The Fast and the Finished

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 19, 2012
Sheerwill Headquarters

I woke up hungry and thinking about cycling. Giddy positive thoughts fill me up despite the grogginess I feel from oversleeping that day (Or was I really just catching up with months of sleep debt?). I looked at the darkness enveloping me and my watch, and then uttered:   Geez, I failed to wake up before dusk to ride my mtb from home to Daang Reyna.  I can still catch about an hour of night ride, but those giddy thoughts tell me something else:   Go pick up your laptop and write. You write best when some compelling emotion hostages your senses.

And so I type this piece while munching leftovers of the home-cooked, home-raised, free-range, corn-fed, native chicken and white leghorn chicken tinola mix we had for lunch. That coupled with daing na bangus, lechon from the cycling race-provided lunch and succulent watermelons made for a hearty lunch. From the look of the food spread earlier on my six-seater dining table, it looked like our team beat powerhouse Fitness First in the team time trial. We all had a good laugh.

As I recall the events this morning, we did have a victory of sorts. Victory comes in many forms, and part of our enduring qualities is to see some light in the dreariest of situations.

I recall the regular invitations of a handful of teammates (I call them the MOA crew) to join them for early morning ride on Mall of Asia grounds. For a Laguna-based, night person like me, that invitation is almost useless but I really admire their tenacity and enthusiasm. I am no die-hard cycling fan, but I know enthusiasm when I see one. 

I have heard team accounts of their initial foray into TTT in Clark last year, but today was my first time to actually witness one. The cycling teams were grouped into two batches - before lunch start and after lunch start - with the stronger teams appearing to be lumped together in second batch. I was a meter away from the race start official and I saw every single team being released. The race start had some incline, and one or two cyclists from some teams would occasionally need help maintaining or retaining balance at the start, or given an initial push from race marshals. One cyclist had his bike chain disengaged from the get-go. Our lady teammate Ice - we call her Ice Monster - enjoyed a pre-start hold-by-the-saddle courtesy of the marshal. I supposed that was a privilege given to ladies brave enough to cycle with the men. Teammate Melvin had a wobble start for some reason, but he was quickly helped by the marshal and regained balance. 

The teams get released a minute apart, with drafting allowed certainly among teammates, but absolutely disallowed between teams. I saw teams get released:  Von Dutch, PLDT Bike King, Endure, Beacon, Quest.  There were one or two more teams in the first batch, but I can't recall their names now. From the race marshal tent I saw the teams do their laps and passed. Ahh, the peloton, there is some beauty in that speeding mass of jersey colors and wheels. Cycling has its own lore, and from my pedestrian mind I conjure up images and memories of Tour de France, Marlboro Cycling Tour, etc. These tours are personal battle of wills on wheels, with some ending up eating dust or dirt, and a lone man claiming the trophy.  This team time trial, it is quite a different animal. From personal accounts of friends, the TTT is an opportunity for team to ride their own peloton, partake of that drug that is speed, in a relatively safer company of friends who know your riding style. I suppose this is what my tri teammates hope to achieve.

The team pelotons continue to pass. With each lap one would see a member or two get left behind by their peloton. A team can start with nine cyclists, but must end with at least 5. Endure has only 6 and I believe they intend to ride and finish intact. I smile when I recall the composition of this newbie peloton:  team captain and Bohol 226 finisher Melvin, bruise brothers Sid and Raff who will race their first 70.3 in Cebu, lady rider Ice Monster with less than six months riding experience on roadie, and Camsur 70.3 finishers Al and Gerard. If our pro(binsyanong) athlete Joel (Drey) who is now CDO-based, and our international (naks!) teammates Neil and Marvin, both US-based, are around, I am sure they will try this as well. 

In Endure's third out of 4 laps, Mel shouted to me that Ice Monster needed some water. Yeah, in that searing noontime heat, Ice Monster would melt. I panicked a bit. I am not schooled in the art of cycling support. While I engineered many support stations for runners, this cyclist-wannabe is a greenhorn in the fine art of giving off water to moving cyclists. First, I did not come with water bottles, there were none for sale nearby, so I mustered whatever was left of my charms and requested from the lady in the registration table. Thank goodness she gave me one. I opened the bottle, kept the cap, and tried to think how I should hand it. From which side - left or right? How do I hold the bottle? I remember marshals in Camsur 70.3 handing out water bottles resting on their open palms. I did that when Ice passed and it fell. Jeez!  I asked the manongs nearby how it's done and they told me to hold the bottle lightly on its neck. But first I had to source another water bottle. From a nearby rescue van I did get one. I initially tried tying a string found from a cement sack nearby, but thought I actually had to hold tight the string for the bottle not to fall. Skip that! Here comes Ice again, and very lightly I held the bottle at the neck. Ooops, it fell again.  Haay, how do you do this thing?  Ice keeps saying sorry but I really felt I was not contributing to my team efforts. Actually, I think both of us are newbies in this and should practice. Haha! It turns out I should be lightly jogging same direction as cyclist to minimize loss of bike momentum. NOTED!

More people got left behind by their peloton. In TTT, I believe this is an accepted fact. Only five needed to finish. In a large group, someone will get left behind if fitness level is heterogeneous. But numbers are also need to take advantage of the team draft. On Endure's last lap, a teammate seemed to be having difficulty. I suppose it's because he did a tri sprint simulation the previous day. True to form, our strongest rider and bike team captain Mel rode at his side while trying to hang on to the rest of the team peloton. We would all learn at the end of the race that Mel rode 43kms with his saddle accidentally upturned by about 45 degrees by the marshal who helped him balance at race start. Wow, such passion and dedication. The rest of the team were also holding back a bit. I suppose they had a pact:  No gets left behind. I suppose their objective was not to finish fast at all cost. I suppose it was to show the rest of us that it can be done. One by one the teams finished. Finally I saw the team colors of blue, black and white. All six of them sprinting towards the finish line. As one. My heart swelled with pride.

It was a victory all right. Mission accomplished. Sid and the rest of our young cycling team would often say that they do it to inspire. You have a convert here, bro. In the immediate future, I shall do this. For now, I shall ditch my mtb and ride my Ceepo tri bike again. It's been 5-6 months since I rode my Ceepo. Tonight, me and my Ceepo will ride inside the village, and hopefully a peloton of aspiring cyclists will ride around us.


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