My lungs still hurt from the race on Saturday. We awoke to blazing heat and hot winds whipping across the veld. As I was getting oatmeal at the breakfast buffet, a race official came up. I commented about the weather, adding the hope that it might improve. "Maybe it will be alright."
"I don't think so, but good luck anyway?" he replied, as South Africans do, making all statements queries. He was right. 25mph winds combined with temperatures near 100F turned the day into a convection oven on the rapid dehydration setting. I took a bottle with sugar and electrolyte mix and drank two bottles of water at the start. I thought that would be enough. I knew there would be very little chance of getting on the podium. In addition to the two women who beat me in the time trial, there was another former pro from Italy at this race. So, my goal was just to stay in the game for as long as possible. And, in the high winds, I knew it would make my ride easier if I could have the benefit of drafting.
I started near the front and at the first hill the leaders went easy. So far so good. As the second hill approached, Jodee went out front! Cameras snapped, she smiled and relished the feeling of flying on the front of the pack! Then, on the next rise, the leaders attacked. Jodee and a few others were gone. I hung on, but started dropping back. I could see some others dropping off as well, and figured I could catch them and we could form a chase group to get back. We did, although I had to spend quite a bit of energy bridging. I sat in to rest for a while and only went to the front on the descents so that I could be in a good position at the bottom of the climbs. I was having a great time, waving to people, feeling the power of a dozen strong women blazing across the sugarcane fields. On the climbs, I would drop back and then have to work to catch up. But I was happy to be hanging in there. I drank about half my bottle and was putting it back when it dropped. Only half way into a 36-mile ride with almost 3000 feet of climbing in these conditions, this was a disaster.
I stayed with them for a while longer. Then, at the bottom of the last and longest climb, Table Mountain, things started to break up. The leaders attacked and my race was over. I looked down at my computer and just tried to keep my power above 200. The climb was tough, and without water I was in fear of cramping. As I rounded a corner, I saw a women spectator with a water bottle in her hand. I pointed, begging and she ran after me and handed it off. I was very grateful and drank it right down. There was a brief moment when I felt a gentle tail wind! I began to hope that maybe I could catch a few people on the descent to the finish.
The devil on the veld had a different plan in mind. At the top of the mountain, it blew a fierce crosswind that threatened to push me over. My bike began to shake as I picked up speed. I envisioned the trip ending in a South African hospital and refocused all my energy on staying upright. I had to lean into the wind and ride to the right side, only to be blown back into the left. At the bottom, I started cramping and had to ride in the last 200 meters using alternate legs.
I was totally spent at the end and chugged three bottles of water. Ann Marie was in already. When Jodee arrived we all went to see Meg off on her race. Her race was longer and the day had gotten even hotter. She cramped and crashed into the sugarcane, loosing her pack, but she made it back in one piece.
As expected, there was no podium for me, but I was satisfied that I did my best. Later there would be nagging thoughts, (If only I had lost those 10 pounds, maybe if I had pushed harder at the bottom of that hill, what if I had been more disciplined training?) but I was able to let them wash over me and let them go. I soaked my sore legs in the ice-cold hotel pool and later we made plans for a balloon ride over the veld and a swim in the Indian Ocean the next day.