Giant-GMS Team for Sharjah

Giant-GMS Team for Sharjah

Guest Article: Sharjah a Trois

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The final installment of @ChrisO’s desert trilogy should have been published last month when Pros were getting sandblasted but it didn’t. Still, we can never have enough personal race reports from our V-Brothers and Sisters. Since Chris submitted this he has broken his femur and is already back in the saddle (?!). The V is strong with this one. Thanks for racing and thanks for writing @ChrisO.

Yours in Cycling, Gianni

It’s the Rule of Three – from bears and little pigs to Star Wars and Grand Tour, stories work best in threes.

So it is with my ‘pro’ career in the Tour of Sharjah. I’ve completed the trilogy. I gave it my best shot, enjoyed most of it, learned a lot about cycling and myself and now in the very useful local expression khallas… enough, finished, over.

The Race

Even three years ago it was a serious stage race, then a UCI 2.2 event and this year attracted an even more international and competitive field. With higher-level tours of Oman, Qatar, Dubai and now Abu Dhabi plus the start of a local Continental pro team the region is very much in the pro-cycling spotlight.

My favourite this year was Team Baby Dump. We feared some horrible mis-translation, but they turned out to be a Continental-level Dutch Under 23 squad sponsored by a chain of mother-and-baby stores. Oh, those Dutch jokers.

There was a team from Montreal (Norco – great jerseys), another from France and the usual mix of African and Middle East national teams – UAE, Kuwait, Saudi, Egypt, Uganda – plus the Algerian Continental squad Sovac, a tough bunch from previous years.

Above them all, Sky Dive Dubai, a Continental team with serious aspirations and the Dubai money to support it and bring in big guns. Like Francisco Mancebo, former Tour white-jersey winner and Vuelta podium finisher and Alexandr Pliushkin, just outside the top 20 in this year’s World TT championships along with a sprinkling of national champions to support them.

Oddly the presence of such a powerful team made the race easier when it was easy, much more like the World Tour races. If Sky Dive were prepared to let a break go, or chase anything down, or want to ride at 30km/h for an hour then OK. Watcha gonna do about it? But when the hammer went down… it hurt.

I was fitter, leaner and more race-ready than ever going into this ToS. My preparation was good, nutrition and recovery was dialled in.

We even had a proper soigneur from Garmin-Sharp giving us daily massage and preparing our race food (see posts in The Rides for details if you’re interested).

One top-tip from the pros – after Stage 2 as we drove to the hotel I got a terrible hamstring cramp sitting in the car. Ricardo, the soigneur, managed to drive and massage me, then he grabbed a safety pin.

“Stick it in” he said.

“What the… ?”

“Just stick it in as far as you can near the cramp. It will transfer the pain.”

I did, and he was right, the cramp released with some auto acupuncture.

However even my best preparation just meant I lasted about twice as long before being spat out. Not even spat out really, just losing touch with the lead pack and rolling in with the bunch. Progress for sure, but not satisfaction.

Soon I realised the extent of my race would be to roll along, struggle, regroup and finish. I suspect a similar thought process for many promising riders of far greater talent who jump from domestic competition to the upper echelons of the sport. What started as enjoyment and winning becomes employment and grinding.

So I found a hand-grenade to throw myself on. Day 3 – some of the worst cross-wind I have ever been out in, and anyone who has seen reports of the Tour of Qatar will know it can be brutal in these parts.

The start was on the east coast with what should have been a few easy kilometers and then a big long drag of 10km at about 4-5%. It wasn’t steep but long enough that if a team decided to drill it there’d be trouble, so Jamie our team leader had to be near the front.

A peloton encountering a crosswind works like exfoliation. Riders on the windy side are peeled back like dead skin, until just a long, thin, fragile strip remains.

As we headed towards the climb with a howling wind at 90 degrees we were shedding madly and people were literally fighting for the meagre shelter of the gutter. Sky Dive was on the front but not doing any favours and Jamie had been pushed back, unable to find a place.

“I need to get up the front.” Oh shit, he means me. I get ahead, pushing back up the windy side with Jamie in tow, but the chaos behind the front makes me check my speed and we rapidly fall back again as others come around.

Next I see Emil our sprinter trying to take Jamie forward. Jamie is small, Emil is tiny. It’s ludicrous . Out I come again. We’re 10 minutes from the climb and it’s crosswind all the way. Jamie is on my wheel and I grind forward. Mancebo is on the front and I draw level and hold position. They aren’t going to let Jamie in so I have to stay there, giving them all shelter. For an idea of how strong the wind was, in the first 5 minutes I did nearly 360 watts and my average speed was about 26km/h.

The Sky Dive guys know a doomed fool when they see one and drop in behind me. It also lets Jamie get in but I’m not sure where. I can’t risk them peeling off and putting him on the front but now I can see the turn which marks the climb, and will put the wind more behind us. I decide to hold on. Pushing for the finish. Not the end of the stage, but the end for me.

It comes as I expect. We turn slightly, the road inclines, the attacks start coming and I drop back. It’s amazing how quickly a peloton can go past when you’re spent. With a minute or two to recover I might have got hold of a wheel but the gap comes suddenly and I’m alone. I struggle on for another hour, hoping to pick up some stragglers. I learn later that after the climb it all calmed down and everyone pretty much stayed together for an easy day.

My only friend, the End

At least I had a team car to climb into.

Leaving the race puts an immediate distance between you and your teammates of just a few hours ago. The explanations, the expressions of support – is that pity, or judgement? You’re not part of the excited chatter about who did what, and what will happen next. It’s best to go, not hang around. Khallas.

I could have finished and I’m satisfied with that. Other riders survived by staying in the wheels and I don’t begrudge or judge. ‘Never do anything you don’t have to’ is the cardinal rule of racing. They did what they had to do, and I did what I thought I had to do.

So that’s the closure, and here’s the character development bit. I’ve learned that I want to do more than finish in the bunch. It’s been fun riding at an ‘elite’ level. I’ve picked up great experience and done my bit for the team, even if it was no more than being moving spare parts.

Riding for a team is being a cog in a machine. The effort and training I’ve done in recent years make me want some reward for myself, to race for Me at a level I can compete in. It will be a lot lower level than the Tour of Sharjah but I think I can be happy with it.

 

// Guest Article // Racing

  1. @ChrisO

    >>> It’s amazing how quickly a peloton can go past when you’re spent <<< Ohhh man I can only imagine how quickly a pro peloton can go past! As is, I know how quickly a master’s field of amateurs or a CAT 4 group can go past. I know too well. Which brings me to the next point: should I carry a safety pin attached to my bibs with intention to be stabbing myself right when the quads start to cramp and right before the peloton gets ready to blow past? Any chances that’ll help? ’cause it sounds a bit looney tunes to me ! Stab stab stab… come on man, shut up legs ! That’s classic stuff there.

    Cheers!

  2. Self IMS, I like it.

    But @wilburrox don’t do that while riding. After heavy IMS your muscles feel like they’ve been destroyed. Light spinning, massage, and stretching are in order post needles.

  3. When I first came to the sport, and was learning all the nuance, my Sensei made sure that I knew that racing ‘is NOT and individual sport’, and that the person then put in the smartest, greatest effort in the race is usually not the winner, but his Lieutenant.

    Chapeau Chris.

  4. Awesome! Too cool to read this when the most I’ve done is some cx racing and weekend “fast group” race rides. This is great.

    Thanks, ChrisO, keep on healin’!

    That looks like a skinny Wayne Rooney checking out the trophy.

  5. @Ron

    Awesome! Too cool to read this when the most I’ve done is some cx racing and weekend “fast group” race rides. This is great.

    Thanks, ChrisO, keep on healin’!

    That looks like a skinny Wayne Rooney checking out the trophy.

    That’s Jamie, the guy we were riding for.

    He was 7th in the Etape last year, won the Catford hill climb and was near the podium in the UK hill climb champs.

    He’s pretty damned good and has taken this year off work to ride with a semi-pro team in Europe with the aim of getting into a pro squad.

    I hope he does well but it will be very hard – when the real pros come out, or even the guys who are at semi-pro level already, you see that the gap between his level and theirs is the same as mine to his.

    Maybe it’s something that full-time training and riding will overcome, I don’t know – he’s just at the start of the season so I’m watching his results, and it would be great to see him succeed, if only so I can say “Throw us a team cap Jamie.”

  6. @Frank

    Have you seen the last photo in the album? The guy from the Seychelles.

    I put it in just for you – reckon it would be a close thing who had more seatpost between the two of you.

  7. Tremendous again Chris, I’ve really enjoyed this set of articles. Love the Exfoliation metaphor and I’ve found your race detail really evocative, like having a minicam mounted on a seat post ! Good luck in whatever Cat you race in, safe to say you’ve earned it.

  8. @ChrisO

    @Ron

    Awesome! Too cool to read this when the most I’ve done is some cx racing and weekend “fast group” race rides. This is great.

    Thanks, ChrisO, keep on healin’!

    That looks like a skinny Wayne Rooney checking out the trophy.

    That’s Jamie, the guy we were riding for.

    He was 7th in the Etape last year, won the Catford hill climb and was near the podium in the UK hill climb champs.

    He’s pretty damned good and has taken this year off work to ride with a semi-pro team in Europe with the aim of getting into a pro squad.

    I hope he does well but it will be very hard – when the real pros come out, or even the guys who are at semi-pro level already, you see that the gap between his level and theirs is the same as mine to his.

    Maybe it’s something that full-time training and riding will overcome, I don’t know – he’s just at the start of the season so I’m watching his results, and it would be great to see him succeed, if only so I can say “Throw us a team cap Jamie.”

    Chris, does Jamie ride on the track as well – he looks slightly familiar, has he been to Herne Hill?

  9. @markb

    @ChrisO

    @Ron

    Awesome! Too cool to read this when the most I’ve done is some cx racing and weekend “fast group” race rides. This is great.

    Thanks, ChrisO, keep on healin’!

    That looks like a skinny Wayne Rooney checking out the trophy.

    That’s Jamie, the guy we were riding for.

    He was 7th in the Etape last year, won the Catford hill climb and was near the podium in the UK hill climb champs.

    He’s pretty damned good and has taken this year off work to ride with a semi-pro team in Europe with the aim of getting into a pro squad.

    I hope he does well but it will be very hard – when the real pros come out, or even the guys who are at semi-pro level already, you see that the gap between his level and theirs is the same as mine to his.

    Maybe it’s something that full-time training and riding will overcome, I don’t know – he’s just at the start of the season so I’m watching his results, and it would be great to see him succeed, if only so I can say “Throw us a team cap Jamie.”

    Chris, does Jamie ride on the track as well – he looks slightly familiar, has he been to Herne Hill?

    Don’t think he does a lot of track. He’s a pretty decent TTer though and his “home” club is Lewes Wanderers so maybe you’ve seen him around somewhere in Surrey events.

    When we do a TTT Jamie usually does an extra turn in each rotation, so it turns a four man TTT into a five. Whoever is last man when he comes off the front lets him in, so every few rotations you get an extra wheel.

    The problem is that not only are we all bigger than Jamie, he’s more obsessed with aero than @Tessar and can tell you his CDA for every kit and bike combination. So we get hardly any benefit from being behind him.

    You’re torn between the ‘nice’ thought of staying at the back for an extra turn, then you have the horrible thought that it means basically doing a double effort – first when Jamie is on the front ahead of you and then when you are properly on the front. If he’s doing 330 watts on the front I will still be over 300 just to be on his wheel.

  10. @ChrisO

    Synthes, Propels, good kit – it passes the sniff test! Really cool report to read. Regardless of the outcome, that’s an incredible experience to have.

    Had to give up my own ambitions for a team goal recently (further worsened by a crash while trying to bridge back up), it does indeed feel pretty deflating to arrive at the finish by broom wagon (or ambulance).

  11. @ChrisO

    @Frank

    Have you seen the last photo in the album? The guy from the Seychelles.

    I put it in just for you – reckon it would be a close thing who had more seatpost between the two of you.

    I totally did, nice to see someone who knows how to get a bike fit done properly.

  12. @ChrisO I get the feeling there is the possibility the team thought you should have done something else, rather than hammer yourself to drag them to the climb, or was it that you stepped in the car?

    Nonetheless, your reports have always been a great read, so thanks for sharing them, and good luck at competing at your next level. You’ll be the one able to rip some legs off for a change….

  13. @ChrisO

    Inspiring, thanks for writing. I can absolutely imagine the pain.

  14. Great piece and thanks for sharing!

  15. the road inclines, the attacks start coming and I drop back. It’s amazing how quickly a peloton can go past when you’re spent

    A similar thought went through my mind on the Caledonian Cogal last year when @ChrisO came past me on the lower slopes of the Bealach-na -Ba climb. He mentioned before that he was going to do a FTP test which I believe has something to do with threshold power but at the time I felt that it stood for Faster Than Pantani.

    Great tale, I can almost taste the desert dust.

  16. @ChrisO

    Nice writing, I enjoyed the read. I’d love to experience a stage race, at least once. Would be my racing pinnacle.

  17. What a great perspective on an often under reported side of the sport. Many thanks for sharing. Love that last pic!

  18. @frank

    @ChrisO

    @Frank

    Have you seen the last photo in the album? The guy from the Seychelles.

    I put it in just for you – reckon it would be a close thing who had more seatpost between the two of you.

    I totally did, nice to see someone who knows how to get a bike fit done properly.

    The fact that you can even write this shows how thick your skin has gotten from all the badgering about your seat pillar. Glad your V-mettle is at full tilt ahead of these next four weekends!

  19. ChrisO – Wasn’t meaning to be a wiseguy, really do think Jamie bears a resemblance to Wayne. Wow, dropping work to ride. I commend that commitment and self-belief. When I start to think of levels of riding ability, from local weekend hero to USA top-tier, to Euro continental to UCI top dogs…it’s like thinking about the size of the universe. My mind is just blown. At least then I have to head out for a ride to let the dust settle.

    And how about this…I’ve NEVER had a muscle cramp in my life of sporting. I’d read this the other day, been thinking about the safety pin deal you pulled, and last night at soccer…pulled up with a hamstring cramp. I hobbled through the rest of the scrimmage but I still have a sore hamstring today. Don’t think it’s a pull, but can cramps last through the night?

  20. @Ron

    ChrisO – Wasn’t meaning to be a wiseguy, really do think Jamie bears a resemblance to Wayne. Wow, dropping work to ride. I commend that commitment and self-belief. When I start to think of levels of riding ability, from local weekend hero to USA top-tier, to Euro continental to UCI top dogs…it’s like thinking about the size of the universe. My mind is just blown. At least then I have to head out for a ride to let the dust settle.

    And how about this…I’ve NEVER had a muscle cramp in my life of sporting. I’d read this the other day, been thinking about the safety pin deal you pulled, and last night at soccer…pulled up with a hamstring cramp. I hobbled through the rest of the scrimmage but I still have a sore hamstring today. Don’t think it’s a pull, but can cramps last through the night?

    I know when I have cramped and ridden on, the affected muscle has hurt like a pulled/torn hamstring for a couple days after, I would say its normal.

  21. Went on a two hour ride last night, the pain is finally gone from Tuesdays cramp.

    Good info, Beers. Sounds like that I had, it did feel like a pull, but I know I didn’t pull my hamstring.

  22. Thanks indeed for writing. A glimpse into the life. Never as glamorous as I hope…

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