Most race reports I’ve read, start with: “I” or “We” for the team or athlete. I will start with “thanks”. First off that I am healthy enough to train and race. Thank you to my teammates Peter and Roni and the Cat 3 lads for inside advice esp. on the TT – Travis. Congrats to Aria, the first day he upgraded to Cat 2, he won. That’s not a typo. Thank you to the Mikes Bikes for facilitating several race teams and the Mikes Bikes Team Managers: JP, Justin, and Ian. Personally, I’d like to thank my friend Pavel Chmigelski. Finally, without the following crew, back to back weekends of racing would a lot harder: @tmbequator @mikes_bikes  @equatorcoffees @sramroad @iamspecialized #violichfarms @toyota_official @toyotausa @osmonutrition @theprobar @smithoptics @capocycling @bikesmart #toyotacycling.

Coming off the back of two DNF’s (crash & mechanical) and a very mediocre personal performance at Chico Stage Race, especially with the fact that I died in the last 4 miles of a 45 mile RR, I really had no idea how my legs and body would hold up at this monster (I can say that as a Cat 4, Pro/ 1/2 try not judge) distance stage race. If Chico is stage race for the big names, then TopSport is the stage race for the hard men: 76 mile rollingISH road race, 75 min. circuit with a surface as smooth as a baby’s arse, and a 10m TT with a surface to rival any back, bog road in Ireland!

ROAD RACE: Rumors circled at the start of the 8 lap road race, about mixing the Cat 3 & Cat 4s. Luckily, it didn’t materialize. IMHO it is easier to mark lads from one Cat, than two, and have to react, if a break goes, to the threat level. Just as we were about to start, the Queen Bees showed up – lost. The Pro/1/2’s took a wrong turn, so after slight delay the “colossal” peloton of 19 set off. Mikes Bikes had Peter, Roni, and Trevor – not a lot, but enough to consider basic tactics… and that’s the way the tactics stayed for the RR. Have Roni stay clean for the sprint and Peter/Trevor mark/get in breaks. KISS. Zoca had 6 lads (yes, that is 1/3 of the entire field), Dolce had 2, and Metromint had 2 so enough teams to be vigilant. I spent the first of 8 laps saying the rosary that there would be no hero’s stressing us all with an early break. Enter Dolce. Their 2 man team snuck off the front. FFS. I knew one (Owen) but not the other, so it was hard to call if they were a threat that early. Luckily they saw the light (read: distance left) and we were all back together. Next  1 metro and 1 Zoca go off the front, I spot Owen/Dolce going over, so why not! We bridged up to the other 2. Immediately we knew what all four wanted and how much we were about to need each other to stay away, after all it was only lap 2. Being part of this breakaway, the fluid way in which we worked together is hard to transcribe here but if you’ve raced and gone for it, you’ll know. We stayed away for just over 2 laps before the peloton brought it back together. To say the “breakaway kids” weren’t wrecked, would be to call Paris Hilton intelligent. 52miles in the cramps came, not like a hamstring for 60 or 90 seconds like a team sport, but rippling ones for 3 – 5 mins. As a reminder, this ain’t like soccer where you can lie down on the field and you’re your physio gently work things out. You stop, you’re done. I thought I would have to drop out they were that bad, but belted and rubbed legs like crazy to get rid of the cramps. They came back at 58mile, some craic. The finish is a sharp uphill before the 200 mark, the legs were hanging off me at this point and I just tried minimize my time loss on 1st man home. I couldn’t even get out of the saddle for the sprint. Flopped over the line in 6th, luckily down only 4 secs on 1st. Beyond wrecked.

The Break. The Pain! Photo CREDIT: KATIE TRUONG

CIRCUIT RACE: The Circuit Race takes place in the tinsel town of Copperopolis. Beats me why photographers didn’t go up on one of the balconies in the town square – yes, vanity is a terrible sin, I know. Definitely a Circuit Race to stay at the front because of the potential to lose positions coming into the town square and the surge upon exiting. The plan here was similar to the road race. KISS. Zoca sent a rider up the road every lap for the first half an hour, but there was no impact and I think they wasted the potential to burn off some of the field if they made a cohesive effort as they had 6 racers but I am glad they didn’t because everyone’s legs were shot. A brave breakaway stuck (1 metro and 1 Dolce) and the rest settled in for the sprint. With 2 laps to go, I allowed myself to visualize a solo breakaway lead out by Peter to race for third. Thoughts are great, but with the TT looming and more time to loose than gain in GC, the mind sneaks over to the safe side of the brain. Kurt Cobain once “It’s better to burn out than fade away” – so why not. I readied Pistol Pete to sneak to the opposite side of the road from the peloton and launch me. I knew Owen/Dolce was right on my wheel  and would likely mark me to protect his guy in the break and because we were close on GC.

Sure enough, 3 surges later, including weaving like a F1 car warming up, Dolce was still there – like a leech. Nicely played! Given that I’ll never, ever be mistaken for Nario Quintana, the slight downhill sprint suited me. Started my sprint too late and the latent effects of the cramps meant another relatively weak sprint in the saddle. Roni executed nicely for 3rd and won the sprint from the bunch, Metromint snuck past me and I failed to catch Dolce, arriving in 6th but, luckily, no great time loss.

TT: If you’ve read this far, you are to be commended for your attention span in the Twitter/Facebook era! A TT is hard to describe, unless you’ve done a competitive one. At the tail end of a stage race, it is even uglier – see supporting photography or not. I was somewhere in the region of 45 – 60 secs of 1st, but in reality it doesn’t matter. You either commit to going blind with the pain in the TT or you go thru the motions delivering an Oscar winning fake face of pain. The road surface was so bad, I thought I had a flat at one point. It was a battle between staying low and keeping your head up for the right line. Luckily I had a carrot in front of me, in the form of a big GC threat. The plan was to hold a very vague 315 avg ws, but “good luck and thanks” to that. Post TT analysis saw a very tired 280 avg w. I tried to engage my gluts (Matt & Scott ha ha) rather than legs for, what should be by now, obvious reasons. Congrats to all that raced, thanks to the lads on the podium for the pain and to TopSport race organizers.

Result: GC 1st. RR 6th. Circuit 6th. TT 1st.

Lessons Learned: I am relatively new to competitive cycling, hence the Cat 4 status ;-) so apologies if some of these are basic. If you are on a team, take time to communicate before the race and be open to adapting during the race. Up your potassium intake for cramps the week of a long road race. When cramps come don’t panic, suck it up, they will pass. I saw others spray their legs with cold water, after the race I found out that this restricts blood flow and helps with cramps – I naively just thought those racers were overheating. Try all of these on a long, hard effort training ride and see what works for you. Don’t over eat between two stages in one day. If your hotel has a freezing pool/hot tub combination, use it. Have 2 pints at a posh golf course between race days, even better when a team mate treats you. Thanks Peter. Get your legs up in the hotel. Bring The Stick or hard foam roller. Do the warm ups, even when shattered. Bring more water than you think you need. Get in a break or create one, you only live once. Smile though the pain.

A Face Only a Mother Could Love! PHOTO CREDIT: KATIE TRUONG