Sunday, September 27, 2009

Grafton to Inverell (Part 2)

Two weeks after The Race and I might still be recovering from it. Who knows?

I did come out of it with a couple of injuries. First, the hamstring on my left leg, which was caused by the cramping during the climb of the Gibraltar Range. Second, some muscle under my shoulder blade has been annoying me. I guess it might be normal after such a race.

So, a few days off the bike followed by some casual rides seemed the right thing to do.

Grafton to Inverell Report - a bit of a blur, really!

Going over the KOM line, on top of the Gibraltar Range was an emotional experience. Not quite sure what caused the few tears. It could have been the huge sense of achievement, after having coming up second best a few times. A sense of relief perhaps as the road started to point downwards from there (yeah, right!) or simply because it is something that just happens...

I have to say, after I crossed that line, my body seemed to have gone through an instant recuperation process. I felt strong again and just wanted to keep going. Ahead of me was the race car, that's all I was focusing on.

At one time, I contemplated getting to the first feed station alone. How cool would that have been? It would certainly shock a few people. But the thought was quickly forgotten when the radio car came by, saying that the chasing bunch was two minutes behind. I decided to save energy and get ready to jump in the middle of it and do everything to stay with them.

I still got to the second water station first, which was funny as they didn't expect, or didn't see and weren't prepared for it. When they did hear my shouts, they all jumped and tried to give me a biddon. I think I said Thank you! a dozen times after getting my second one. Pretty funny at the time!

Not quite sure where I got caught, perhaps at the 100 km mark. I remember seen a sprint flag up the hill short after and thinking: You guys can fight for it, I am going to sit here and enjoy the ride for a while... What really surprised me was the size of the leading bunch. I counted twenty, or twenty one riders... It would have been interesting to see how it all happened on the climb.

Soon after that came the first feed zone (115 km). There was a bit of confusion in the bunch but I knew Sandra would be ready and in a good position. I could see her smile when she recognised me, stretching her arm with my lunch. She was happy, I was happy.

#1... I think!

The bags I chose as musettes weren't the best, I found a bit difficult taking the stuff out of them. In the other hand, the lunch and snacks were great. Sandra did a great job preparing them in between feeds. I really enjoyed the savory flavour after all the sweet stuff I had on the way.

Next, two long ascents, which took us to the highest point of the race at 1190 m. One rider got away and was left out there. The bunch kept working well, some taking longer turns, some taking fewer turns. Still feeling good, I put a few efforts on to help the bunch when I could.

For my relief, a long, long down hill run took us closer to Glen Innes (65 km to go) but the hill just before the township took a fair bit of me and I started to struggle. No way I was going to dispute the town sprint... I needed to finish the race in Inverell.

Feed station two, I was glad to see Sandra again and grab another musette. This time, I made a real mess of it and lost a bit of ground on a dozen guys hammering up the hill. I managed to grab the drinks, a banana and a couple of bars out of the bag, which I needed to give to someone who somehow, couldn't find his handler.

Dropped, we formed a group of three or four and chased. A hard chase it was. Shortly, we were the bunch of 18 riders again, climbing up to Waterloo Range Summit (1155 m), a steep and long stretch. I was struggling badly this time.

A car went pass and someone screamed at his rider: - 4 min to the rider in front and 9 and a half to the group behind! Then, Sandra went pass and saw me struggling behind the bunch. Not a good sight for a team mate. That's what
handlers really are: team mates.

I looked down and saw 175 km on my computer, 50 to go. Only another 1.5 hours on the bike but I was struggling. I needed to recover and the long and fast descent to the Matheson Sprint came at the right time.
We were travelling at 75+ km/h without pedalling.

Another short climb and we were pretty much descending all the way to Swambrook Creek (650 m). I think the Elite boys were doing 90 km/h on those descents.

Thirty-five kilometers to go, we were getting close to the next feed. I couldn't eat anything else but was looking forward to have the energy drink I put on the list for the third musette, hoping that it would give me a boost for the last hour.

Just after the third feed station, I started to notice my front tyre getting a bit sloppy. I wasn't sure if it was going flat so I asked someone:

- Excuse me. Something feels a bit strange. Is my tyre going flat?
- Mate, don't worry. In this race and at this point, we all feel a bit strange...

Fair comment but that wasn't the only problem. Every time, I got out of the saddle on an incline, it felt like I was riding on edge of the rims.

Too afraid to get dropped, I decided not to get a wheel change for a few more kilometers.

Nearing the Dijon Sapphire Sprint point, I felt rested and decided to have a go at it. I did rely on the bunch to catch the solo attacker who was now in our sight. He had been out the front for almost 80 km and still managed to get over the line in front. A super effort!!

He was overtaken shortly after. I am not sure if he did hang on after that but I know he won the Sprint Jersey and lots of cash. Well deserved too.

Twenty kilometers to Inverell now. The pace started to pick up and a few guys tried to get away a couple of times. They were quickly brought back, one by one. Even though my legs felt good, I kept telling myself to conserve. I was saving for a move with two kilometers to go.

On the last climb, 10 km to the finish, my front tyre went flat. Completely this time. I got off and put my hand up. In a matter of seconds, a car stopped and someone jumped out. Another few seconds and he is trying to fit this wheel which I never seen before.

Good or bad, I had a wheel and was chasing the bunch in less than a minute. The cars were moving slowly behind them and people were yelling and banging on the car doors as I went pass. That was helping me on the chase.

At one point, I noticed a large truck and a gap behind it, so I crossed to the right and kept riding on the wrong side of the road. Ahead, there was a police car with flashing lights and blocking the incoming traffic. I felt like it was a pro race then...

I got back just as the bunch got to the crest of this long hill, perhaps with 4 or 5 km to go. There was a descent into town and a small incline but I didn't have much left in the tank to try anything. I watched the sprinters moving to the front and each one had somebody glued to their wheels. We were very close to each other.

With 500-600 m, the speed picked up and we came to a round about. One last turn before... and someone in front hit the breaks. There was a sudden split, we went around the corner and the sprint started, maybe 300 m to the finish.

I lost a few places then and only managed a 14th place, 3 sec behind the winner.

Happy with my first Grafton to Inverell!

And I will be there next year!

Dist: 228 km
Time: 7:24:22
Ascent: 3200+ m

KOM jersey presentation

Sandra - best handler

Next morning

Friday, September 18, 2009

2009 Grafton to Inverell (Part 1)

The final stage of my preparation for the Grafton to Inverell was the easiest one. I had done the training I wanted to do, the bike was working perfectly and Sandra and I had all we needed in terms of nutrition for the big race. It was then a matter of staying well hydrated and keeping the carbo loads up for the next 20 hours.

Driving down, 420km, was reasonably quick. It became very scenic once we left the Gold Coast and crossed the Tweed River. All very green, good (fast) roads and, of course, the excitement kept our minds eagerly focused on getting to Grafton.

One stop on the way, Byron Bay. The colourful town seemed to be buzzing. Colourful tourists and colourful locals filled the streets, shops and restaurants. We decided on a funky Japanese restaurant and gorged on sushi, seaweed salad and tempura rolls...

Carbo loading in Byron Bay

Once in Grafton and after checking into our "exquisite" accommodation, we drove to town to register and catch up with friends. It didn't take too long and soon we were searching for more carbohydrates and a glass of wine, or two (for Groover).

At registration

Happy support crew

Race Day

It was only when I arrived at the start that I realised how big this event really is. There were hundreds of people, officials cars, moto-cams, spare vehicles, police, radio and TV crews. I guess that is what it takes when they have to safely escort three separate races (300+ riders) on 228 km of roads. What a huge job!

I felt good that morning. I had just ridden 10 min behind Sandra in the car and the legs felt better than they did for the whole week. On the ride, I reminded myself that I was there to finish the race, with a bit of luck in the first group, and to enjoy the climb of the Gibraltar Range.

Ten minutes to the start, there was not much to do but ride around circles and wish everyone a safe race. It was nice that Sandra didn't leave when she was supposed to and managed to drag me for a little ride and a coffee fix. Just what I needed to get my mind into race mode.

We, a 130 plus Cat 3 bunch, left just before 8:30 in a happy and well-behaved manner. We were escorted through the town and out to the Gwydir Highway. At some point then, the Chief Commissaire signalled the race was on. The pace picked up a bit but not by much. Like me, everyone must have been repeating the words Conserve and conserve many times in their heads.

The route ahead

By kilometer forty-eight we had already climbed 700 m. The front guys then decided it was a good time for a nature stop, a first for me apart for what I have seen on television. Cool, it was a shame I didn't need to...

A few more kilometers, with the bunch averaging 30 km/h, I started to watch for the riders that looked like climbers and the ones that looked eager to start an attack. I chose to follow the wheel of someone I met and knew was an experienced Grafton to Inverell rider and made sure I was eating and drinking.

Suddenly, there was a gentle tap on the shoulder and Peter's voice telling me it was time to move to the front. Peter and I had done a couple of training rides together (Brian Ferris rides), I trusted him and wasn't going to think twice. It's not an easy task when you have 30 or 40 riders in front of you.

We were close to the bottom of the climb when I finished my drinks, just what I wanted. I was well hydrated but needed to make sure I got a bottle for the climb, at the neutral water station. The best way to do that was to be at the front. And that turned out to be my move.

The climb - blood, sweat and tears

I noticed two riders ahead and decided to join them. Aaron was one of them so I hoped he could stay with me. But it didn't happen that way so next thing I am at the water station alone. I took one bottle as the road ahead looked steep and curvy. I decided to push it on.

The Gibraltar Range

A couple of minutes later, I am climbing by myself, still. A great feeling, I must say. I averaged 175 bpm for the next 2 kilometers, 90+% of my max, I was pushing it on! I decided to slow down a bit and settle into an easier rhythm (165 bpm) for the rest of the climb. That would get me over in one piece.

With about 7 kms to go, the result of my earlier effort manifested itself in form of terrible cramps. Panic time, so close and I was going to stop and get caught again, just like on the Cunningham Classic climb, a few months back. I chose not to and went into a pain management plan to survive and get to the KOM alone.

Next, the race officials came past. I looked back, trying to see how far the bunch was but there was nobody. A motorbike came next and offered a bottle.

- No thanks but where is the bunch?

- Don't worry, you've murdered them! Handing me some gel and speeding away.

Surelly they weren't trying, I thought. But I didn't care, I wanted to be the King of the Mountain for once.

I saw Kevin on the side of the road. He yelled something that I didn't understand. I think it was something nice. I pushed harder and short after I spotted two officials on the side of the road. I asked if that was the KOM and got a couple of thumbs up.

Kevin's photograph

I crossed the line. The two guys were clapping for a moment but then there was silence.

I took a deep breath and told myself: - You did it!

Then, came a scream: -Fuck, you did it! Or two.

And silence again. I felt so good, I wished Sandra was there, and Toby, and all those friends who helped me to get there.

It wasn't hurting anymore. I let a tear roll down my face.

Distance: 17.69 km
Time: 52min 16sec
Av HR: 161 bpm
Max HR: 178 bpm
Ascent: 965 m
Av Speed: 20.3 km/h

Friday, September 11, 2009

Week Twelve of the Training for Grafton to Inverell

The week went so fast, I didn't have time to do much in terms of riding but I don't think it was a bad thing. My Rest HR has been a bit higher than the last few weeks and the legs are a little sore. Must be all the excitment...

I did check the bike out and it is running like a dream, better than ever in fact (if that is possible). No changes made and I will race the tubulars...

Week 12: 3h05min/80km

The car is packed, we are heading off in a few minutes. I just want to say thanks to all the good wishes and a big thank you in advance to the best support crew one can have: Groover.

Ciao for now!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The 49th Grafton to Inverell & a 49th birthday party

Four more sleeps and I will be lining up for my first A event of the year. How exciting is that? And how scary is that as it will be for one of the toughest races in Australia...

The preparation has been an experience in itself. I chose not to do the 10,000 miles that most people would do and concentrated on a more disciplined approach than previous racing seasons. If it is going to work, who knows? I certainly don't!

This weekend marked the end of week eleven, which, based on Friel's bible, I called Peak. I found hard to plan that week as it is so close to the event and overdoing could put me in a fatigued state and not doing enough could lead to a drop in form as well just before the event.

Anyway, having to work and also helping Sandra with another event on the weekend only gave me the chance of a short spin on the rollers - 1 hour. Hey, better than nothing and would not make me tired, that's for sure.

Week 11: 278.5 km/10h30min

Monday was rest day and today I will go out for a couple of hours. I will just cruise to Sandgate and back. I will take a bit of time to look for anything that needs to be done to the bike and will try out my "new bib" before Saturday!!

The Party

There is the 49th Grafton to Inverell this year but before that, there was my 49th birthday party. Not trying to compare the two, just having thoughts of the two numbers having some kind of esoteric significance... I might need some esoteric forces next Saturday.

For the party, Sandra invited a few friends over for an informal dinner on Sunday. We discussed all the options for a healthy and interesting meal (with lots of carbs) and decided to cook the Brazilian national dish and hope that our friends would like it.

Lots of shopping, lots of preparation but by 7 pm we were serving a vegetarian Feijoada, a dish that the Brazilians would have for lunch on Sundays, with a few beers and Caipirinhas. We left the Caipirinhas out, you don't drink them in the evening if you have to go to work the next morning. But we had a taste of Cachaca, just to add a little spice to the Brazilian evening.

A big thank you to Sandra for organising it all and to everyone who came, we really enjoyed your company! Here we have some photos of the evening:

Petrina and Scott

Peter and Sandra

Guil, Natalie, James, Narelle, Greg and Peter


Maria, Brian and Debbs

Donna and Debbs

Dean, Janine and Richard

Adam, Sue Ann and Daniel

Beautiful gifts, thank you!

Very happy hosts

Ate mais!!!
PS. Could have more photos but the official photographer was too busy savouring the Feijoada.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A few more k's & Huey named my recipe

Monday came and I didn't get on the bike. I was feeling fresh and could have gone for an easy spin but chose to keep recovering!

My recovery from a week of training started after the ride on Sunday. It was a hard ride, so I initiated the process with a protein drink, 15' of my arrival home. This time I used a whey protein concentrate with orange juice but it could have been Ultragen mixed in water.

I don't remember if I iced my legs this time (should I be confessing that, being so close to a birthday?) but that's a regular thing for me after a hard ride and before a hot shower. Then, I jumped into my compression pants. It doesn't matter what the temperature is, I will wear them. Even at work, under my long pants. A nice brunch at 11:00 (breakfast was at 5:30, snacks during the ride) with juice and coffee and off to work.

I am enjoying my Mondays off the bike, specially if I have to go to work in the afternoon. I have been pretty good with these planned recovery days, also, I haven't ridden my bike on a Monday in months. It is on those recovery days that all those damaged cells find time and energy to heal themselves and all those glycogen stores get refilled, they say. So, I have been serious about my Mondays.

The low temperature was back again on Tuesday morning. I decided to get in touch with my parents, using Live Messenger, instead of getting on the road. While I waited, coffee in hand, I remembered to do my Rest HR. Using the computer's clock, I counted the beats for a minute. Not once but three times and the counts were 41, 42 and 41. Shit, the lowest I have ever seen and 6 beats lower than yesterday...

Admittedly, I felt a bit guilty for not training so I jumped on the rollers for a short session with some fast cadence efforts before heading off to work. Wearing my compression pants, of course.
I meant short session, didn't I!

Another long ride was organised for Wednesday. Same meeting place and time but a smaller number of subjects left Zupps for this ride. Same course, Dayboro Road, Mt Mee Road and D'Aguilar Hwy but this time, we turned right into the highway and stopped for a break after a few kilometers. It could have been at Wamuran, where I was surprised to have a good coffee, after a bit of guidance.

The plan was to do one short climb and take a flat way home, finishing with 170 km in the legs. We took the Old Northern Road and headed towards Burpengary and Deception Bay on a very twisty and undulating course. A couple of detours to get away from busy roads (and add a few k's, surely) and we reached the coast at Scarborough. Then, it was another Zupps ride until we arrived at Sandgate.

Now, I really enjoy riding in the country and going up some hills but riding along the coast, specially with the perfect weather we had yesterday, was amazing. The view from, what Brian calls his office, the Shornecliffe Parade itself was post card like. It was sunny, a mirror like sea, small boats floating about and Moreton Island clearly visible. It reminded me of the time when I had an office like that, with a 360 degree view...

Back to reality and a few more k's to get home and recover.

One climb

Thursday, decided on another day off the bike. I did feel tired first thing in the morning and my Rest HR was up a bit - 47 bpm. I do take those signs a bit more seriously when getting so close to an important race. Chose to stay home and relax a bit, do some house work and get some shopping out of the way.

Yesterday, Sandra and I left early for a Riverloop with a couple of riders from work and Brett, from V Australia Cycling Team. I try to do those rides as often as possible in an attempt to promote cycling at work. The ride is a recovery ride and normally ends in Southbank where coffee drinking and a bit of socialising takes place.

Sandra had to do a few repeats at Mt Coot-tha
as part of her strength training as well, a good excuse for me to get out there and do a short, high intensity effort myself and test the new crank set again.

Although I had a slow start (first 30 m) the result was excellent!! I did a best time, or close, at 7min57.8sec for the 2.3 km climb. It is a short climb compared to what I will have to ride in the Grafton to Inverell race but it does tell me that I do have some speed and very importantly, the new shorter cranks and bike set up are working just fine.


I followed Sandra on her second effort. All I wanted to do was work on gear ratios and position on the bike when on and off the saddle. I do believe we can gain a lot by just doing that instead of going flat out three or four times. And at this stage, the last thing I wanted is to fatigue myself.

Today, I will do a light session on the rollers and perhaps have the Sunday off... might have a few beers with friends!

Huey and my recipe

The TV at work is switched on all the time. Now and then, I get to watch a bit of the news and even a bike race if the footy or cricket aren't on. A couple of days ago, a mate and I started paying attention to a cooking show presented by a kind of Australian cooking celebrity.

The guy's style is interesting, to say the least, a little heavy handed (too much of everything) perhaps and very few of his dishes are what I would call healthy meals, which is a shame.

Anyway, on this last show, we became curious when we heard the word gianbotta. It was pretty much like: What the #&*@ is that? So, we got stuck in front of the TV set, waiting for the segment on "Gianbotta with a fried egg".

A couple of minutes into the preparation and I started finding similarities in between his dish and a dish that I have been cooking for years. Mine being a nameless one... Apart from a couple of ingredients (he uses sambal oelek and I use fresh chillies, I throw more veggies in as well) the dishes looked the same and I am sure they taste the same.

My nameless dish without the egg

I better go and get on the rollers...

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