Returning to Leipzig for the Sparkassen Neuseen Classics – Rund um die Braunkohle (Race 4 of 14 in the German Cycling Cup) was all about bitter sweetness. The event originally called for a 30K Time Trial (TT) on Saturday and 140K of road racing greatness on Sunday. As most of you know, the TURTLE TT is far from graceful and 30K on the rivet was surly going to leave a few deep scares in the TURTLE shell that would take serious time and effort to buff out. So I was not that sad when the TT was cancelled . . . the bitter was more like a lemon and I made a lemon drop martini to celebrate my good fortune. I was saved a TT beat down . . . YES!!!
With the TT cancellation I noticed the road race was shortened to 125 K. Having missed my start time last year due to my rather poor German reading skills, I was looking forward to the longer ride. Yet my misfortune last year did introduced me to Team Steile Wand . . . a group of KOOL ‘n da GANG über fast ponies that make it happen on the road. I was not only looking forward to seeing them again but with Evolution Cycling Club p/b Long & Foster - European Division rolling deep with 6 riders in the pack, I imagined a combined effort pushing through the field and leaving a wake of crushed legs and souls. I was euphoric at the thought and it put a serious smile on my face and a swagger to my walk at work. This was the sweetness of returning to Leipzig . . .
Registration had a few challenges as our crew was all over the map with two cats planning to register on the day of the race. However, German efficiency ruled and our appeal to registration was answered. We would all mass in the same start block near the front. There was not much more we could ask for and this just increased the TURTLE fun factor . . .
Two days out, Coach Quest and I stuck with a slightly modified plan (I decided/needed to work half a day) and rolled up to Leipzig Friday afternoon. Even though the Saturday TT was cancelled, we would use the extra day to get an easy spin and prep the legs for battle. I had to get ahead of the butterflies that normally do cheetah flips inside the TURTLE. Focus was needed and this extra day provided that . . .
We hit the road soon after breakfast on Saturday and while blessed with dry road conditions, we were quickly introduced to a few gusts of wind the nearly blew us sideways on the bike. This was going to make racing tough but we were both up to the challenge . . .
At dinner that night we ate, laughed, lied about our mad bike skills, and plotted our strategy for cycling domination. It was grand! We would not ride 2 x 2 but stay together single file and make it happen attacking group after group. With 6 Brothers (Matt DIESEL Arant, Eric COACH QUEST Cole, James DAPS Dapper, Jeff HAMMER Pannaman, and Erich DUMPER Schmunk) ready to roll . . . we had this! We were bold and unafraid and ready to bring the action. At the shorter distance Kozeta LES MIS Beam was out to hold her own. Regardless of the talk . . . this was good and then some.
Race morning, we rallied in the front of Start Block B. DUMPER immediately said, “The goal is not to see any Block C riders!” LOVE IT! He set the bar high but achievable and I was up for the challenge. We would have to survive the first 20K of madness, form up and get on with the business we came to do. Team Steile Wand sat at the front of Block C and I made and and mental note to challenge myself and keep them behind me . . .
As we rolled out the combination of wind gusts and being at the front of our start block tough. I was once again riding above threshold and I could feel the heat blowback on the TURTLE Shell. I needed to get this under control and fast . . .
Just as I was about to blow a gasket, DIESEL came to the front, looked over his shoulder, and let out a serious almost battle cray yell of, “…lets go boys!” He did his DIESEL thing and the tempo was steady and hot. I immediately fell back to recover in our chase peloton. I needed off the front to keep my breakfast down as it was certainly moving up to my neck after the initial effort . . .
After DIESEL, DAPS took his turn and continued the drive. So far our plan was executing as we boldly discussed the night prior. We were pushing the pace and fairly close to one another. It was on and we were in the think of it . . .
Recovered, I moved back up through the field and up to DAPS to give him a break after a serious effort. HAMMER was with me as I went near the front of our group.
The wind was crazy strong and the gusts were making organizing a chase of the Block A riders difficult. The B-group began to split and HAMMER did what HAMMER does and surged across a gap. I put my head down and tried to follow . . . I failed. I pushed and pushed but HAMMER and crew went up the road. He had made the selection as I was voted off the island . . .
I looked over my shoulder a few times trying to find teammates. I had nothing. The wind trumped our plan and fragmented the bunch. I was on my own and settled in to organizing my chase of the group with HAMMER. I rode pretty bold and hard as I had 4 teammates behind me on the road somewhere. I saw this as a safety net bonus as I knew they would soon catch up to me and I would get a break. So forward I went and just about drove myself into the red . . .
At some point DAPS rode up to me and I felt my position strengthen. He mentioned that DIESEL and DUMPER were just behind us. I took the data on and told DAPS we had to catch the group just in front of us to keep the drive going. I put my head down and pressed across the gap. I looked over my shoulder for DAPS and did not see him. I was in a good group, taking a few pulls near the front and rolling. I had made this selection and felt I had to keep it moving so I dug deep to stay in the mix . . .
I drifted back a bit to take a break and noticed the pace would come and go. Fast ‘n Furious spins were countered by light tempo when the winds howled. While I wanted to really push and make my goal of finishing in 3:15 or better, I did not have the strength to push across the gap to the next group alone. In truth, I was also afraid of going back into “no man’s land” given the current windy conditions. The TURTLE power plant only had so much coal and matches to burn . . .
|TURTLE and the Brother of Team Steile Wand|
At the 60K point and half way through the madness the first of BLOCK B riders crossed into our group. I looked over, heard a familiar laugh and “Turtle!” The ponies of Team Steile Wand were rolling through. I jumped right in and off we went. We soon caught up to the HAMMER group and swarmed on them like a group of killer bees. I yelled, “HAMMER…this is the Pony Express…GET ON!!!” and off we went.
It soon came time for me to take my pull at the front of the Peloton. It was ugly! Was at my limit trying to keep the pace the same and not give up any ground. I joked about carrying this pace to the end with one of the Team Steile Wand Brother. I was joking to cover the pain in my legs . . . inside alarms were going off left, right, up, down, and across. I laughed to cover the sound of the alarm bells.
I came off the front and was brought back into the Team rotation. Even riding 8th wheel was a challenge for me. At the next turn I drifted back to the middle of a group of at least 50 riders and decided to sit in. Despite being in the best shape of my life, it was still not enough . . . yet.
I rolled up on the only member of Team Steile Wand not on the front and told him (in my best German) that his guys were crushing it on the front of this group. He responded in English, “I know and it’s too much for me…” I let out a short laugh grabbed a gear and held my line. We had 40 K of road ahead and I wanted to stay in this group . . .
A couple of surges and big wind gusts kicked me off the back as the group fragmented. However, with a few matches left (I had lost count of exactly how many), I was able to get back in the pack and take refuge from the wind . . .
A serious crosswind hit I found myself in a bad position. I burned even the wet matches to stay in contact. I was also starting to feel a BONK coming. I started unloading my pockets of food and downing fluids. I had 20K to go and had to stay on it . . .
Another surge and wind gust caught me and took me out the back door of the peloton with 15K to go. I turned to another rejected victim riding next to me and told him to help me close the gap. He responded, “…too dangerous…”
I could not believe what I just heard. I hesitated for a brief second in shock. I quickly looked at his bike to see if I could identify where the grocery basket hung or if he was riding with training wheels. “Too dangerous” . . . REALLY!?! As close to bonk’n as I was, I put my head down and tried to drilled it. I was alone in no man’s land heading to the finish. This had happened just a 10 days prior in Frankfurt. I failed to close the gap . . . IT SUCK’D!!!
With less than 10K to go I was caught by 2 cats and we started taking turns. I came to the front of our three little pigs off the back with 3K to go and decided to leave nothing on the road. I emptied the TURTLE Tank all the way to the line.
I rolled right up to Team Steile Wand assembled at the finish. It was great to see them. They were all laughing and joking. and enjoying the day. I was looking for a lung, a shot of vodka, morphine, or something to end the pain in my core. I was broken . . .
But laughter is addictive and a serious healing agent. Last year the Ponies ran 6 deep. This year the group totalled 13. More than 10 of them were at the finish. I was introduced to other members; pictures were taken as a historical marker of the day’s battle. Life was good . . . it could not imagine it any better.
|Life is bikeROCKstar!|
Despite being an outcast and rejected from the Peloton with 15K to go, I had my best age group finish at 116th. I’ll take that, try to get some rest, and get my mind and body ready to attack Circuit Cycling’s event on Hockenheimring and 90K of pure heat . . .
Ready I will be, ready I must . . . quitting is not an option!