Stage 1 Tour of Thailand Benny crossed the line in 5th and I crossed many minutes later in an ambulance. Such are the highs and lows of this sport. I read somewhere that the classic Milan-San Remo produces 1 story of joy and 188 of heartbreak however I do not think this phenom applies solely to the Italian race. Winners and losers are so easily defined in cycling and while its easier to celebrate the highs, the low points, the shit moments, the DNFs are far less shared, each one a line of shame at the end of the results page. The results dont tell the story the saying goes, so I will.
This will not be a bunch of excuses trying to justify my current position, prone on a hospital bed at midnight. The story will have to serve as evidence for you the jury.
5 man teams, a 187 kilometer opening stage, and extreme heat, our race plan revolved around the fact that the stage would probably be won by a large breakaway that would gain 10+ minutes on the rest of the race. The overall wouldn’t be won today but it would be defined. The moment the flag dropped we attacked and attacked and continued attacking each other for 80 kilometers. Every team wanted to be in the break but no one wanted to commit once they were there so the group would be reabsorbed and the next attack would launch.
20 kilometers in, I noticed I was saltier than I should be. At the 80 kilometer mark I looked like a freshly dusted donut, and by the 100 k point, I began to feel the all too familiar twinges in my legs, classic pre cramp signals. Unfortunately I’m used to cramping. They was quite bad as a junior until I learned how to manage them with bananas, drinking electrolytes, and popping salt pills as a last resort. That morning I had eaten 3 bananas and chugged a bottle of electrolyte sports mix in expectation. At that point in the race I had finished somewhere in the realm of 5 or 6 bottles, all of my gels, and a bottle of coke because it was offered.
120 kilometers in, I followed a move of 10 riders because it went right in front of me. This effort caused both of my legs to seize and pulse at their own will. I stood up and stretched them until I was caught by the field behind where I tried to resume pedaling but to no luck. As I was drifting backward, I spotted the doctors car out of the corner of my eye and flagged it down. “Salt pills!” I said to confused faces. “Cramps.” I pointed to my legs which were still visibly contracting and releasing. The doctor leaned out of the car and began spraying something cold on my leg closest to him as I clung to car through the open front window. Whatever it was, it worked.
“The other leg,” I instructed and pointed to it. I thought he directed me to get on the other side of the car so he could have easier access but something was lost in translation because when I let go of the window, the driver gunned it.
Suddenly I was off the back of the group but at least my legs were working again. Slowly, careful to not stress my muscles too much, I inched toward the back of the caravan, the cars that follow the race, and once there I began to pass them, resting behind each vehicle before moving forward again. I should have asked one for water but the only thing in my mind was rejoining the peloton, safety in the numbers, and counting off the kilometers to the finish.
For a while, the magic spray worked and I watched with painful satisfaction as the kilometers ticked down on my computer. Alas, it was not enough and when the cramps returned, they did so with a vengence. Hip flexors, quads, calves, feet. If the first onslaught had been a 4 on the Richter scale, these looked and felt like a 9. I drifted backward again into the caravan scanning for that damn doctors car and his spray. Instead, a motorcycle pulled along side and asked if I needed anything. “Doctor car. Cramps. Salt pills.” I spat through clenched teeth.
An ambulance pulled up freakishly quick, stopped, and two men ran out and flagged me down. “Stretch. Salt. Spray.” I said, but they ignored my requests. One man grabbed me by my armpits and hauled me off the bike. The moment I was separated from the machine, I felt myself go limp as though a power source was located somewhere in the pedals.
“I MIUST FINISH.” I wanted to yell but I couldn’t even hold up my head let alone mumble. I watched my bike get put in a the back of a truck as I was loaded into an ambulance and just like that my race came to a halt.
Read part 2 here.