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Hot, Hot, HOT and Hilly: National Championships 2013

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Day 1: Time Trial

14:50

It’s one third power, one third technique and one third what goes on in your head. I’ll put confidence as something into the last category. Returning to the familiar 9.5km (~6mi) course in the blistering heat and wind swept roads just outside of Sliven meant two things – I was not a the rookie from last year and I knew what to expect…or so I thought.

Waiting to see where the turnaround was, certainly didn’t help me put it all on the road last time; what certainly really took it out of me was the 36C (95F) heat.

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Course knowledge – check, heat – unfortunately yes, 38C (100F), however, this time I came prepared. I arrived ready 10 days ago with tanlines to prove it! I also brought enough water to wash a medium sized car.

National Championship or not, it’s a race like any other, right? As I set up my bike on the trainer I looked at the clock: 15:00; 50minutes to go. That’s what every athlete lives for. The thrill of race day, the nerve wrecking adrenaline that builds up until your whole body is shaking.

The whirring noise of the trainer together with the warm sensation spilling in my whole body made me forget about everything. With the wet towel draped over my head and body, I was in my own little oasis. Ten months of training and my computer was giving me the numbers I wanted.

15:37

I could punch through a wall. I had so much adrenaline I could barely stand still. I put my race wheels on, adjusted my helmet, straightened the creases of my skinsuit, ran through the gears one last time.

15:48

“2 minutes” the words of the time keeping official resonated in my head.

“5-4-3-2-1” and my minute man set off.

“Click” and I was standing ready. “30 seconds”

15:50

Like a bronco at a rodeo gate I took off. Click, click, click as I racked up the gears and I was going race speed, pushed comfortably by the headwind down the slight gradient. Whoooooosh as the air was rushing past me. My wet skinsuit was giving me a cool sensation as I was cranking out 350Watts.

Too early for that

As I flew past my minute man I could see the first turnaround. The scorching sun was taking what was his. My skinsuit and my gaping mouth were bone dry. I turned around straight into the hot crosswind. I was overheating!!! No it wasn’t pain; even to this day I cannot find the words to describe the feeling that was running through my body.

Power was dropping every minute.

“It’s not your body that’s giving up, it’s your mind.” I had to push through. It was survival mode and I had three quarters of the most important race of my season to go…

Tailwinds

Kilometer by kilometer, the agonizing eternity was starting to hurt for real. I saw the orange skinsuit of the defending national champion – Nikolay Mihaylov – on the opposite side of the road as he had set up to add another title to his palmares. The false flat that was giving me wings just minutes ago was now an uphill that felt like a vertical wall. Second turnaround and I had the gentle arm of the tailwind trying to ease it all up. I could see one more rider close in front of me.

My enemy’s enemy is my friend

Only 9km to go…if only it was this easy. A roadkill , left for way too long in the summer heat, on the side of the road, made me almost throw up…like I didn’t have enough things to worry about. I got my head down and kept pushing ahead. At the same time I saw the orange suit of Nikolay Mihaylov much further down than last time we passed each other. The heat didn’t care who you were, it was taking it all from everybody. I wish I could say that made it easier…the ball of pain in my chest was gripping me tighter and tighter.

For one last time…

I could see the finish in the hot summer air. Like the mirage ahead of the thirsty traveler, it made me press on more. I was about to pass another more rider.

One last time up the hill. Clunk as I shifted a gear down. It was heavy. Keep spinning…clunk and I had no more gears. I got out of the saddle for one last acceleration. It seemed like I was standing still, however, the finish line finally came.

In a reflex-like manner I stopped my clock. I collapsed on my frame, besides that I don’t remember much afterwards. Somebody took my helmet off and poured water over me. I was slowly starting to come back to my senses.

What is my time????

I scrolled through my computer 52:04, more than 2 minutes faster than last time in tougher conditions than last year. Unfortunately under average power, I could see 311W instead of the 355-370W I could sustain just 3 days ago…

Results

I can’t turn back time so it all goes on, it’s a routine. Some things are permanently engrained into the brain of the high performance athlete:

Eat to recover and rehydrate…fast.

Without wasting much time, I ate my recovery food and drank most of the water I had taken with me. I packed my bike and headed back at the hotel in anticipation for the post race conference and the official results.

52:00.42 – 6th place, 4:02 from the winner, 1:20 from the podium. Wow, not bad at all!!!!

What if…

1:20 from the podium…that’s all I could think about. Although a very respectable time of 52:00 and lots of praise from other riders and coaches I knew I had legs for more. Maybe not national champion ones but close. The heat had plans of its own for the day, the wind was in on that deal as well. Both of them, didn’t make it easy for anybody. I bested 6 places and 2minutes 15 seconds from last year…40Watts and I could have been on that podium…if only….

It goes on, if you got everything you wanted why train and set goals, right=)

Numbers Don’t Lie

198bpm average heart rate, 205bpm maximum. Wow…I had managed to average what I max out at during my best performances. Heat is a cruel mistress.

38km, 52:00.42, 311W Avg/313W xPower, 198bpm Avg

Day 2: Road Race

“Hold on for the first 20km, after that it’s easy”

A summary of the road race in one sentence.

Sounds simple enough. Eight laps on the 18km (11mi) circuit with a 200m (660ft) climb in the middle with an extra 6km (4mi) for an uphill finish, not so simple.

Not too many trees to keep the eastern wind away from the road. On the positive side it was ‘only’ 30C (86F). I had my car and my cousin driving with instructions to hand me bottles to keep dehydration at bay; 150km (¬95mi) is no joke without food and water. Thankfully my good placing at the TT the day before meant I will not have to drop very far backwards and my ‘support vehicle’ would be near the front of the caravan.

The official gave the start and it was off. In less than 10seconds attacks started flying off the front and the first breakaway materialized. Three riders put a good amount of distance. None of the favorites and the defending champion seemed to be bothered. Almost imperceptibly the pace went into afterburner. As legs were screaming and lungs burning, the peloton strung out on the tarmac.

Everybody was together as the three guys in the breakaway were still off the front. Another attack and it was everybody in one line again, I could feel yesterday’s TT in my legs.

Once more the pace kicked up and we were on the hill. The peloton was splitting. I wished I was a 50kg (110lbs) climber. With the wind rushing past me on the long descent I was back into the group. . The pace was manageable. After a few more accelerations and 20km were over.

Right at the 20km mark as predicted, quite disturbingly so,  the speed dropped. national championships, sure, let’s have a conversation. The calm before the storm.

A few guys took off the front and the peloton was not planning on letting them go easily. Like an accordion we kept snaking across the circuit and we were back at the bottom of the hill. The accelerations were stinging and a group broke away clear.

I wasn’t in it. We regrouped after the descent, the new breakaway was within reach. Nobody was willing to do the work for the others in the crosswind, it was every man for himself. As we battled against the sidewind, the hill came again and whoever missed the split the previous lap made the jump. I couldn’t match the acceleration and at this moment I knew it was over. Lap 3 out of 8 at the 2013 National Championships was when the split of the race-wining move happened.

My numbers: 1hour 7minutes, 273W Avg/302W xPower

Recap

Coming into the race I had one goal – finish. After missing the split, the race was over, riding 110km solo just for the sake of finishing was not worth it. At the top of the hill I threw the towel and put my bike at the back of the car.

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I had a ear-to-ear smile. I was ridiculously happy. I just quit the National Championships road race and was beaming with excitement!?!?!?!

As I took a minute to analyze the situation, I realized that me, the amateur, had just been against guys who have done the Vuelta a Espana (Danail Petrov, 4 time national champion) and others who have competed in ProTour and UCI category 1 and 2 events. I had my ass literally handed down to me.

I loved every minute of it. That’s what sports is all about, being in competition with yourself, not the other guy, with YOU.

As guys rolled into the hotel, they shook my hand and with smirks on their faces said: “It doesn’t get that hot in The Netherlands, eh?”

“Nope it doesn’t”=))))

If you had asked me some 3-4 years ago whether I saw myself competing against some of the best in the sport, I would have probably laughed at you in disbelief. I came, I saw and I learned. I will be back next year, better, stronger and ready!

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