Euphoria. That’s the only word I can use to describe what it feels like to finish an event like this. It takes so much to do an event like this: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
What most people who have never experienced a stage race don’t realize is the amount of effort it takes between stages. I certainly didn’t realize this just 6 months ago before my first stage race. (Hard to believe this was only my 2nd one ever!)
Racing during a stage race is only half of the battle. The race can be lost off of the bike. The moment you cross the finish line each day you have to put food back into your system and prepare for the next day. When you are pushing your body this hard for this long you have a lot of glycogen stores to replenish but at a certain point your body wants to reject the food and you have to push through it.
This morning when my alarm went off at 6 am I stepped out of bed talking myself into the stage. My left leg was cramping as I walked into the kitchen to prepare my breakfast and another electrolyte drink to hopefully assist with the cramp.
I sat down to eat my pancakes and wanted to gag at the idea of food but it wasn’t even food at this point: It was just fuel and my body needed it. It took me almost 45 minutes to push the carbohydrates into my body.
I said a prayer, put my kit on, and a small jacket that I would need to carry throughout the stage since I had no one to take it on the start line. I ventured out into the brisk morning air. It was quiet and as I rode the 10 minute spin to the start line I wrote in my mind the stage I wanted to have.
With 20 minutes until the start we received our call ups and entered the grid with over 800 other racers. I stood shivering just a little bit in the cold breeze off of the Mediterranean Sea.
The start was the same as day one and I was determined to prove my progress. I accelerated off of the line. I weaved throughout the men. The women were charging. It was the final stage and no one was holding back.
I lied to myself…over and over again. “At the top of the next climb you can rest.” There was no time to rest. It was a battle. I felt like I used every ounce of energy I had to get to the first descent in good position and as I rounded the corner where I waited in line on the first day and saw clear trail I felt relief and pride in my progress. As men walked the technical descent on the right and left of the trail, I railed it straight down the middle and tried to wrap my mind around what we had ahead of us.
Today’s stage was primarily centered around a 5-6 mile climb featuring gradients between 20-30% incline. I was standing on the pedals, leaning over my front wheel, and trying to use every pound of my body weight to inch up this beast of a climb. It was relentless and there comes a point where suffering is so consistent that you almost forget you’re doing it until you aren’t anymore.
The summit of the climb was over 30% gradient and people were lining the trails, running next to me, yelling, cheering, jumping out in front of me to coax me forward. I felt like I was in the tour de France. It felt euphoric. Maybe it was the dopamine rush, maybe it was the exhaustion, maybe it was the wind hitting my face as I started to descent but a single tear rolled down my face at that moment. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be here doing what I love and to be doing it in a way that I was proud of.
The final 10 miles of the race were nothing if not draining. If the 1.5 km hike a bike 8 miles from the finish wasn’t enough to crack you then the deep sand as we rode down the beach surely did. I was riding on my limit both physically and technically. I had to check myself a few times as I barely saved some almost devastating crashes.
I came to the finish line completely shattered. It was the only way I would have wanted it. It was a spectacular race. The competition took me to my limit, the views were tremendous, and the trails were unforgiving. The training that I got from doing this race is irreplaceable and would not have been replicable back in the USA.
It was another shake up in the results today but I stayed consist coming in in 11th place. Today was the shortest day of the 4 with a finishing time just barely over 3 hours.
In the overall standings I finished 9th! I got great training, outstanding experience, a good chunk of UCI points, and even made it in the money. The 4 days of racing gave me a finish time of 13 hours and 29 minutes and 53 seconds and I missed 8th by only 1 minute and 12 seconds. I love that after that many hours in the saddle every second still counts. It really makes you wring yourself dry to see what you have hiding within.
This is just the beginning…