La Grange Cat 2 racer (and this year's winner of the LG Cup Stage 2 PCH Time Trial) Eric Bryan continues his daily race reports from the Tour Cycliste International de la Martinique. Eric is racing on a composite team that was put together for the race (so don't be alarmed when you don't see "La Grange" on the results sheets), and will be providing reports after each of the 9 stages in the race. Here is his second report, covering Stages 4-6.
The Queen Stage. Get ready, because even reading this one is going to hurt. The day’s stage was an unending ride over kicker after kicker along the coast of Martinique, finishing with a 10k climb starting at kilometer 80 and a long but not steep descent to the finish (with a few more kickers for good measure). I knew the day would be hard, but I was determined to stick with the front group. That was my first mistake.
Earlier I described the odd pacing of the groupetto I found myself in on stage 2. I thought that was a feature of the dropped riders, but today showed me that all these island-bound maniacs seem to have the same backwards racing mentality: hammer every climb, chill on every flat. And somehow for them, it works. I don’t know if it’s because they train on it every day or if these guys are 1k climb specialists, but my god the attacks today never stopped.
From the gun we had a nice category 2 climb at only 5k in. The first goal was to survive this. I managed to hang on, positioned myself well, and managed to get myself into the first chase group. At this point I was happy with my position and I was ready to roll this chase to the finish. Then we arrived on the coastline, and all the uncategorized by viscous 1 to 3 minute climbs arrived. I was already tired from attacking constantly to make it into the chase, but I was expecting a steady effort for a long while, at least until near the summit of the final climb, as the group would work together to chase down the break. Or at least that’s what my American expectation was. When we arrived at the coast, it was a 20k barrage of short kickers, and every single one of them the group hammered out at a blistering pace. Every kicker on this rollercoaster ride I imagined the group would ease up, the attacks might stop, people would get tired. Each consecutive kicker I would drop farther off the back, only to just make it back at the bottom of the descent in time to get punched again. After 7 of these all out efforts I was dying. Then came the next kicker, which was more like 5 minutes for a change, all at the chill gradient of 10% with sections hitting 20%. This is where I cracked.
Looking at the numbers later, I saw that I had put in a .98 IF for the first hour (which means 98% of my theoretical maximal 1 hour effort) and maintained a .94 IF all the way through to 1:45. Then I popped, and I popped hard. I dropped from the chase, made it down the descent, up the next kicker, and over to the final kicker leaving the coast, a category 2 climb. I got caught by the second chase (all that was left of the field at this point was chase after chase strewn over the course). But alas this chase also was filled with riders attacking relentlessly and I was immediately dropped again. On the run in to the final climb I was caught again by a small group, who promptly attacked over a short kicker and dropped me. I rode the final 10k climb on my own, and made it most of the way down the descent solo, which involved a lot of TT positioning as it wasn’t very steep. Then I was caught at the bottom by anther group, and you guessed it, dropped again.
Once I had crossed the line I learned a few things about these crazy island riders. The yellow jersey, who was in the group that caught me at the base of the 10k climb, apparently had been 4 minutes back from my chase group when I cracked, and proceeded to not only catch and pass stragglers, but drop his group and bridge up to the chase and then the front break by himself. It is mind-bending. I know that his strategy was clearly to avoid the messiness of the constant attacks (which is what I plan on doing tomorrow), but to have the confidence to allow an over 4 minute gap and then the ability to shut it down solo over a 10k climb is ridiculous.
Well, like I said in my last report, I was bound to crack at some point. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try to manage the barrage of coastal kickers better because the stage profile looks even more jagged than today.
Ouch, that last report hurt. Here’s a little break. A rest day? Ha! No rest days here. But I’ll spend a little time to describe the beautiful island and the non-racing aspects of the race.
Have you ever burnt out on a food since you eat it too much? I have. That said, I never thought that food would be pasta. But when pasta (no sauce) is you main food for breakfast lunch and dinner, it can get old fast. The food here is actually pretty good considering they’re feeding a hundreds of people most of whom are hungry cyclists. Every dinner we have two choices of meat, usually fish, chicken, or beef, some delicious cantaloupe and pineapple, various salads, and of course rice and lots and lots of pasta. For breakfast there’s also pasta, but some bread and cereal to mix it up. Luckily for us, all the food is buffet style, so there’s no need to worry about going hungry.
We pack all our bikes on a truck and load into a bus each morning for a transfer to the stage start, which can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half away. But once you’re at the start of the race, you can tell you are in America any more. No matter where you are on the island there are people watching, cheering, running next to you, pouring water on you, handing you cokes and extra water, and constantly shouting, “Allez! Allez!” It’s quite a shock to come from racing in secluded areas on open roads or a business park crit where the only crowds are your teammates or a car driving in the opposite direction honking at you. Here, we’ve got media motos filming the race for tv, a full race caravan, fully closed roads, and streets lined with fans in every town and small climb. There are so many people here who love to watch the race that when we are racing on the highway (yes, they close one side of a 6 lane highway for us to race on), the people in the opposite side of the highway are all dead stopped in traffic and are out standing on their cars, cheering the race on.
The whole experience is completely unlike anything I’d ever imagined. Even just getting a sticky bottle feed out of my team’s race car was exciting; I felt like a real pro, bending the rules and chatting with my team director. And when you’re hammering up a short climb and fans are dumping bottles on you to cool you down and there are more people yelling at you on that one summit than attend all the CBR crits combined, it really feels like you’re doing something more impressive and exciting than falling of the back of a group of riders stronger than you could ever hope to be.
Lastly, there’s the fatigue. I’m only on day four here, but with over 300 miles of racing to go, and at the ferocious pace we’re riding, it’s only going to be harder and harder. It really puts things like the grand tours into perspective. 21 stages, all twice as long as this, and way, way faster. No longer is competing in the Tour de France ‘the dream,’ now it’s ‘my nightmare.’ Watching the Tour now just hurts knowing how fatigued every rider must be and yet how phenomenally powerful they remain. The true pros are truly another species.
Stage 4 Strava Link
Another day, another long day of climbing. While the profile we were given for the queen stage ended up being slightly deceptive, with only 1800m of climbing, the profile today was spot on. Again, 1800m of climbing, but the jagged sawtooth profile was unrelenting. We climbed those 1800m over 112km yet never saw an elevation higher than 150m. Imagine doing Pepperdine hill, over and over and over and over again, all at the same pace that the NOW ride hits it.
Luckily for me, it seems like the racing is finally catching up to riders other than myself. The break went up the road after the first few hard ups and downs, but once they were gone, the pack chilled. And by chilled, I mean rode hard and fast, but luckily a few of the gc teams took up the front to control the breakaway in a calm, non-attacking manner. This was good for me, as the race remained a constant effort which is much more in my wheelhouse than the constant attacks of yesterday. We had Phil up the road in the break all day, but unfortunately the Dominican team pulled them back about 15km from the line, so no miracle results for us.
I survived all the way until the final categorized climb 10k from the finish. Right at the bottom I knew I didn’t have the legs, so I sat up and rode tempo to the line. This turned out to be a good plan, as on the descent to the finish the sky opened up and covered me with a torrential downpour. So much rain that the road was instantly a river, and I couldn’t see more than 10m ahead of me. I took it slow, not taking any risks and happy I wasn’t contesting for the stage or for gc. Once the rain cleared about 2 minutes after I finished, I was able to take in the scenery. Man, this island is quite beautiful when you aren’t suffering on some godforsaken 20% kicker. We finished in a nice beachside town, with moderate waves rocking the aqua blue ocean in a bay surrounded by jungle covered cliffs.
Today I managed to make it in 37th, which makes for a spectacularly consistent race for me (excluding my day losing 36 minutes). 34th day one, 39th day three, 41st day four, and 37th today. Considering my competition, I’m quite pleased. Maybe one of these stages I’ll pop into the top 30, or maybe I’ll try something insane and find myself in the break. We’ll see, but I’m only halfway done.
Stage 5 Strava Link
The GC battle wages on, so for those of us not in contention it means hard days ahead. Today started out immediately up a category 3 climb, and it was rolling hard from the gun. The field shattered not 10km into the race, with the large front group containing all the GC players. Luckily, I found myself in a large enough group that the chase was tolerable, but we caught the front group at the base of another climb, so our joined groups only mixed slightly before separating again. My chase remained about 3 minutes off the back of the front group, but none of us really cared to join up with that craziness again, so there were few efforts to push the pace too high.
At 50km, my teammate Phil put in a strong attack up a steep climb to separate himself from the group in an effort to bridge to the front group that was now only a minute up the road. After climbing to the summit finish and passing through, I found myself rolling off the front of my group in chase, following two riders from the UK team. Not really wanting to do work, but not wanting to fall back for no reason, I sat on, planning on working with Phil once these UK riders pulled me up to him. However, on the descent I quickly dropped the other two, and found myself unintentionally in no-man’s land. Whoops.
My team director drove up next to me and told me to catch Phil and work together across the gap. So much for trying to not kill myself today. I rode hard to catch Phil, and soon we had 2 minutes on our old group, but still a minute from the front group, not gaining any ground. However, despite having to ride in the wind quite a bit, riding with Phil was a pleasant deviation from the racing I had been getting used to over the past few days. We rode tempo into the wind, and tempo up the climbs, which was a much easier workload to manage and ended up having us ride significantly faster than the group we were in. Alas the GC field in the front group decided to drive the pace again, and suddenly the front group was 5 minutes away. With that news Phil and I sat up to rejoin the ten riders chasing us.
It was another long stage full of ups and downs, and by the end I was really suffering. Who knew racing hard six days in a row would make you tired? But in consummate racing attitude, I attacked the finishing climb hard, setting Phil up to ‘win’ our group, for what little it counts. I rolled in 42nd, continuing my streak of consistent results near 40th place. To put the front group that Phil and I chased for a while in perspective, they ended up finishing 16 minutes ahead of us. Knowing that, I’m happy we didn’t catch them, because I certainly would’ve been dropped in the GC battle crossfire.
We’ve now completed the northern part of the island, so tomorrow will be much flatter, a good day to recover hopefully. However, with the GC battle still only at 40 seconds, the pace will be high.
Stage 6 Strava Link