I've taken the better part of a week to process the experience and put it behind me, but last weekend Alastair and I traveled west bright (well, rainy) and early to do our first HC (hors categorie) hill climb and time trial.
We'd trained pretty well, though a couple of attempts at heading west in the weeks leading up to the event were interrupted by business travel, weather, and life-in-general.
I'd done all I could to our bikes: my race bike was running a 28-tooth cog at the back, and my spare bike was ready to receive that same cassette if I just didn't feel like I could turn the full-size 39-tooth ring. Alastair's bike was running the 32-tooth cassette from my cross bike, with a 34 out front. On 650c wheels, I told him that wasn't much more than walking the bike up.
And we'd prepared mentally. I'd done a TON of miles leading up to the event, with some pretty decent climbs, and he was hitting the mountain in both directions on Zwift with decent results. Alastair knew he was competing on his own, with nobody else in his age bracket and a gob of BAR points for just making it to the top. I had 3 other competitors, including a teammate.
At 46F, it was a full 10-degrees colder at the base than we'd anticipated, and the rain that was supposed to have left the area was still coming down pretty good while we shivered and debated warm-up strategies. Ultimately we ran out of time to warm up when we realized the start line was a mile up the road.
I made the last-second call to take the race bike and risk the water-intrusion that trashes bearings so readily, and set off with a bitterly-cold rooster-tail of water soaking my backside. Jersey, base-layer, arm-warmers, and summer gloves. I'll warm up on the way. Maybe. Hopefully.
I missed Alastair's start. He was the first one off, and with 10 minutes between us, I figured I'd run over him pretty quickly, but he evidently took things seriously for a while and put down a good run to the guard house.
But when I got to the starting line, my heart-rate monitor decided that would be a great opportunity to fritz out. Instant terror. My whole strategy for this was to get my heart-rate to 168 and hold it there. Without heart-rate data, the only other field I could rely on was 3-second power average, which isn't the greatest for regulating effort. In fact, it's pretty frickin' awful for that purpose.
I set off hard, over-took a few riders, and kept seeing 300+ on the power field. Just to keep the cranks turning at 80rpm in 39/28 was requiring regular efforts of 400+. I can't sustain that, and I wasn't even at the "real" climb yet. I started to panic and try to "feel" out my heart, which usually starts sending warning signals in the form of tingling at the base of my skull. But since I was shivering and climbing and bending my neck at exotic angles to see where I was going, there was nothing to feel. So I pressed on. 315W. 350W. 425W.
About 1/10 of a mile from the turn to the guard house, a searing pain crept up my right side exactly where I'd suffered my first broken rib of the year. Hoping it was a cramp, I tried to ease back a bit, but the pain just intensified until I was unable to proceed. I stopped, got off the bike, and leaned on a guard-rail for 3 minutes, ready to accept a ride from the photographer and call the day done.
But my truck keys were in the team car, which was heading up the mountain. If I went back down, I'd be standing in the cold for over an hour waiting for someone to realize I wasn't coming.
So I got back on, decided to just churn up the mountain, and lo and behold the heart-rate monitor decided to start working again. Now I could work. With RPM's in the low 50's in the granny gear, I trudged and tooled and worked my way up, heart-rate holding steady in the low 170's. With half the ride behind me, I felt like I could put a bit more into it.
The rain had stopped, too, and everything felt warm and good.
At 1600' of climbing, and waaaay longer than I'd anticipated, I caught Alastair. Expecting to receive a death glare and perhaps a flurry of disparaging remarks, I was amazed that his first words to me were "Grammy got a new car!" WTF, kid?! You're climbing a 10% grade and more interested in your grandparents' new car than the pain? Hell yeah!
Knowing he was fine, I turned it up just a tick and set my sights on reeling back some of the lost time. I pulled a minute off the next rider ahead, but it wasn't enough. I ended up dead last of 4, with the time I spent stopped in agony representing almost the exact difference between my position and 2nd. My teammate won, so that was some consolation, and Alastair made it to the top in 70 minutes WITHOUT UNCLIPPING.
That boy, 11 years old, pedaled up Wintergreen. 2600+ feet of climbing with less than a year of training. Never stopped once.
So while my day was just about a total loss, I have something to shoot for next year, a teammate who won, and a son who not only made it to the top, but who secured full BAR points for doing so.
A bad day on the bike is still a pretty great day.