What do you do when you fly 16 hours for a bike race and then crash out before the start? That’s not a question I was hoping to answer, but it’s actually less depressing than it first sounds.
I came to Greece to race two three-day stage races. After a successful first race, I headed out to pre-ride the courses for the second weekend of racing. Feeling good physically, but poor technically, I was focussing on smoothing out the descents and getting some confidence at the same time. The opposite happened. The XC course featured two steep descents. At the bottom of the first descent, the course opened into an orchard, with trees dotted on either side of the course. A sharp right hand corner marked the end of the downhill, and to set up for the corner meant moving to the left around a slight bend. I moved left, but as I did so my tires skitted out from under me, sending me sideways towards a tree at maximum speed. Being such a straight and easy section of trail, I was carrying plenty of speed without even trying. I wasn’t pushing the pace, but my error was not concentrating: I was about to be done riding and was already thinking of lunch.
I hit the tree side on, my non-drive side crank hit the tree first, and then my left thigh broadsided it. I heard the crack, and hoped my bike was OK as I was flying through the air, landing on my back. The impact of hitting the crank passed through my frame and cracked the chain stay almost cleanly in two, just holding itself together with an Amy D Foundation sticker. What I didn’t notice was my rear wheel. Held together by the tire pressure and spoke tension, it was only later when I tried to go for a quick spin that I realised I had four equidistant cracks in the rim. It failed as soon as I tried to pedal out of the saddle.
For such a mindless crash, I did some pretty good damage to myself. The impact of hitting the tree with my thigh caused an instant “dead leg” that has lasted almost three days, stopping me from being able to activate my quadriceps at all on that side. After lots of rest and icing, I’m reasonably sure there isn’t any permanent damage, but in the mean time I have a great comedy limp. I also managed to slice open my elbow, but that has been much less pain than the leg. With no bike and an injured body, I pulled the plug on racing. It was a huge disappointment. I could have chased finding a rental bike and perhaps got to the start line, but in hindsight I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve been really sore for the last few days. I was looking forward to the extra fitness I would get from racing, and also learning a bit more about how I do racing when tired, but that will have to wait. For now it’s back to Colorado for a good chunk of training, and then I’ll be in California in April for the US Cup races.
Not racing the second race in Greece gave Christa and I a little more time to look around and do some touristing. For her, being conscripted into flying to Greece and not just sitting around on a sunny island, I think it was actually a relief to have an extra spare day or two. For the first week, we’d struggled to find any good food on the island. We knew it was there, but it just wasn’t apparent to us. Combined with wanting to eat safe food before racing, it meant we’d had a quite boring diet. I travel for the food more than anything else, so it was great to find two really good seafood restaurants in the town of Salamina itself.
We drove around the island to the town of Maroudi on the south coast, and then scampered along the rocks until there was deep blue sea on either side. It’s here that we jumped in, happy for it to feel much warmer than the same sea in Hydra. We celebrated the swim with a café at a small tavern on the beach, and then went to watch the racing action. I was hesitant. I wanted nothing to do with the racing, but Christa persuaded me that watching it would be a good idea. She’s awesome like that.
We perched up on the hill with a view of the start and the first corner, and watched the drag race unfold below. When you’re in the race, everything seems to close and tight, but watching from a distance made me realise that I have more space to ride than I think I do. We situated ourselves on the first descent, the one I was really struggling with, and watched the best riders in the world struggle in exactly the same places. Gerhard Kerschbaumer from Italy (well, Südtirol if that counts…) took the holeshot, and drifted out on the trickiest corner on the DH, getting unclipped just like I had done pre-riding. On the steep and fast section before I crashed, only a handful of riders went down confidently, with everyone else on their brakes as much as me. It made me feel much better to know that I may not have been riding well, but I wasn’t riding any worse than anyone else either.
Seeing the gaps form, hold, and then lengthen throughout the race justified the weight I place on the start of the race. The order in the first 3 minutes was mostly the order that would hold to the finish. But I also realised that getting a bad start shouldn’t exclude me from a good race; I just have to get fast enough to close those gaps. Sometimes in chasing some margins here and there, it’s easy to forget that training harder and for longer is the simplest way to get faster. So that’s what I’ll be doing for the next 6 weeks – more training, more hours, and more intensity. Hopefully I can fit in a trip to somewhere warm to make it happen.