For some, Sebring is like the Daytona 500 for the Ultra Race world. Its the first race of the season, its in Florida and, like Daytona, nobody is really sure how they will stack up against the competition. Some are riding new steeds, some are working on new training plans, and some are still under a few feet of snow and are just down here because its warm.
I was in the same boat as everyone else. I had changed a few things about my training over the winter, had missed a few of my ride days to do work, and had a newly built bike. I needed to see how I, and the bike, would stack-up against the competition.
Trish and I arrived down in Sebring around 1:00pm on Friday and I got both of my race bikes out of the Sprinter RV. I had just picked up that last piece, a set of T1 aerobars, from Trisha's brother's house in Lake Wales and put them on the bike. By 2:00pm it was bike test time. The first bike up was the old race bike. I headed out on the mid loop and let her rip. I did the first 11 mile loop with an average of 23.5 mph. I felt really good with that time, so I swapped bikes, and headed out on the new giant. I did the second 11 mile loop with an average of 24.3 mph.
To be fair, no bike test is ever completely accurate, You have to factor different equipment, warmup, or lack thereof, and fatigue or adrenalin. But a .8 mph increase put me in a quandary. Do I race an untried bike in a 12 hour event - my call was YES. I came to win the event and I would use anything that could help me achieve that goal.
After the bike tests it was old home week in the parking lot of Sebring. This is probably one of the best parts of the race. Friday afternoon in the parking lot is where you get to see friends that you haven't seen in 3 or more months since the end of last season. It is also where you can try out new bikes. The first new bike for me was actually a trike. Someone offered to let me take their trike out for a spin around the parking lot. It was a different experience, and one that led John Schlitter to bring out his backup Bachetta for me to ride. I can see why those guys are so fast in the flats. My final bike test of the day was on a Cruz-Bike which is another recumbent. I didn't do as well on it, but that was because it had a flat tire.
Dinner Friday night was with my RAAM teammate Stuart Levy, his wife Cathy, my B-I-L Ralph who is going to be driving an RV on the crew, his girl Linda, and wonderful T-Bear. We headed to Outback and had a great time. When we got back Trish and I put the finishing touches on the RV/Support setups. I told Trisha and posted on Facebook that I thought that the conditions were right for records to be broken.
Wake-up call - when the hotel called to wake us up at 4:30 for the 6:30 race, I looked out the window and the only thing I could see was fog. This meant that I would not be starting the race off on my new bike after all since it wasn't setup for lights and I wanted lights running in the fog.
Race start was pretty typical for me. I go out hard and fast, I like to be in the front or very near the from for the race. The first 2 1/2 laps were pretty uneventful with me pulling about half the time going around the track and trying to figure out who was in the lead pack and who I could work with. Then just as we came down the front stretch of the race the first my challenges present itself. FLAT ;-), well obviously this didn't make my day. I rode the flat for the next mile back to my support vehicle and grapped the new bike and was off to chase down the lead group. In my mind I had two thoughts first, it was going to be along day alone and second, that might not be such a bad thing since I'm better when I race at my own pace.
I suprised myself at mile 30 by running down the lead pack. This is when I was pretty sure I was going to have a good day on the bike. So we are cruising down the road and come to a stop sign and have to brake hard. This is when I find out that my bars aren't on tight and they are working themselves looser. So I cruised up and down the line looking for someone that has a 4 mm wrench handy and get helped by a husband and wife team that are always at the race. They have a wrench. So I pull off the side of the road and proceed to crank down on the bolts so begin the chase again. I almost catch the group at the turn around, but because of traffic I'm force to work my butt off to get back to the main group at mile 55.
I ride with the group again but pull away on some of the slight hills on this section of the race. I'm followed out by Dallas Morris, who despite his car crash on the way to the race thursday, is doing well, and Jim Verhuel (sp). I easy up after awhile, but Dallas continues out in front on his own for about 10 miles, he was riding strong, but I decided I need to save something up for later. The group caught Dallas up about mile 75 and we rode a pretty strong pace until mile 90 where we turned west and head back toward transition. Dallas took off though the corner and I followed him out then went around him and with a slight wind. I though I was just pulling the pack, but when I looked back nobody was there. I rode in to claim the prime for the 100 (there wasn't really one), switch helmets from my aero to my regular becaue it was getting hot and spun until the group caught me. I had finished the first 100 with a 23.5 average which was above the 22.5 I would have to hold break John Schlitter's record.
So we head out on the mid loops with a group of 5 uprights and 5 bents. I never really gelled with the group thought. On the fast flat section I would ride away from them, then when we got to the hilly section I would spin easy so that by the time we hit the back stretch that had a little headwind I had some help. This went on for 3 or 4 laps and we end up with just me, and two men from austria on DF's and 5 bents. The 12 hour race was between the DF's as 4 of the bents where in the 24 and the other was one lap down due to a mechanical.
On lap 4 1/2 laps my final misfortune occured. My water bottle cage fell off, well only half way off. One of the bolts had worked its way loose, the cage tipped and all I could do was rip the bottle cage off. I don't know if I broke the cage or the frame. But I was mobile again and chasing the group. I caught them by the backstretch and decide it was time to go of the front. Kent Polk and Jim Verhaul decided to come with me, leaving John, Jaq, and Christie with the Trek boys.
This is were team politics came in, Kent and JV said that they couldn't run off and leave there B-teammates behind. They could follow me but not help pull. So now I'm off the front with two other strong riders but doing 95% of the work. This went on for two laps and I was getting sort of tired, but we were gapping the other group of riders more and more each lap. So Kent and JV said since they weren't catching up they could help a little more, but they had to keep some in the tank for the 24, which I didn't begrudge them. At hour 9 we were just short of a 280 mile for the 12 hour pace, but I was starting to feel it. The lap we did just before the end of hour 10 was mostly Kent pulling me around and me getting my legs back.
As we were exiting the TA just after hour 10, I saw that John, Jac, and Chistie had dropped the trek riders. So on the lap were I had almost popped, the trek guys popped even more that the lead was still increasing. The killer B-ees caught up with Kent and I just with about 10:15 to go and we did anohter mid loop together an then It onto the track for the short loops.
After we finished our first short loop I lapped the trek riders and I knew that I had 3.6 mile lead and the win if I could keep from having another mechanical. I worked my but off in a line of about 15 rider flying around the track at 23. I need 5 short laps to set the record and had the record and the win at 6:22, but I wanted more so I headed out to see if I couldn't get that extra lap in and came in at 6:31, and sebring doesn't prorate so the record stands at 271.4.
Thanks to Dallas, Kent, JV, John, Jac, and everyone else that helped me yesterday and specail thanks to T-Bear, Cathy and Skip for the crew work.
I have decided trish does enough work so I don't have her proof my writing either - I hope is was sort of readable, informative and entertaining.
Now I'm off to ride another two hundred on my way home as part of my RAAM team training.