Monday, July 28, 2008

Ironbike Prologue and Stage 1

The 5 km prologue on Saturday afternoon had 2 waves and both Eric and I were in the first one. I knew that I wasn't going to feel too speedy on such a short course. The race took off and we made a couple of circles in the town of Entraque, on cobble stone streets, through narrow pathways, over bridges, through parks, and ended in the town square. The prologue is just kicking off the race and lots of people were cheering us on but it doesn't really matter that much in the long run. I ended up with around 200 penalty points, one for each second I was behind the winner. I was 2nd female, 32 seconds or points behind an Italian woman. After this race, the top 20 racers did a second, even shorter race around town, and I am actually not sure why or how the point system worked there. After the races were done we stood around for a couple of hours waiting for the award ceremony which no one seemed to know exactly when or where it was going to take place. Very Italian!!

Around 8:30 it was time for the pasta dinner. A tent was set up next to the town's swim center where we were served pasta, some kind of meat, french fries, and off course red wine. We were entertained by 5 cool teenagers playing accordions. They totally rocked!

We had now moved our tent from the El Basco campground to a field next to the swim center where all racers were required to sleep. Many had support vehicles, but everyone is supposed to stay in the camp and sleep in a tent that was given to us by the race organizers.

Day 1 started with the usual breakfast of pasta with olive oil, bread and jam and nutella. This was the exact same breakfast we got every morning. It is not easy to race all day on that kind of food. I had brought some granola, but it only lasted 3 days. After that I was stuck with the bread and jam, because there is no way I can force down pasta at 6 am. I was also really missing my coffee. I can't believe they served instant coffee in Italy, that seems like a crime.

There was a race briefing right before the race started and this was pretty entertaining. Fabritzio, the head guy yelled everything out in Italian, and then there were translators for English, Spanish, and French all talking at the same time. It was impossible to understand what they were saying, but I figured we were all in the same boat. We did receive a road book which had a course profile each day and the "special stages" and checkpoints labeled. As disorganized as this race may seem, the organizers and sponsors do a great job promoting it in Italy. We were followed by a helicopter every day, were on national TV after each stage and there were tons of reporters filming and taking pictures.

The first day had a mass start and began with a "Special Stage" right away. The Target time for the day was 6 hours and the Max time was 9. This meant that if you made it to the finish line in under 6 hours you got no penalty points for that stage, and if it took more than 9 hours you got 10,000 penalty points. The special stage was around 60 km, and again, we were compared to the overall winner and got penalty points accordingly.

After a 10 km easy descent we started climbing a steep rocky trail and the field of 140 thinned out pretty quickly. The climb lasted over an hour and then we dropped about 1000 meters on a gravel road and as I was a bit nervous about sliding out, Katia, the Italian woman that won the prologue, caught me. We had 2 more climbs during the special stage, the last one a really steep paved road, I would guess at least 15 % grade for an hour. I finished the special stage only a minute and a half ahead of Katia, in 4 hrs 20 minutes. After the special stage we had another hour or so to the finish line, so we cruised together and were able to make the target time pretty easily. We climbed 2800 meters (9200') in 77 km (48 miles).

The day ended in San Damiano Macra, a small mountain town. The camp was again in a small sports center and we were able to set up the tents in the field and use the showers and toilets inside. As I went to clean my bike after the race, 2 Italians were appalled at how I was spraying down my drive train with a hose, and started cleaning it with some degreaser and tiny paint brushes. Mauro and Mauri were riding as a team, didn't speak one word of English and referred to me as "California" for the rest of the race. Approximately 20 times a day I could hear "California" yelled out before the race, during the race, at dinner, or in camp.

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