Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tour of Gravatai stage 1

Racing and Touring Gravatai & Santa Catarina, Brasil

Tour of Gravatai, April 2011

My road cycling team J.A.M Fund / NCC flew to Brazil for two UCI five day stage races early April of 2011.  We started out as five, but only four could make the journey:  myself, Alec Donahue, Jeremy Durrin, and Rodrigo Marchetti.  
Jeremy Durrin
Alec Donahue

Rod is the man who organized everything, and is also who got us invited down to Brazil in the first place.  Kudos to him for doing an amazing job guiding us through his beautiful country.  The Brazilian cycling federation arranged all of our transportation, accommodations and food.  So for a brief period of time, we experienced what it’s like to be pro cyclists. 

None of us were ready for such a high caliber of racing, but we were approaching the race with open minds and highly anticipating the experience with hopes to make the most of it, and having a great time while gaining lots of fitness to bring back to the states.

None of us, besides Rod, knew what to expect in Brazil, or how the racing would compare to the States.  I expected terrible infrastructure, dangerous and poor quality roads, and a dollar that stretched across the country.  I was also worried aggressive riders would be forcing me off the road while guys with superhuman endurance dropped me within minutes of the start.

It turns out, to my relief, besides the stretchy dollar, I was mostly wrong.  

The first day started in downtown Gravatai with around 100 riders under a hot sun at 9am.   The stage was 180km long with rollers for the first half followed by a very flat and windy second half to the town of Torres.  

It should be noted each day was a point to point road race with a rolling enclosure so we could use the entire road.

The start was very fast with numerous hard accelerations, and I was thinking if it stays like this I’m toast, for sure.  Fortunately after about an hour the pace settled down and became quite manageable.  Easy, even, though we were cruising at an average speed around 26mph.  Once we hit the flat second half of the stage where we rode past wind farms along the Atlantic coastline, it was fairly easy to stay in the draft especially on the inside which was nicely protected by the wind.  

With about 30km to go the pace picked up to reel the break in, and it suddenly became very difficult to stay in the peloton.  We were flying along at 30+mph for the last hour and for the last half hour steady attacks over 35-40mph kept me keep deep inside the pain cave.  The sun was brutal with temps hovering in the 30C range, and I had a pounding headache to boot.  

With about 10km to go there was a fairly steep hill, and my legs were feeling good so I attacked up the hill.  About 5 guys went with me and we stayed away for about 10 seconds from the peloton before easily being caught again.  After that I decided to just coast my way to the finish safely inside the draft.  

The first day was long, and the high temperatures coupled with a sun continuously beating down upon me made for a tough start.  After one day I was seriously wondering how I was going to do this for four more days.  My experience with the peloton was excellent.    The other teams were all South American with a few continental pro teams from various countries, and I was relieved to discover they are incredibly professional riders.  The vast majority have top notch bike handling skills, and are very polite and courteous.

The hotel we stayed in was a resort on the beach, and was a great place to unwind after a long, hot day on the saddle!

Results after day 1 - same time as leader besides the three sprinters who got time bonuses.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

leg opener, day 2

Outside our hotel before the ride:


Today we went for basically the same ride as yesterday but did a few 5' threshhold efforts.

For the ride we were met by Doug, one of the GC contenders for both races. He got 2nd place last year at one of the races.

I got a flat before we even made it to the highway. A small sliver of metal pierced right through the tire and tube!

Being comfortable now with the extreme conditions I managed to snap a few photos. Yes, it's actually an interstate with speeds as high or higher than the US.  At one point a police vehicle pulled over in front of us with the lights on causing us to panic, but they were just getting out to collect a orange cone on the shoulder of the road and didn't even glance at us as we illegally rode by!

At least we weren't alone.

Monday, April 11, 2011

the adventure begins in Brazil

Yesterday I flew to Florianopolis, Brazil from NYC for two 5 day stage races. The first leg was to Sao Paulo. A fun nine hours on the plane, a short layover, and then an hour hop to my final destination. I was greeted by my teammates around midnight and learned one of their bikes never showed up, and was stuck in customs somewhere in Brazil. We spoke with the airline management then headed to the hotel. A quick beer, sleep, and today we hit the road in our giant van which easily handles all our gear.

We are living like pros these days. Free room and board, a mechanic taking care of our bikes, a driver and touring van, and tomorrow we pick up a rental car to trail us each day at the races.

Today we drove about 6 hours south to Gravatai, Brazil to be near the first stage race which starts on Wednesday. Hot and sunny, beautiful, very green scenery with an ocean view to the east the entire drive, the six hours flew by. We broke up the drive and stopped for lunch at a road side churraceria bbq where we pigged out on grilled local beef and pork and a buffet bar.

We arrived in Gravatai in the early afternoon, built the bikes, and hit the road. I brought my camera along but quickly realized a photo op was not going to happen. A video game featuring road cyclists began, and unfortunately we only had one life. Immediately upon leaving the hotel, chaos ensued, huge trucks buzzing by with no shoulder, cracks that eat tires for lunch, and potholes that were perfectly sized to swallow wheels and maybe even the cyclist.

Our training ride took part mostly on the Interstate where it’s illegal to ride bikes. According to our Brazilian teammate this was the best option and also the safest since it has a shoulder. Loud and constantly being passed by semi’s, I eventually found the zone and got a good workout. The road was perfectly flat and straight so it was very easy to pound away on the pedals at a constant pace. It felt great to open the legs after so many hours of travel!

Then I got a flat tire. A quick change, and we turned around to head to the hotel. About 3/4th the way back we decided to take the rural roads for the remainder of the ride.

Highlights include Al drafting a car worth about 1/4th the value of his bike, a few wild horses eating grass inches from the road looking at us like we definitely did not belong, witnessing shacks with nothing but a TV and 6 people living in them, roads that make Paris-Roubaix look easy, people and bikes going in every direction while inches to the left bumper to bumper cars were fighting their way home.

The power maybe was inconsistent but the heart rate was pegged!

We shall see what tomorrow brings us. Hopefully a few pictures to accompany the words!