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Tim’s first real race

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Suddenly it was just multiple times amateur world championship medallist Matej Lovše and myself. The peloton was nowhere to be seen. I was having a great time in the front of the race and I was cycling with great ease. Soon we were on the top of the climb and it was time for the descent. I was very afraid. Matej was kind enough to ride in front at a pace I was able to follow. We reached the valley alone and got to an intersection – I went for the long course, and he went for the short one.

I’ve been cycling for quite a few years now, and in the laboratory my numbers are pretty solid with a maximal oxygen uptake of 75 ml/kg/min and a critical power of 5.4 W/kg. Despite this, I don’t race because I am afraid of crashing on descends.

To-date I’ve only done one race on two consecutive editions of the same event – Granfondo Stelvio Santini – because I knew the climbs very well and because descents and flats were neutralized. In the first year I finished 18th and in the second I managed to finish on the podium. Then, in 2020 I decided to try my first real race – Sportful Dolomiti.

Sportful Dolomiti is a 204 kilometres long course with almost 5 thousand metres of elevation gain. The race takes place in one of the most beautiful mountain regions there is – the Dolomites.

In 2020, the race was cancelled due to Covid-19, so I ended up participating in this year’s edition. I didn’t have many expectations because I knew that my descending skills are poor and that I have almost no experience in riding in the group. As a matter of fact, I haven’t ridden in a group this year at all.

Yet, I knew I was individually strong, as my times on the local segments in the weeks leading to the race were excellent. In addition to this, the weather forecast was looking great. At least for me. It was the first heat wave of the year that arrived after a pretty long period of unstable weather with lots of rain and relatively low temperatures. I considered this to be an advantage given that I’ve successfully performed a heat acclimation.

I arrived to Feltre with Tina a day early. We went for a short spin to see the first bit of the race course, and then it was all about glycogen loading for the rest of the day. My nutrition is explained in the post I’ve written for Nduranz, so check it out there.

The following morning I entered the starting block just after 6 am when it was already pleasantly warm. We were standing there wearing masks, and I was lucky enough to find the multiple times world champion among amateur riders, Matej Lovše, who I also work with, standing there and waiting for the race to begin. His plan was to do a short course, as he was getting ready for another race, Maratona dles Dolomites. 

The race started and soon we were doing 40 km/h or more on the flats towards the first climb. Inexperienced as I am, I kept finding myself stuck behind a slow rider and losing places, so I had to do a lot of jumping towards the front of the peloton in order to be in a good position before the start of the climb. By the looks of it, Matej didn’t have such issues.

The first climb Cima Campo was 18.2 km long with an elevation gain of 1,116 meters. We started climbing pretty slowly, and I decided to improve my position and move forwards. Soon, I found that Matej went into a breakaway with another rider. So I chased him. I knew that my weak spot is descending, meaning that I need to start the descent from a good position in order to compensate for the losses. 

Pretty soon it was just me and Matej in the front and I was doing 320 W with ease. Soon we were on the top of the climb, and it was time for the descent. Matej was kind enough to ride in front at a pace I was able to follow. We reached the valley alone and got to an intersection – I went for the long course, and he went for the short one.

The second climb of the day for me was Passo Manghen with an elevation gain of 1,626 meters. A real beast of a climb. At the bottom I was told that I had 2 minutes of advantage over the first group of riders behind me. I started the second climb again pretty strong. However, pretty soon I started to struggle a bit due to a lack of water in my bottles. My power started to drop, and I was waiting for the feeding station impatiently. There were spectators along the course with bottles for their friends, and it seemed I was the only one without any assistance along the road.

Approximately halfway up the climb, there was finally a feeding station, and I was able to get the water. I lost plenty of precious time, and at that point it was the first time that I sighted the first group behind me approaching quickly.

A few minutes later they got me. And overtook me. And I was alone again. Pretty exhausted I came to the top of the climb and started the descent. It was a very technical one, and I knew I was losing even more time.

Soon, another group of cyclists overtook me. I knew at that point that I am not doing great. At least that was my opinion at the time. Towards the end of the descent another group got me, but this time I managed to close the gap and join them.

On the way to Passo Rolle there was a pretty long flat section. I did another rookie mistake and rode at the front of the group most of the time. No wonders that I struggled to keep up with them at the start of the next climb and very soon lost them.

At the time I again ran out of water, and my power dropped even more. Shit. So I very slowly rode towards the next feeding station where I lost even more time. But water somehow rejuvenated me and gave me the power to almost catch the group that left me behind a few kilometres back.

However, I couldn’t actually close the gap, so I reached the summit on my own. Yet again. And yet again I was descending on my own. 

Only shortly before the last climb of the day, another group caught me. And again the history repeated itself, so they overtook me on the last climb of the day. And I was on my own to the finish line. Exhausted. Angry at my lack of tactical skills. But happy that I survived without crashing.

Later I found that I finished in the 21st place. A great result given that it was my first real race and my first time riding more than 200 km. I was also the only one among the riders around me without any support on the road.

I hope next year my future boss will allow me to do a similar race. I will be better prepared and a year older and more experienced.

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