Today's Cape Argus Cycletour was a tough damn day in the saddle.
Just before dawn, turning on the TV to catch a few minutes of pre-race coverage before heading to the start, the first thing I heard was, "there goes the banner." The howling wind had ripped the huge banner, which had stretched across the road over the starting line, and sent it flying out in the direction of Robbin Island where Nelson Mandela had been held prisoner. The TV announcer was asking someone to repeat something because he hadn't heard him because the roar of the wind was so loud. 55 kph winds with gusts of 60-70 kph whipped over the course and today looked like a real mess about to happen.
At the Westin's early morning breakfast for riders in the foyer off of the lobby, talk was all about the wind. Those familiar with local conditions said that the first 60 kilometers were bound to be treacherous, as the course worked it way directly into the wind blowing from the south-south east. They said that it would be particularly difficult on the roads up along mountain faces and out on the bluffs where the road would drop in and out of the wind above the coast, with the wind coming vertically up the cliffs.
We gathered in our pens and my group started just about five minutes late. The first groups that had been scheduled to leave just after 0600 were delayed as they had to move the starting line into the lee of a big building. Yes, it was really, really windy.
The first few kilometers, climbing up Hospital Hill, was slow. Riders were being blown sideways, particularly coming in and out from behind buildings and everyone was moving carefully. Finally, as the race turned directly south and on the closed motorway, things picked up. Huge groups formed and everyone was looking for some big, fast guy to drop in behind. Moving at 30-35 kph with a 55 kmp wind meant that you either sat in a slipstream or sat still. I was thanking John Tsang at Conrad's Bike Shop in Manhattan for suggesting that new Dura Ace 7950 compact crank, since I did not want to get out of the saddle while going up the big hills, exposing more of my body to the blow. Today was a day to hang out in the drops, hugging the top tube and close to some guy's back wheel. Seriously.
At about twenty kilometers one of those big guys braked hard and I braked hard, going all the way up on to my front wheel before avoiding the peleton slowing for someone who had been blown into another rider. The sudden stop had somehow left my rear brake rubbing on the wheel and I pulled off to the side to free the wheel. Stepping off of the bike I got blown by the wind and lost my balance, dropping the bike and pulling a muscle in my groin. Going from 90 rpm, 275 watts and 165 bpm at 35 kph to a stop and handling the bike, I just don't think that my body anticipated the lateral movement.
It was no big deal at the time and I didn't notice it much. I was back on the bike in a few seconds and racing down the road. But, something was happening to a muscle that runs from the inside of my groin up into my hip and riding was not making it any better. Was it something ripped and micro-bleeding? Was it just pulled or torn and starting to stiffen up? I'm not sure, but I held with the pack all the way down the coast, climbing up along some really wild cliffs and past the beach. Several times the groupette that I was in was blasted by sand, everyone yelping at the same time as these little glassine projectiles scoured legs, arms and cheeks.
It was at the most southern and most windward part of the race, climbing a pretty steep grade into gale winds that I jumped out of the saddle and really pulled hard on my right pedal and felt the pain. It was one of those, "this is really not good" kind of pain. So, I upped my rpms by changing into higher gears and tried to keep my cadence high but it didn't relieve the pain. That climb from 46-50 km hits the windward mark and, if we were in a sailboat, would have been the time to pop the spinnaker for a downwind run. I gutted out the climb and rode downhill from 50 to 55 km, where I stopped at aid station and went to the physio tent. One of the therapists laid me down and put a thumb into the area I indicated. She felt the muscle and said, "is this it?" As she pushed, I gasped. Yep, there was certainly something wrong.
My thinking at the time was that I needed to get back on the bike and keep riding before it stiffened up. Little did I know it was too late. So, I rode, mostly one legged, for another five kilometers till I got to the next aid station where I found the race marshal and officially abandoned. There was no way that I was going to be able to do an additional 40 kilometers, riding up through Chapman's Peak, with one leg. So, they gave me two analgesic tables and a bratwurst and I waited for the sweep vehicle to come by for a ride to the finish.
Today was not how I had envisioned it over the last few months. I hadn't come half way around the world to abandon and have felt pretty discouraged. But there is not much I can do, but use it as a good, fast 58 km training ride, an opportunity to get a good lesson that didn't cost me money or blood, and hope that I can get back on my bike soon.
The totals, for better or worse. 58.66 km in 2:38. Hills and headwinds. Pity I didn't get a chance to ride those southerlies to the finish.
Tomorrow is another day.