Taking It To the Next Stage
Recap: William Blackburn was selected to represent Quebec at the Tour de Beauce. His goal was to gain experience and finish the UCI 2.2 stage race with more fitness than which he began.
Stage 1 (Lac-Etchemin 165 km): With 15km to go, Rafael Serrano Fernandez (Heraklio-Murcia) responded to the pressure of the bunch closing in and attacked his two breakaway companions, Will Routely (Team Canada) and Jay Thomson (Fly V Australia). He managed to fend off the fast-charging bunch by 8 seconds after being off the front for 120km of the race. Sergiy Grechyn (Amore & Vita) flashed home for second in front of Quebec’s own Charles Dionne (Fly V Australia). William was dropped on one of the final rollers as the peloton was hammering to catch the break. I was happy with William’s performance. If you’ve ever raced in the Beauce, you know the cumulative fatigue that repeated, long rollers stuff into your legs. UCI stage races also expose you to, not so much faster racing, but much longer durations at speed than many local racers are accustomed. This is especially true of the first race in a stage race where early attacks can be relentless, as the teams of the main contenders try to be vigilant while all the guys trying to establish themselves as contenders or going for stage wins light up the road.
For a variety of reasons, I trained William differently than my other young racers. I restricted the hours and intensity of his training during the spring. In effect, he was not trained to participate in a stage race like the Beauce, and it was not in his calendar though we knew it was a possibility. Ironically, his ability to surpass his racing goals and to constantly get into the right breaks led him onto the Quebec Team and into the race. This is a great accomplishment, but the demands of racing the Beauce can also play havoc with your fitness, exhausting you for the rest of the summer in extreme cases. After Stage 1 I was pleased because being exposed to the long efforts of a pro peloton accelerating over rollers to reel in a break was some of the best training he has done all year. And you can’t underestimate the gains in experience. But the fatigue in his legs was obviously a reason for worry.
Stage 2 (Thetford Mines, 160km): An early break established itself within the first 20km and contained Javier Megias (Team Type 1), Jamie Sparling (Team Canada), Darren Rolfe (Fly V Australia), John Murphy (BMC Racing), Walker Savidge (Holowesko Partners), Francois Parisien (SpiderTech p/b Planet Energy), Jean-Sebastien Perron (Garneau Club Chausseres) and Flavio Pasquino (Restore Cycling Team Holland). Designed as an out-and-back road race, the stage ended with 3 laps on a finishing circuit where it began–Thetford Mines. The break held on until 2 laps to go, with David Tanner (Fly V Australia) winning the bunch sprint over Yuriy Metlushenko (Amore e Vita) and Andrew Pinfold (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis). William’s legs felt much more lively than in Stage 1. He made it over all the considerably longer rollers that characterize the stage (2-4km climbs averaging 3% but with little steep pitches everywhere) but he flatted twice in the last 30 km and was effectively forced to perform a 30km TT at the end. This made me very nervous about his overall fatigue with 4 hard stages to go.
Stage 3 (Saint-Georges – Mont Megantic, 154 km): The race finishing on the 9km ascent up Mont Megantic is the Queen Stage of the Tour de Beauce. An early break containing Valeriy Kobzarenko (Team Type 1), Jeff Louder (BMC Racing), Sergiy Grechyn (Amore e Vita), Darren Rolfe (Fly V Australia), Bjorne Papstein (SC Wledenbruck 2000) and Derrick St John (Garneau Club Chaussures) spread out on Megantic but survived to the finish… almost. Dutch rider, Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis), leap-frogged through the tired members of the break and caught St John with under 200 metres to go for the win.
It is great to see riders such as St John, who also races locally, able to step up their game when necessary at the Beauce. The quality of racing in this province is very high right now with many Quebec riders on teams such as Spidertech, Fly V and Garneau consistently performing well at all levels. Special kudos as well to Quebec Team members, Raphael Gagné, Arnaud Papillon, Vincent Quirion and André Tremblay, who all finished within less than 5 min of the winner at Megantic.
I asked William to try and get in an early break, with the goal of moving away from a survivor mentality to trying to race the race. Chasing and attacking in races changes the way you ride in a peloton. It makes you more active and more involved. It is often a good way to survive in races because you psychologically come out of your shell, even if your legs feel dead. William asserted his presence early but then the toll of Stage 2′s flats left him with little in his legs. He fell off on the rollers before Megantic and then paced himself up the climb.
Up until this point in the race he had been suffering from mild stomach cramps in the evening. They became more acute after Stage 3. Gastrointestinal cramps are not uncommon in cycling, and are of course very familiar to runners. Usually there are many factors causing GI cramps. The two most obvious causes are the physical/mechanical banging around of your stomach and the sometimes dramatic change in blood flow to your digestive system as it is redirected to your muscles while hammering. It is important to remember that your stomach moves around as you navigate the bumps and potholes of Quebec roads. It also gets shifts as you change riding position. Importantly, it also gets slapped around by your diaphragm when you’re breathing under stress. Proper breathing is about more than just oxygen delivery!! Also, if you are frequently suffering from stomach cramps after hard, sustained efforts, you should have your eating and hydrating habits–if not your entire nutrition regime–evaluated. It is easy, for example, to be more dehydrated than you think. If you experience a >3.5% weight loss during a long, hot ride/race, you are much more likely to suffer stomach problems than if you are hydrating well. How many of us have been concentrating so hard in a race that we barely drink? Well, now imagine you’re bouncing through the rollers of the Beauce, hammering for extended periods above 70% of your lactate threshold, including repeated efforts above threshold… Your digestive system goes out of whack, and then you add the stress of the race, hydrating too late, not eating well… Cramps, or worse–the “d” word–are therefore very common, especially amongst inexperienced riders who do not, for example, have the same level of fitness as others in the peloton, and who don’t know the race courses well, or have a predisposition to expressing stress through their stomachs. They can disrupt sleep and therefore recovery, as the body starts to work in overdrive. These first signs of overtraining are also the first signs of a rider potentially losing, instead of gaining, fitness during a stage race. The goal was for William to get through the next day’s TT and see where he was at…
Stage 4 (Saint René, 20kmTT): Australians went 1-2-3, with Benjamin Day (Fly V Australia) taking top honors from former Beauce winner Nathan O’Neil (Bahati Foundation) and teammate Darren Rolfe (Fly V Australia). Day’s trouncing of the competition by over a minute helped him move into first in the GC, followed by Rolfe, with Kobzarenko’s (Team Type 1) climb up Megantic still holding him on the third step. William “walked” the TT, as he was unable to eat beforehand except for a serving of yogurt. Later, he was able to finally sleep after taking some advils. Sounds rough, but overall he was hanging in and getting valuable experience for next year. Also, the battle wasn’t lost. His goal of increased fitness was still very much in the cards. With proper recovery he could come out of the Beauce flying, and ready for one-day races.
Stage 5 (Quebec City, 127.6km): Stage 5 was a technical circuit race, up and down the historic escarpment shielding Quebec City plus the challenges of winding through the avenues of the old, fortified part of town. Chris Jones (Team Type 1) and Hector Gonzalez (Heraklio-Murcia) mashed their way out of an early break and hovered up the road until Danny Summerhill (Holowesko Partners) joined the slogging task of holding off race leader Benjamin Day’s Fly V Australia-led peloton. On the sixth lap, Lucas Euser (SpiderTech p/b Planet Energy), who had been in the original break, and Chad Beyer (BMC Racing) bridged. Two laps later the always active Jamie Sparling (Team Canada) joined the front runners in giving it a shot. Fly V, however, did their job and closed things down with a lap to go, opening the gates for those with the legs to be opportunistic. Marc De Maar (Unitedhealthcare p/b Maxxis) struck from 800m out, taking his second stage win, while Javier Megias (Team Type 1) and teammate Morgan Schmitt (Unitedhealthcare p/b Maxxis) led the snaking peloton over the line for the shorter steps on the podium. For those with nothing left in their legs, the escarpment hit hard and hit early as riders kicked their way up looking for sprint points and long-shot breaks. William ended up in a chase group, and after he was dropped with a couple laps to go he withdrew from the race.
Now the real test begins. Can we figure out a good recovery strategy so William achieves his goal of gaining fitness? He has already succeeded in gaining the confidence of having worn a Quebec Team jersey. He has already succeeded in gaining crucial experience, including the physiological and emotional experience of racing at the next level. You have to ride with fast guys to get fast. Doing so allows you to take the knowledge of the speed, power, strength and endurance required to succeed and put it into the way you train. You get a better sense of what it means to work on a bike. It all has to do with your frames of reference. You are constantly moving in and out of these frames while riding. They are the frames by which you picture yourself. And you ride through them to get to the next stage of your development, with all the excitement and anxiety of having to reestablish a new framework and thus a new picture of yourself on a bike. The next month should give us a working framework, and a more clear picture of where William’s fitness is at. There are plenty of reasons to be patient because there are so many signs that he is on a fast track.