September 2, 2007: Race report #20, Tour de Villa Italia, Canada. Failure.
The last race of the season – and my favorite.
I drove the RV pell-mell from Chicago to Detroit Saturday night, arriving in Canada at nearly 1am for the race the following afternoon. All the sights and sounds of Erie Street or “little Italy” in Windsor, Ontario, Canada were the same as I remembered them since childhood. The little cafés with the weathered looking men smoking cigarettes and drinking tiny coffees in the early morning sun, the traffic barriers being set up and the towing of vehicles on the course, the construction of the announcer’s booth, the arrival of the riders.
I spent the morning and early afternoon in the company of two best friends since grade school, sipping espresso, sampling morning pasta and then a cheese pizza before heading out for warmup. I warmed up hard by the river, slinging through the gears and establishing a strong rhythm at 25mph humming down the path across from the skyline of Detroit.
I was ready.
I lined up with over 100 other riders as the sun angled behind the shops and restaurants lining Erie St. and Tom Demerling the announcer and the referee sent us on our way. The race was fast, really fast, though I didn’t know it as my cycling computer had decided to die on the start line, so I had no real sense of the speed of the race. To me it seemed “mild.” Later Ray Dybowski was to indicate that it was the fastest race he’d been in in over a decade – average speed was over 30mph.
I was determined to be in a breakaway if there was one. I was determined to be a factor for the win, not just the winner of the losers like last year when I won the field sprint for 19th place.
I raced up front.
I danced in breakaways, spent a lap or two off the front, and generally stayed in the top ten for the first hour or 30 miles. I was happy, I was strong, I was proud, and I remember thinking, “so this is what it is like to be ‘one of them’…” A roadie.
With about 30 miles down and 32 miles to go I began to have trouble with the light of the setting sun – like it was too bright when we were moving into it, and too dark in the shadows. I felt like I couldn’t see the road surface, or that the jerseys around me were so brilliant in the sun that I wanted to block my eyes.
I removed my glasses thinking it was the reflective surface. It didn’t help.
I dropped back in the pack suddenly lethargic. I kept shaking my head, trying to clear my eyes. I returned my sunglasses to my face in the brilliance of the backstretch. Nothing helped. I was numb, swimming through the course now, faces slowed, claps become gunshots.
I was bonking.
How the hell was I bonking? I had eaten more than enough, I had consumed plenty of fluids, I had eaten 2 of my 3 gels at the 40 and now 80 minute marks… ohhh… Then I remembered…
I’d had a bit of a stomach bug over the preceding few days. Shannon and I had eaten some carryout on Thursday, 3 days before, and within an hour we were both retching and emptying our stomachs and intestines. I’d had only diarrhea since… but… my body wasn’t really processing all the energy I had so planfully provided.
I assumed my old position at the rear of the pack, and saved my last gel – perhaps I could squeeze enough energy out of it with a few laps left to go for the win?
The laps drifted by and finally with 5 laps to go I squeezed the viscous chocolate liquid into my mouth and then made my way through the pack. With 2 laps to go I was back in the top 8, and stayed there. With one to go I found the wheel of sprinter extraordinare Ben Renkema, and followed him all the way to the last corner….
Sun sideways, shadows black, bikes and bodies white I entered the last 400meter straightaway in 8th place, got out of my saddle, pressed sinews and muscle to pedal, and…
The race went on around me, and I sprinted all out going backward, watching rider after rider pass me. Ben shot through to finish second at the line.
By the time I hit the line I was in 16th place.
I hated this last 20 seconds – more than anything I can remember I hated the feeling of going backward in the sprint – the one thing that I am good at…
…That I used to be good at.
This failure wasn’t born of pain. It wasn’t a result of injury or illness. It was one of getting beat – of seeing talent, youth or ability overcome experience. Or so I thought at the time.
I pondered these questions as I had dinner in one of the fantastic restaurants lining little Italy, and as I drove home the next morning.
It was more than a month later before I put all the data together and had my middle of the night epiphany about trading fast twitch for slow twitch. The overload of training and racing had once again made me into someone else. Capable – sure. Strong – sure. But incapable of winning races. I was now racing my weaknesses…
2007 was notable for several reasons: 1) I was in better aerobic shape in 2007 than EVER in my whole life. 2) It is the first and only year since 1977 that I didn’t stand on a podium – despite competing in 26 races over the summer.
Sometimes I blame Walden for the paucity of his observations. “Finish at the line Coyle, finish at the line!” That was always his advice and coaching to me. In contrast, it becomes obvious that he never said, “Get in the break Coyle, get in the break.” But common perceptions, pressures – this is what those voices say. For me to be in a breakaway – that would very clearly be me “racing my weaknesses”…
2 years ago I had returned back to Detroit for these same races for the first time in decades. With only minimal training, on that fateful Monday after the Tour de Villa Italia, I raced the Cat 3 race, the Masters 30+ race, and the Pro 1/2/3 race, and placed in the top 6 in all 3. The “trifecta” was born.
However much I wish it, I can never truly be a roadie. I am who I am.
I am a sprinter.
Maybe next year I’ll do it right.