On the first short ascent I wondered if something was wrong with my bike because it seemed oddly sluggish. But the race mechanics had tuned my machine mid-week and I knew it was mechanically sound. It was the legs attached to my bike that were lacking oomph, fatigued from the prior week’s effort. So that’s what back-to-back racing feels like! I knew if the first hill hurt I’d surely lack finesse on the remaining harder climbs, but I was determined to try. A number of athletes in Phuket simply stop and walk the minute the road rises, but I hoped to get up each steep hill without dismounting. I knew that would require choosing precisely the right line, as a number of the hills incorporate hairpin turns and require that you tackle them just so — a distinct challenge when the road can be cluttered with other athletes in wobbly-walk mode.
The first truly hard hill hits just after the 40-kilometer mark, and I headed into it with confidence. That is, until I got out of the saddle on one of the steepest sections, lost my momentum, momentarily panicked that I wouldn’t be able to keep pedaling forward, unsuccessfully attempted to unclip my foot and toppled over like a turtle. Yup, I fell up. But it was a lesson learned — aside from the associated ego bruise it doesn’t hurt to crash uphill.
A bit later in the bike I had a WWJD moment — meaning what would Justin (Granger) do? Pro Justin and his wife Belinda race often in Asia, and we’ve become good pals during many shared adventures overseas. While Belinda is the most outspoken of the pair, Justin tends toward the quiet side — but when he does speak it’s with purpose. I’ve asked him for a fair amount of advice when we’ve raced together (some of his tips are published here), which he doles out with understated wisdom. It occurred to me as I was riding and recalling his tips that he’s sort of a sports sage, a Buddha of bike wisdom if you will. So when I flew over a particularly rough section of road and my freshly filled aero bottle went flying out of its holder and into a jungle ditch, I asked myself: What would Justin do? While contemplating this question I continued to ride several hundred meters ahead. It was a fast, flat section and I had recently passed two women that I thought might be contenders in my age group, so I really didn’t want to turn back and lose any ground. But I also knew I couldn’t afford to miss the drink in that bottle. It’s imperative to take in a steady stream of fluids in such a hot and humid race. I’d already emptied one of the other bottles on my bike and I wasn’t sure whether there was another aid station. I turned back to retrieve the bottle, refusing to let it sting when the women I had passed previously went flying by. I held firm to the belief that smarts would trump speed over the long haul, and steadily regained my pace.
The rest of the bike went relatively well — despite joining the ranks of walkers on the final steep hill, having lost my climbing confidence after my turtle maneuver. I even managed (without falling over) to high-five a handful of school kids who came out to cheer. My bike split was slow but I reminded myself of my smarts vs. sprint strategy, and I had a hunch that if I was slow in the heat I was likely not alone.