My buddy Winemaker raced in Europe in the 1980’s. He occasionally sends me his reminiscences. Here’s one from Span. Enjoy!
Independence Day, Spain, 1987
“How came that blood on the point of your knife? My son, come tell to me.”
According Mr. Wondra, my tenth grade English teacher said, fratricide was a nasty action which has been the mainspring for much great literature. This story is about fratricide, and it was done to me.
I really liked Mr. Wondra. He taught me the structure of writing, and I still use it. He retired and moved to Morro Bay. This last weekend was a pair of road races around Zaragoza. I blame my friend Vierra, or KV, for it, as his distant relatives got me interested in this whole Spanish cycling thing to begin with.
KV did the introduction to his immediate relatives, who were intrigued by the idea of an American and his Irish buddies even trying to keep pace up the cols with the veined-out, speed-addled, underfed, poverty-stricken stick figures who made up the amateur racers in northern Spain.
Bike racing was weird, but getting to the bike races was weirder. Getting home, in comparison was always anticlimactic. We had flown to Madrid on the night of July 3, last Friday, got into the Holiday-effing Inn via the most rickety shuttle bus ever on a road, fand flopped into our beds at 11:30 PM. We got up the next morning because Brian, Graeme and I had to catch a train from Madrid to Zaragoza, which is a couple hours northeast of Madrid. The road race started at 1 PM, which seemed like a decent hour, but more on that later.
We piled all the bags and bikes into a van for a cab ride to the train station. It was 8 AM and we had been up since seven, eating eggs and bread and washing it down with bottled water, having learned that nothing else but wine and coffee were safe to drink in Spain. We schlepped all the stuff onto the train. The baggage went below and we sat up high, so as to have a lovely‘view of the parched wasteland that passed for the countryside.
We rode and slept for an hour or so and got out at the station in Zaragoza, gathered up the gear, and pumped up the tires. The plan was to ride about five klicks to the hotel, check in, drop the gear, dress, eat, and pedal over to the start. We walked out of the station and got hit with a wall of heat. It reminded me of that Grateful Dead line: Leaving Texas, fourth day of July, sun so hot, clouds so low, the eagles filled the sky.
I was made acutely aware of the transition from 60 degrees to 100. I hadn’t seen heat like that since last summer, and my body was almost instantly in revolt, telling me that this just was not a good thing, and ordering me to get my ass back in the shade, pronto!
We rode to the hotel. I was soaked with sweat and close to puking. We checked in and of course the room was not air conditioned, so we knew that night would be really, really fun. We dressed. Check. We ate. Check. We rode the 10k over to the start with 20 minutes to spare. Check.
Some lizard posing as the local race official blew his whistle, and we started, 85 madmen in 100 degrees out for a cute little 150k road race. The race started slow, a very casual 20-22 mph pace for the first hour and a half. Suddenly, and I mean, like in the space of five seconds, the whole group went gonzo crazy and hit it hard.
I became the gutter bunny caboose, jumping from wheel to wheel of the soon to be dropped emaciated locals, essentially doing sprint intervals every minute to stay on the back of this trail of ants winding its way to the death volcano which must have lain at the turnaround point. Yes, this road race was 75k out, 75k back, same road, same climbs, just in reverse.
I told myself that I would pay attention to the road on the descents on the way out, so that I would know the route on the way back. Right. That plan got canned about 13 seconds into hammertime. This road had exactly zero total elevation gain but over a million rolling hills that never stopped, up, down, up, down. The Spaniards couldn’t descend for shit, because they all weighed less than 130 pounds, and I could tuck and coast my way up to and off the front on every descent, and that was the only time my sorry rear end saw the front.
We turned around at the top of a particularly nasty climb, and some little dude attacked on the descent. I jumped on his wheel (we were going downhill, remember?) and 2 km later, after pulling through on a flat section, I noticed that we were now in a break of six. Yay for me!
Exactly ten seconds after that silent jubilation, we hit one of the rollers and I was spit out the back of this break like a booger from a redneck’s truck window in Oklahoma. I mean, I was on the rivet, and there was no coal in the furnace.
They rode away from me like I was sitting at a bus stop reading the newspaper. I pedaled on, convinced that I would just jump into the group when it rolled up, except that there was no group. There were collections of 2 to 5 riders all struggling to breathe. Remember that 1 PM start? Well, it was 3 PM now, and it was so hot and there was no wind, and I was about finished with my second bottle of water, and life was about to change. A Spanish guy rode up and haned me a full bottle of coke. He smiled, pulled off the road, and stopped. He was quitting the race, and I was about to find out why.
Like Kafka’s chrysalis, I entered the pain room, stayed there for two hours, and only finished 18 minutes down. And I was 20th out of 85, and there were 24 official finishers. The smart locals just quit after giving their bottles away to the idiots from Ireland. I was afraid to even ask for a scale because I was sure I had lost 20 pounds.
I mumbled something about needing water and food and lotion and sleep (sounds like, “Urgle,” the same in every language, and managed to pedal back to the hotel, clean up, and eat. That Spanish guy who gave me the bottle of coke knew I was going to finish, and he figured he might as well give me some sugar and caffeine, to soften my descent into sure death. He might as well have stabbed me with a sharp knife.
I couldn’t really remember the rest of the weekend, but then, it is only Tuesday now, and I am joyfully back in Kill, where it is raining and 58 degrees. I am pretty sure that I will have a good recollection of Sunday’s race by this Thursday, but for now, there is nothing there, like waking up from a coma. I did lose 12 pounds over the weekend. And, my resting pulse is now 60, where it used to be 45. So, the voodoo medical sense in me says I am probably sick or overtrained, or both.
That Spanish bike racing shore is fun, ain’t it?
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