Sunday, May 14, 2006

St. Croix Ironman 70.3 Report: The Bike (Part 3 of a Series)

Clouds buffered the sun from the beginning of the race and I was thankful.

(In last year's race the heat beat many down and dozens didn't finish the race. I was one of the fortunate ones that finished, but at a price. Once crossing the finish line I was lead by the hand to the first aid tent. Nurses covered me with cold, damp towels and stuck a needle in my left arm. A doctor spoke to me and I just babbled a few words. Two hours and four bags of IV fluid later I got out of the first aid tent. It was there I promised myself a return next year to have a better race.)

Once out of T1 the bike course heads east out of town for an eight-mile loop returning to Christiansted. (In St. Croix the traffic drives on the left side of the road like in England. Riders stay to the left and pass on the right.) There are a couple of rolling hills at the start and getting out of the saddle wasn't necessary. My heart rate monitor was reading 164 and I backed off the pace until it dropped below 160. I passed a couple of people in the first two miles and was passed by a few. Soon the course turned off of the main road and the hills became a little steeper. Two short ones at a 10% grade got me up on the pedals and soon I was headed back to town and passed the transition area.

Back in town it looks like the Tour de France. Hundreds of spectators line the street cheering, waving flags, and ringing cow bells. We go through the city streets one after the other twisting past "hot corner" and a dozen retail shops. Soon it was out of town and onto the north-side highway.

The two-lane highway undulates and gently runs along the coast line for 12 miles before coming to The Beast. Along the way I passed a couple of bikers that looked like yard sales. One had a flat and the other had a textbook case of road rash and was loading his bike into the back of a pick up truck.

There is a moderately steep hill just before reaching the hairpin left turn onto The Beast giving no chance to build up a head of steam. A dozen or so spectators sat in lawn chairs cheering us on the first of three legs of the 7/10th of a mile climb up 55 stories of two lane black top. On the road was painted 12% for the grade. A few yards later it read 14%. With my bike in its lowest gear I slowly zigzagged from one side of the road to the other like a mailman in the country. Slowly my tire rolled over a 2/7 painted on the road marking the distance covered from the bottom of the hill. My heart monitor was beeping fast and my heart rate was jumping between 190 and 192 beats per minute. A short distance later the road makes a sharp turn to the right and the grade hits 25%. That's where I got off of my bike or should I say attempted to get off of my bike. My right foot unclipped from the pedal and slid on the road like I was on ice. I struggled to control the bike while trying not to fall over. Catching myself, I freed my left foot and dismounted the bike. I took off my bike shoes and hooked my left index finger through the heel loops. This hill is hard to walk up let alone run in bare feet pushing a bike so it wasn't long until my legs began to ache.

The pros rode up this hill and some age groupers rode up this hill but I'm like most age groupers and walked up this hill. Although it was hard to breathe it didn't stop those of us walking to cheer on those passing us on their bikes. There's never been a race where I'm not impressed with the athleticism of some triathletes. That's especially so in this race. It's a marvel to watch and hear the people grunt, and strain as they use all of their determination to push each turn of the crank to slowly reach the top. Near the top some of the bikers that passed me on the first two legs were now walking or sitting on the road taking a break. I passed a few of them before reaching the summit.

At the top was the largest group of volunteers manning a water station I have ever seen. The first one was a large bellied man with dreadlocks yelling, "You can do it, mon! You can git up de Beast, mon!" As soon as I passed him a teenager ran to me and offered to hold my bike while I put on my bike shoes. As he did another volunteer held out a banana half in one hand and an orange wedge in the other. I gladly took them both and downed them with water. The volunteers were around us like a NASCAR pit crew. I exchanged my empty water bottles for full ones and headed down the mountain.

Having ridden this course once before I had an advantage over some of the other riders in that I knew what turns required a pull on the brakes and what turns didn't. One by one I passed riders while never getting out of the aero position. In a New York minute the road bottoms out in a residential area and spectators watched us zip past their homes at over 40 miles per hour.

The road twists and turns through fields of sugar cane before turning left onto a four lane divided highway. This is the industrial part of St. Croix and it's not very pretty and there's not much shade. Thankfully, the sun was still behind the clouds and the first sprinkles of rain began to hit my sunglasses. It started as a mist and occasionally a large drop would hit the road. The temperatures were in the 70s and the rain felt cool on my arms.

For the next several miles I rode with a pack of five other men. We would take turns leading up and down the long, moderately steep hills. The mist became a drizzle and coated my sunglasses. At near mile 32 I was third in the pack racing at over 30 miles an hour down hill fully laid out on the aero bars. The rider ahead of me was just to the right of my line when it happened. I hit a pot hole. It shook my bike with a violent teeth rattling impact. My butt left the saddle and all of my body weight pressed into the arm pads of my Profile Design aero bars. I hit with such a force that my left arm rest sheared off at the screw. It leaped off of the bike, hit my right thigh, and fell onto the road. My back tire slipped then righted itself and slipped again before becoming stable. The first thing that went through my mind is that I must have a flat or damaged my front wheel. Amazingly, the Continental tubular tire and Zipp carbon wheel were undamaged and the ride remained smooth. I checked my two water bottles on the frame between my legs to find them in their cages. How I didn't loose anything more is beyond my understanding.

It began to rain steadily when the rider who was directly behind me came along side and said, "Nice save. Are you OK?"

I gave him a thumbs-up and said, "Look at my aero bars. Can you believe it?"

"Yeah, I saw it fall. I thought we were both going to crash," and he pulled ahead.

Without being able to get into the aero position I was wishing for the cycling gloves I left back in Dallas. The best I could do was get into a tuck position but soon it began to hurt my lower back. At least I was still upright and able to ride so I pressed on against the wind and rain.

At mile 40 the road becomes scenic again as it hugs the southern coastline. It passed the hotel where we stayed and the gates of private beach estates. The hills also became steeper and longer. Unlike last year, I rode all of the last set of hills without dismounting. That felt damn good. Too bad I couldn't feel my fingers.

A half mile away could hear the announcer voice on the loudspeakers calling the names of the pros as they crossed the finish line. As the dismount line came into view the cheers of the crowd grew louder. I reached down and unstrapped my feet out of my shoes and pedaled the final hundred yards with my feet on top. Cow bells rang loudly and the cheers were deafening. I put my left foot on the pavement and tried to swing my right leg over the saddle but I hit the seat post and stumbled. My groin ached. Catching myself before I fell, I put both legs on the ground and ran into T2.

I tossed the bike on the rack and hopped on one foot attempting to put on a sock and promptly fell down and laughed. I looked at my watch and it read 4 hours; 40 minutes. My stretch goal time was within reach and I felt good. Real good. I knew that if I ran at a 10 minute per mile pace I'd finish in under seven hours. I was excited at the thought of beating last year's time by nearly two and a half hours.

While leaving T2 the radio announcer was finishing his interview with Karen smears who finished fourth. I was happy for her and wondered who won the race.

It would be a long time until I would find out.

Stay tuned...


greyhound said...

Scary stuff. I knew you finished, but I still was afraid you might have wiped out.

Curly Su said...

it's awesome that you're doing so much for the lls...looking forward to reading more...