Imagine riding one of the most beautiful roads in the world with virtually no traffic?
Granfondo Whistler shuts down one lane of the highway from Downtown Vancouver all the way to Whistler Village. The ride/race starts in Stanley Park, with a controlled start onto Lion's Gate Bridge. I entered the Giro category (basically the pro race category) for 2014 and had a prime starting spot at the front of the group.
6:40am and we're off. The pace out of the park up Prospect Hill was fast, albeit not unmanageable. Riding over the Lion's Gate as the sun rose was spectacular, but there was little time to enjoy the view as we were already jockeying for position. As expected, once the race hit West Vancouver on the other side of Burrard Inlet, the natural selection process began. The pace up Taylor Way hill was fast and furious. For me it became apparent quite quickly that I didn't belong at the front of this field. I watched the lead pack fade away in front of me as my heart beat out of my chest, my legs burned throughout with lactic acid, and my lungs struggled to catch enough air. As we crested the top of the hill around 15th Avenue on the Upper Levels Highway I had finally settled into a more reasonable pace, and the portion of the race that I would be a part of began. In cycling sometimes you're only racing the one person in front of you, even if you're at the back.
For the next couple of hours I felt good, but made a series of errors that would lead to my ultimate demise. One, I was too impatient and caught up in the race. The pace in our group was all over the place — too fast on the climbs, too slow on the flats and descents. We were surging and stalling all over the place. I tend to find that type of ride more exhausting than one which keeps a steady pace.
We arrived at Furry Creek in what seemed like short order. The KOM (King of the Mountain) climb was a four alarm fire in the legs for 5 minutes or so, and then we were back in the groove. I didn't take my first energy gel until just after this — enter mistake two: nutrition.
In my racing days I raced 2 hour mountain bike races, which are super intense, but don't have the same nutritional requirements as a longer effort. Here I was some 14 years after my last race trying to hold pace with a group that is arguably more experienced than me. While my bike handling skills are well honed on both the road and trail, my understanding of what my body needs now, at this age, at this weight, and at this effort, was nothing short of ignorant.
As we pushed the pace through Squamish and started the 9km ascent out of the town toward Alice Lake and beyond, I got very cold and my legs turned to wood in what felt like an instant. Bam. My racing dreams were over, and it was now a matter of survival. In some ways it was a relief to get shelled out of the group, and while a couple hours of riding alone was somewhat demoralizing, I went from racing, to riding, and just simply enjoying myself and the scenery. While it was no country stroll, it gave me a chance to take in just how spectacular the Sea to Sky corridor in a way that you could never possibly experience in a car.
Somewhere along the way, on a climb surrounded on one side by rocky bluffs and on another by a river canyon, a giant raven or eagle with substantial wingspan swooped down on the road just in front of me to pick up some lunch. It paused for only a moment as I rode toward it, flapped its massive wings, and took off into the air in some sort of predatory majesty. I looked around to see if anyone had shared that sight with me. There was absolutely nobody around leaving me unsure if I was halucinating, or if that actually happened.
I rode from kilometer 70-ish until the 122km finish almost entirely on my own. A gruelling solo mission with little gas in the tank, and one quick rest stop around 100k at an aid station to eat as much as I could cram down quickly. I'd simply gone out too hard, and neglected my need to fuel up during the ride. At the point that I'd started with the energy gels, it was well too late.
In the end I finished in 4:14:28, just shy of 30 minutes behind the group I was in and my über fast female teammate. Yep, I got "chicked," but I take no shame in that whatsoever. The girls that were riding in the pack were beyond fast and had some seriously strong climbing legs. My own legs didn't survive the day, but I learned some important lessons.
Two months of serious riding got me to a place where I was very fit, but I had to take a refresher course at the school of hard knocks. My road season ended on a somewhat down note, but on the upside, I know how fast I am at the moment whether I showed it on race day or not. I've made huge leaps and bounds this summer, and the interesting part now will be to try and carry it over into next season. What if I ride through the winter a bit? What if I have another 8-10 week training block ahead of the summer next year?
The possibilities seem endless right now, and I don't think I'm as strong as I could be. And I guess that's what keeps the wheels turning.
Always keep pedalling!
(Photos via Sportograf)
Chris Stenberg is a creative director, photographer, filmmaker, and traveller. In his spare time you can find him biking and boarding in the mountains of British Columbia.