|Vincenzo Nibali taking off at Tre Cime di Lavaredo|
and giving a few lessons in mental toughness
Nibali masterfully rode this Giro. He showed he has guts, in addition to being smart and, quite likely, having the best legs. Today, at Hamilton, I learned a lesson in mental toughness, something Vincenzo has plenty, plenty of...
The Cat 5 race had a relatively large field, with a lot of young folks. It was great to touch base with Jim, who confirmed the tactical suggestions Mark Edwards had given me (stay with the front group till the end of the second descent, then go, or try to). And it was great to warm up with Matt, who was going to ride up in my same race.
We went out at a steady but controlled pace for the first incline. I stayed in the top 10, but off the front. My new carbon wheels scared me in the first descent, when I went wide at the first curve, but nothing too bad. The second incline was led by a 7'+ tall guy, off of whom I drafted the entire time (very nice drafting off of somebody that tall!) including the second descent. At that point there was still a pack of about 10-12 people, and I was still in the first 2-4 positions.
About half a mile into the final climb, this skinny tall guy rides next to me and the tall dude, and after a couple of minutes starts pushing the pace quite a bit. Luckily I'm on his wheel since the beginning, and I stay there for the following 5 miles. The group is almost immediately entirely dropped. I have a moment of crisis about half way through, but I'm always right on his wheel. Up until my minds decides it's enough. The guy clearly doesn't have another gear compared to me, it's just my mind commanding my legs that it's quite enough already. So with about a mile to go I sadly let that wheel go... I get scared that the rest of the field could catch up, that I would slow down etc, but we have a rather comfortable lead, and I actually don't slow down dramatically at all.
I finish about 50" behind. Ironically, I discover the 25 year old guy who won is also a former (pretty good) runner, turned biker, and trying a few triathlons... Strava says the whole climb (Alum Rock/Hamilton Rd intersection to the top) took me 1:14:34, which I'm quite happy with. What I'm not happy with is that moment of unjustified weakness. But I guess this is, at least in part, a learned art. The art of mastering one's mind as we beat our body up.
Scott Martin once famously said: "To be a cyclist is to be a student of pain. Sure the sport is fun with its seamless pacelines and secret singletrack, its post-ride pig-outs and soft muscles grown wonderfully hard. But at cycling's core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peach. It doesn't matter if you're sprinting for an Olympic gold medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you're missing the essence of the sport."