in the air and a mad scramble for the pick up trucks.  What followed was something of an experience, we raced pick up trucks with no less regard to our own safety than we race bikes. except that we were going a lot faster, and using parking lots for shortcuts. On arriving at the start (we seem to have been parked at a point midway through the neutral zone) i donned shoes, sunglasses and helmet with a speed worthy of a tattoo bearing, mankini wearing iron-person. hopping onto the bike i made a dash for the start, and made it in time to hear the briefing beginning, i heaved a sigh of relief, looked down and realized i hadn't put my bottles in the cages. Fortunatley Carlos, our erstwhile mechanic/soigneur/busdriver/cheerleader/ bottle deliverer had my back, and my bottles.

The bunch rolled off at a leisurely 35k/h through the middle of town. sirens blaring and horns honking the police did a great job of forming a little traffic free bubble around us as we rolled through Mexicali's busy center and industrial outskirts inconveniencing Saturday shoppers and entertaining children. Three kilometers outside town the car in front slowed down and i came alongside, a clipboard emerged from the window and i was told to sign on. I strongly suspect this is frowned upon by the blue shirt wearing, beard bearing officials who reign with an iron fist over office parks all around the USA every sunday.

Shortly thereafter we stopped, urinated on someone's garden and received a second briefing. Someone handed out some apples which we ate and a large explosion occurred approximately 5 yards to my right.  Fearing an attack from the Sinaloa cartel, perhaps looking to kidnap me in order to cash in on my twitter celebrity status,  i took the sensible option and remained rooted to the sport emitting a sound which one normally associates with rodents. Apparently, far from coming under fire this was the sponsor of the race (a local fireworks manufacturer) getting in a spot of product placement. Once the bunch had finished laughing at me (and the smoke had cleared) we set off.

i won't regale you with the next 70k of stories. we rode in various winds in various forms of echelon. once i'd found the sweetspot the racing wasn't too hard and being a team of one (and sitting second on team GC is should add) i felt no obligation to do anything other than sit at the back panicking every time dogs, pigs, horses, cattle and small children rushed headlong towards the peloton only to halt at the last possible second and to marvel at the internal organs which one can fry and put in a tortilla and sell by the roadside.

With about 50k to go we were taking to the echelon with gusto, exploiting our vulnerability to force the 16 wheel lorries onto the shoulder as they tried not to pancake the lycra clad masses swarming towards them. The bunch was lined out to the left and feeding was on the right, leading to some fairly audacious dives across the road to get much needed hydration. Of particular note were the "stage race legend" points i gained by landing a bottle in the cooler in the back of the calimax car at 40 k/h (i saw it re emerge later and the sad look on the face of the rider who received a surprisingly light bottle was priceless). A young Mexican rider also managed to score a bottle off the floor, that was impressive (about 1 min into the video).

with 35 k to go we turned into a headwind and, quelle surprise, all hell broke loose. I was partially responsible for this flurry of attacks. essentially a pattern emerged whereby i would attack and be joined by two calimax riders who wouldn't work with me and one valle congelado rider would drag the gap back for no particular reason. Following this someone would attack, i would try to get across and the bunch would come with me. Once i did manage to turn a gap, joined by one member of the small valle congelado team and a solo rider. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain (neither had finished the previous stage so they were out of the GC) they made the logical decision to commit everything. Sadly their commitment wasn't to working in the break but rather to commit everything in their power to doing as little as possible.

After 20k of such shenanigans a break rolled without me and along with two calimax riders i was able to get free of the bunch. Unwilling to drag them up to the bunch i commenced swinging across the road and soon found myself all alone on a long desert highway. The break dangled at 10 seconds, riding harder as i closed the gap and refusing to let me ever quite make the junction. In my little bubble on the autopista i was in a world of suffering i hadn't experienced for a long time. surrounded by motorbikes, officials cars, our team cars and the occasional livestock bearing lorry passing by i felt like a goldfish in a bowl with everyone looking on.

The team car pulled alongside, giving me time checks and somewhat optimistic distances to the finish. I settled into my rhythm and cursed the gopro, thinking about that aerodynamic impact i could gain without it. I also cursed just about everything else i could think about to curse. With 1k to go there was a group heading my way from the bunch and the car informed me that unless i gave it everything i would be caught. I threw both my bottles and buried myself until i saw the chequered flag through my vision which was crowded with stars and black dots from the exertion. i crossed the line, someone grabbed my bike and i fell in a ditch, by a motorway in a suburb of an industrial town in Mexico completely spent. i spent the best part of 10 minutes there before Carlos thought i was recovered enough to sit in the back of a pick up truck and drink a coke.

We made our way back to town as i hacked up a cubic foot of tar which i had swallowed. My serenity was briefly interrupted by the loud intrusion of the pinball lights and sirens which had been accompanying me down the freeway an hour earlier, only now they were pulling us over for having too many people in the back of a pickup. Fortunately a few sentences of lisping castillian and a brief delaying trip to the petrol station on false pretences gave the federale the impression that this gringo was not a profitable prospect and we went home free.

that afternoon i showered, ate, fell asleep on the floor because i was too tired to make it to bed. I awoke starving, gorged on sopes. met some wonderful people, discussed the global financial crisis, the best tortillas, drug cartels and the superiority of Mexican soft drinks to those north of the border. at 9:30, having ascended the stairs with more difficulty than the mountain pass we climbed the day before, i slept better than i have done in a long time.

I was exhausted, spent, hungry, thirsty and everything hurt. It's been months since i felt sick from exercise and went so hard i couldn't see.And  I have never been happier, I have missed bike racing more than i can say, and being back in the mix feels great.

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