The Great Hunter Cycling Classic (or the all spokes festival as it is also known by) is a series of races held in the Hunter Valley, first a criterium on Saturday, then a 60 or 100 kilometre race held on Sunday. This was my first time at this race, and also the third race I had signed up for. Being as dumb and naive as I were, I decided I could do the 100km race. After all, I’ve done many 100km rides without issue, I should be able to hold my own. At least that’s what I was thinking…
I missed the criteriums, mainly because I don’t have the right license, but arrived on Sunday morning for registration and warm-up. Registration was easy; however pinning the numbers on took more time than it should
have. By 7:50 I was ready for warm-ups, which gave me barely 15 minutes. I still felt lethargic from the night before and the lack of a hearty breakfast.
Being such a long race, I was expecting it to start softly and then go from there. It was quite the opposite. As soon as the start was announced, everyone took off. The pace soon lifted to around 50km/h. Then it lifted again. I could feel my legs already, I was not prepared for such a start. After trying to hold on for about 10km the peloton started creeping away. And after the second hill I knew I could not catch them no more.
So I resigned to a recovery pace for a while, sticking it to around 30-35km/h. A few more hills and a couple of corners later I was passed by another group. I tacked onto the back of them and found their pace a lot more comfortable, sitting between 35-40km/h.
The next thing I didn’t see coming was the straight leading up the the finish line. The were more potholes on the road then there were bitumen. Just one awful patch-up job after the next. Going over these sections at 40km/h could be likened to sitting on top of an out of control machine gun. The bike was going everywhere. I dropped my chain at least once.. Lucky it was on the big ring.
The first lap was done and it was onto the second. Now the group had gotten a rhythm and everyone was humming along rather well. More hills, more potholes, and then another lap of the same. By the end of the fourth lap I could really feel my legs. Furthermore, the group was starting to pick up given that the final lap was around the corner.
In my mind, I fell as if my body had almost resigned that the last lap was a cool-down session, as soon as I passed the line everything just caved in. At the first hill my legs cramped up, one started working against the other. Things started getting a bit blurry and I found myself in a world of pain. I drank some water – it tasted like domestos – why did I have to fill my bottles at the hotel? Soon I saw my group fade into the distance. Then I was on my own.
It was a struggle. My legs aching, my chest sore, nothing top do but find a gear where I could sit comfortably at 90rpm and forget any chances of winning or even doing well. What was I thinking that I even had a chance? These guys were way too fast, and furthermore all my 100k rides have had breaks in them.
Soon it became a matter of mind versus body. Things were shutting down left right and centre. I started getting tunnel vision. My legs weren’t getting any better. I kept my eyes on the speedo. “90rpm”, I remind
myself, “keep it at 90rpm” – the hills came and I was out of gears. “Out of gears on a 6% incline? What’s wrong with you?” things start getting nasty and every antagonistic, anxiety-inducing thought comes out to play. Then it turns to “that bank on the left looks nice, lets get some sleep”, or just plain “ow, ow, ow, ow, ow”…
Finally the last corner comes in. I pass one guy that was obviously in the same world of pain I was. We shouted some encouraging words back at each other but soon lost touch. The potholes come around again and it’s almost as if my legs had come back to life – perhaps it were the bumps triggering some sort of adrenalin rush, or just that my legs had recovered whilst riding at snail pace.
I was counting the hills to the finish line, 3… 2… 1… The finish line was in sight – before I knew it, the 500m sign past, then 200m, 100m and then all I could hear were gears grinding – in the last 100m a group of riders passes. Where were they before? At any rate I placed somewhere in the middle of them and the race was over. And strangely I did not feel tired, exhausted, nor exhilarated. Just plain relaxed that it was all over. I guess I found my limits and experienced phenomenon I had only read about, in the end I was glad just to have finished.
It pays to set goals. My goals started out ambitious – “keep up with the group”, “try some tactics”, “have a good sprint at the finish”… It soon changed to “finish the race”, “don’t pass out”, “don’t throw up”… Funny how things change on the day and I always find myself short of preparation.
In the end it was a good ride, the scenery was excellent, the weather perfect, and even though there was a lot of pain, I had learned a lot about my limits. And I actually came out of the race feeling good, like it was all just one big workout. A coffee, a little bit of food and it was time to head back to the big smoke to recover whatever was left of the weekend.