Sometimes It Is About Surviving

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 4:08am
Sam Kavanagh for
Sam Kavanagh After my success in Spain I approached France with the goal of winning or at least putting in a good fight to win the GC competition. After reviewing the various course description there was only one day that had me a bit nervous…day one. The first day of racing was set to be our longest single day in the saddle which was not a problem; it was the climbing that had my gut twisted up. Now to set the record straight I love to climb on my bike however, I have never been considered the fastest climber. In all honesty my climbing abilities would be described best by the word survival than they would race. Thus I prepared my game plan, survive better than you ever have; which in short meant I needed to conserve energy whenever possible while maintaining contact with the leaders each of 8 trips up the major climb. To accomplish this I positioned myself in the top 3 or 4 each time up the hill setting my own pace up the climb I would typically find myself mid pack at the top and happily in the group. Now I must admit that my performance did surprise me a bit considering the first 4 trips up the climb we averaged approx. 25 mph well beyond my previously assumed speed limit. With my game plan executed and all round stellar job at surviving I rolled across the finish comfortably tied for first with five other riders.

The following day, Saturday, was when the course started to favor my strengths. The morning was a short TT with short punchy hills but overall slight downhill avg. gradient for 8.6 km. With in the first km of the TT you make a sharp left hand turn that delivers you in the clutches of the first and longest hill. In pre-riding the course my impression of this hill was no big deal, one day removed from my fight for survival in the road race and my legs said it was much bigger than originally anticipated. This feeling of shock and pain would be the common theme for the entire 8.6 km, fortunately for me this turned out to be a good sign that I was riding the race full gas at my limit. After cooling down I was informed that I had won the TT by 18 seconds and taken 32 second lead on GC. With two stages left I was right where I hoped to be in the lead forcing the other riders to beat me.

Saturday was scheduled to be a double day. The second stage was a circuit race covering a 3.4 km route that included roundabouts, nearly a dozen 90-deg plus turns, and a smattering of cobble/broken pavement for good measure. Now if there is one thing American’s know it is circuit/crit racing as this makes up the large percentage of our racing here in the States; thus you could say I felt pretty confident especially with weather as nice as it was. With sun glaring in our eyes at the start I can not imagine anyone was expecting to be racing in flooded streets a mere 20 minutes later, I certainly was not. Rain did not describe what we experienced…it was bigger than that, perhaps biblical even; in short I have never raced my bike in such a deluge of water and chaos. Making matters worse while working in the lead group I went down hard when my wheel washed out on a submerged metal grate. Pumped with adrenaline I picked myself of the pavement and hustled to remount my bike only to have to stop to fix the chain and brakes. As precious seconds ticked by I imagined my race lead slipping away unaware of who I was being passed by. Back on the bike I locked on to a chase group and worked to minimize my losses. In the charge to finish line I punched it for the line if for no other reason than to remind myself I was still racing a bike. Back at the team car I slipped out of my torn leader’s jersey, got some help getting bandaged up and then headed off to the finish ceremony to find out who had taken over the lead. Thanks to chaos that ensued during the race it took the officials nearly two extra hours to sort out the days results. As they called up the race leaders, I was very surprised to hear Kavanagh announced in broken English. Turns out I was only passed by one rider while I was on the ground and while he finished nearly a minute ahead of me in the race he had started over a minute down on GC, meaning I was still the leader by 8 long seconds.

Sore, stiff, and exhausted from a night of little sleep Sunday’s final stage was another circuit race and unlike the day before the rain was less intimidating but very much present. I had a minor grip on the lead and fully expected to be under the attack by the 2nd and 3rd placed riders…they would not disappoint. Just before rolling to the start line it was suggested I use a different tire setup to help with the slippery conditions. In agreement, we hustled through a wheel swap and I was off. With in the first 200m of the race the first attack on my leader jersey was underway. As I surged to cover the break barreling to the front through the grass and gravel in the ditch of the road it was clear I had a fight on my hands. Focused on not letting any of the threats to my lead get up the road I patrolled the front of the race at all times. As we raced around the course navigating the tight turn and accelerating out of them I became ever so aware that my tires felt like I was on ice skates. It would seem that in the haste of swapping tires the tire pressure was not adjusted for the slippery conditions and were thus riding severely over inflated. This would come ever so apparent as I was sliding across the intersection on my right hip as I watched the riders threatening my lead speed away with the pack. One thing I have learned in life from all my experiences is flesh wounds heal and pain is temporary, but folding to challenge can haunt you for a lifetime. With my tattered shorts and muddy leaders jersey I rushed back on to my bike and as clipped in and looked up to survey just how far off the leaders were... my view was obsecured by two riders adorned in USA kits, my teammates, sitting up waiting for me. Over the next several minutes they would turn themselves inside out as I drafted their wheels, and with one big push I was back in the mix. Overwhelmed by the sacrifice of my teammates I immediately went to the front of the pack to put my competitors on notification I may have been down but I was not going to be beaten. A few laps later as the closing meters of the race slid by I sprung from my saddle and did what I do best….I sprinted leaving behind all the other riders in my race crossing the finish line first. With a bloodied hip, tattered shorts, muddied leader’s jersey, and amazing teammates I had claimed my first International stage race victory.

For now it is back to Montana for me as I prep over the next month for Nationals.

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