The day has finally arrived. The World Cup road race takes place today (Sept. 18). In April, I was able to qualify in a not too strong race in Cyprus. Competitions in Vosges and Luxembourg showed that reaching the qualifying mark (finishing among the top 20% in your age category) is not so easy for the average joe that I am.
There are a lot of tough blokes running around among the over-60s. When Australians, Japanese, New Zealanders, Americans and Latin Americans descend on Trento, you can be sure it's not a World Cup for sissies. The course in itself doesn't allow for that, by the way: 2,200 meters of altitude on a distance of 88 km means pushing hard. The morning weight is fine, the legs feel good during the warm-up, the weather is good. The collarbone fracture suffered five years ago in Trento we're going to banish for a while and certainly not think about it during the descents and hairpin turns...
About 120 starters are in my age group. Lots of gray hair, but also very muscular legs and clearly well-trained guys. After a fairly furious start, the first ascent of Monte Bondone begins: 21 km uphill. The only way not to retaliate is to find a pace you can sustain. My heart rate, however, quickly goes over 170. A rule of thumb says that your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age; 157 for me, that is. My average heart rate turned out to be 163 and my maximum 179. I had a heart rate of over 170 for the entire climb, but it was not enough to keep up with the first 60. During the last few kilometers, some over-65s who started three minutes after me pass by. Lots of fast men among those guys, too!
I consider myself fortunate to be participating in the masters@heart study where UZ Leuven has looked at my heart in every possible way, so since the legs continue to cooperate, I keep going for it. Meanwhile, I am in a group that maintains a pace that I can just manage. After 30 km (at the top of the climb in Viote), Co is ready with my second load of bottles. I had said I would stop, but I don't want to let the little group go. I manage to tackle the musette while cycling, but I can't change the bottles before the end of the allowed stretch. Musette and full drink cans fly to the side of the road; I won't see them again and I now have too little protection from cramps...
The descent goes at very high speed. I reach a top speed of 82 per hour. That could be even faster on the beautiful descent, but the group seems rather cautious at certain moments and I do have a sticker somewhere on my forehead with "no risk" on it since my collarbone fracture. On the intermediate section to the next climb, a French companion pulls through well: eating, drinking, emptying his plate. We catch up with a Mexican and the three of us (all 60-plus) take on a group of participants from all sorts of age groups on the next climb of about six kilometers. I feel good; I've fully explored the course and know what's coming.
We arrive at the foot of the final climb: another seven kilometers or so up Monte Bondone toward Candriai. On that climb we pass Sopramonte where I am staying and where I have placed a water bottle on a guardrail marked "no tocare!". My water bottles are empty, so hopefully it's still there. The climb begins and that's where my muscles play up. Squeezing the last drops from my water cans; throttling back; letting the group go. How frustrating it can be. I did this stretch four times on training; I wanted to give it my all here for another 7 km and now I have to slow down.
From afar I discern my salvation. The drinking can is still there. Now to grab that thing without stopping. It works! I had practiced the trick, but in a race it is always a little different. I hurled my other drinking can to the bus stop a bit earlier, hoping to pick it back up in the evening (she found another home, though). After laving, the pace picks up a bit, but I don't see the group I was in again. Two young German ladies keep me company.
The descent towards the finish line is quite technical, but I manage reasonably well. An enthusiastic crowd hits the signs for the last hundred meters and applauds. A fine experience. TrainingPeaks assigns me a new heart rate threshold of 173. In the select company, I finish 66th out of 116. For my quiet ambition to finish among the first 50, I am about five minutes too slow. However, this was all i had. A higher heart rate is unlikely and cramps I avoided at the last minute. It was a beautiful race on a beautiful course with beautiful people! And the gelato and cappuccino afterwards were fantastic!