I came blasting into the first transition with a lead of almost 30 seconds. I knew that this lead would evaporate quickly. My strategy would be purely defensive from here on out.Running through the wet grass, I looked for the landmark that would point out my bike in the sea of pricey bicycles sitting, waiting for their riders. My landmark was a speaker on a stand, poking up into the air about half-way down the row. All of the bikes were there in the transition. The most expensive bikes from Cervelo, Specialized, Guru were there, all decked out with the most expensive wheels and componentry. I was guessing that this array of bicycles was worth easily over a million dollars. I was just hoping to stay on top of mine.
I pulled my racing flats off, put on my helmet and then pulled on my cycling shoes. That was all that needed to happen. I ran down the grass toward the exit. This was an area that I have struggled — not pushing hard enough in the transition areas in races. I liked to treat the transition as a break between two sports, but it isn’t a break. People at this level will grab big time from you if you’re loafing along through the transition. So I sprinted as fast as I could for the exit, being careful not to fall coming down onto the velodrome surface. I could imagine that would not look good to crash before even getting onto the bike. Once in the saddle, it was time to start warming up the legs for the climb that would come early in the course.
My strategy for this race had been developed in two steps. First, when I learned that there would be a sprint course, I immediately opted for that distance. This was a strategic decision in itself. As one of the fastest runners, I wanted to go as fast as possible. And as a not-so-great cyclist, I wanted to limit the amount of time on the bike. I was a decent flat road rider and a good climber, but not a great descender. The second part of the strategy came from looking at this course itself. The course started off flat for just a couple of miles and then rose quickly in a long, curvy climb into the hills overlooking Gijon. After that, the route descended over a screaming 4 kilometer drop around tight corners to get back down to the beach. This would be my problem area. I could envision people taking huge chunks of time out of me on this descent. So my plan was to run hard and then go as hard as possible until the top of the climb, after that it would just be a matter of holding on.
In the opening moments of the bike course, flying toward the Ocean like rockets, a group of five cyclists joined me. I wasn’t sure if these riders were from my wave or the wave before mine (we were only the second of the day) and there was really no way to tell. Unlike most races, we were very lightly body-marked. There was just one sticker on the seat-post and an age marker on the back of the leg, just below the knee, that seemed to have washed off on most people. I assumed that these were my competitors, having most likely made up the time on me in transition.
We made the turn past the Hotel Abba Playa and headed toward the bottom of the first series of climbs. The cyclists around me didn’t seem to care about either drafting or their positions on the road. One guy was sitting right on the middle-line for a least a mile. Another was tightly clutching the rear-wheel of yet a third. I had heard that the Europeans weren’t nearly as crazed about the drafting and blocking rules as we were in the US, but I was still not going to break them.
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