My Way of Living + training

Of Bad Breaks and the Joy of Triumph : The 2011 PCL Tour of Clark

Editor's Note : This is well, um, about a month late. By the time you read this me and the Quest boys are already on our way to the Tour of Subic, our final multi-stage race of the season. But hey, just read it and hopefully enjoy it nonetheless, I probably spent more time writing this than I have been training. Due to recent changes in my work flexibility, expect a steady stream of backlog features on my recent races trickle in with the week. In chronological order. Cheers.

Quest 825 recently competed at the Pilipinas Cycling League's Immuvit Race Against Time Tour of Clark leg, held in, uh, Clark. It was a three-stage humdinger spread over two days and the team acquitted themselves decently given this wasn't our "base sport" if one would call it that. Here's an inside look at the pain, the agony and the glory behind this particular bike tour.


Executive Cycling is one of those "hobbies" that I had gotten into as part of my multisport training. While triathletes in general are expected to go on long training rides to augment their preparations, not everyone has the cajones to join these multi-day, multi-stage races that would require one to ride and latch on, Tour de France-style, to a peloton ( or in the simplest way I could explain it, a big bunch of skinny guys riding their bikes at full speed separated by about hair's width from each other). Why even bother going on to this blatant invasion of personal space, where the slightest human error can cause everyone to crash like a deck of cards in a chain reaction ? We are all familiar with how drafting benefits cyclists through blocking the wind, that's why it is outlawed in most triathlons. But try hanging out with about forty other guys as a big pack, and your speed and efficiency jumps exponentially. It is a highly taxing discipline that requires both aerobic and anaerobic aptitude. Obviously, the inherent risk factor is part and parcel of the whole enterprise.

Alas, a strong bike split race target usually necessitates either superior genetics (dream on) or a solid cycling background ( you have a shot). Given that I am sure I wasn't blessed with the former , I have thus embarked on a journey of self-improvement on two wheels. This is my first full season competing on the executive cycling circuit, having debuted last year at Bike King's Tour of Matabungkay and participated in several other one-day races and tours from that point. Given that Quest actually started out as an executive cycling team, our participation in this race was a no-brainer.

On the day itself, after a late departure from Shell NLEX at around 5:30 am the determined gang scurried off to Clark for the tour's first stage, a 47.7 km Team Time Trial race.

Stage 1 - Team Time Trial. Bittersweet Symphony.

The Team Time Trial event or TTT is usually considered the glamor event of each tour leg. Given that cycling is more of a team-oriented sport vis-a-vis the rest of the multisport disciplines, the TTT is taken as a consensus of any given team's strength and caliber. Such is the importance of the event that rumor has it that some teams intentionally rest their members through earlier stages to preserve their legs for this relatively short event.

According to a passage I blatantly stole from Wikipedia, "the main principle behind a TTT is that a few riders can ride at the front of the formation slightly above their aerobic threshold while others draft behind these riders. The riders then rotate, allowing some riders to recover while drafting behind fresher teammates. A rider who is riding at the front is said to be taking a pull. Accelerations require harder efforts, and therefore it is desirable to have a smooth, steady pace. Different riders have different power outputs, lactate thresholds and aerodynamics. In order to equalize the efforts in order to not burn some riders off too early, the weaker riders take shorter pulls and stronger riders take longer pulls, all at the same speed to minimize the change in pace. A rider finishing a pull usually rotates to the very back of the formation, and the rider who was formerly behind this rider takes over. " Hmm, sounds complex. But the idea is, the team who could sustain the fastest pace without burning each others guts out is the winner.
Over here at the local scene, the TTT event is usually dominated by powerhouse club Fitness First. As for us, the team had steadily improved from last season. To give you some perspective, these things are usually an hour or less of lung-busting, intensely anaerobic, invective-filled fun. There's usually a minimum of five riders and a maximum of nine with the fifth rider to cross for the team coming in as the time to count. Thus, in theory the more people you have on a team the better the chance for your team members to conserve their energy. The thing with our team was, we had more than nine eligible riders, so we split into two teams. I was bundled with Team 2. On my side was team captain Deo, team manager and Ironman 70.3 World Championships finisher James, Army Col. Bong, veteran endurance athlete Ronald, TTT newbie Karlo and myself. All were capable time trialists in their own right, and ultimately this stage would all come down to teamwork and execution. But the paceline was beset with problems from the very beginning... .
A Shaky Start
Right off the bat, we were beset by unforeseen problems. With some teams a no-show for Stage 1, our release time was pushed forward by several minutes. This was exacerbated by the fact that we arrived late at the venue. To make a long story short, we barely made it to the release time and Ronald was caught up with something, forcing him to ride with Team 1 who had a later release. Thus we had one less comrade to stifle the wind and down to five riders, we were left with no room for error. We had been in a similar position at last season's Tour of Matabungkay, and the pressure- wracked, nausea-inducing experience was not exactly one to relish.
Completely out of sync for starters, we struggled to maintain the paceline. With no actual practice but having a general idea of what to do, the team eventually settled down with our speed hovering at about 35-36kph. So all's well and good. Problem was, Karlo was straining under the frenetic pace and it showed through his pained look specially through the inclines near the Fontana area. Now, we all knew that it didn't matter if the four of us kept up this pace - it was the fifth guy's time that would count. So we had to slow down. Frustratingly enough, we were passed by about three teams while going through this process. But this was a team effort, and no man could be left behind.

Man down... ...
At about the 40k mark our paceline was terribly falling behind our target already and was pretty much broken apart. With no breathing room to spare, each of us weren't taking way-too-long turns towing the line and it was starting to show with the suka pace that we were maintaining. Captain Deo and James had valiantly went back to provide the needed support for Karlo, but the effort had gassed them out. With but a few kilometers to spare, we were all running on fumes. The cycling gods finally decided to spare us a break and with about 500 meters to go the entire team managed to get intact in crossing the line with a 32.14kph ave, good for 23rd of 25 teams. Apparently, Team 1 was beset by their own troubles in finishing with a 35.29kph average for 18th place, seemingly below par for their capabilities. These results in no way did us justice at all, and essayed that even if our individual riders were quite capable on their own, there needed to be a strong degree of teamwork at play to maximize our results. Having less riders also exacerbated the situation. Drained and searching for answers, the Quest gang all set off for a quick lunch at SM Clark before stage 2 was due to commence in a few hours. Yep, you read it right. A few hours.

Wasted, rowdy, hungry bunch after TTT
Stage 2. Circuit Race. Lost in space.
The Tower Burger I had eaten from KFC had not gone down yet, but we had to go. Once again, this proclivity towards being late had us on a mad rush. The dour weather conditions were not helping at all, conjuring visions of crashes amid slick roads. Stage 2 was a 60km circuit race, which true its name counts several loops across the same course. In a stricter sense, some use the term criterium interchangeably to describe similar races, although those are usually shorter in nature and involves removal from the race once you get lapped by the leading pack. As a newbie cyclist last season, I haphazardly joined one of these crits which was stockpiled with old pros and looked more like a laughingstock more than anything else. The manongs watching were heckling me miron-style as I trudged along as the last cyclist to be removed from the course.. I'm guessing the aero helmet did nothing to help my case. Oops.

Di halatang newbie.
A year and a couple more thousand kilometers under my belt, I revisit the concept of the circuit race. At the very least, I hope to get the helmet part right. Anyway, going back to the race. Massaging my still sore thighs, the peloton set off amidst a moderate climb in Fontana that was the highlight of the course. The climb was fine, but having to do it several times over at full speed zaps out your legs one way or another. The first loop was designated as a friendship lap, presumably to serve as a weird form of warmup. Once that was over and done with, the cyclists went on a mad dash that would require every bit of anaerobic juice (at least for lackeys like me) on you to keep up. So I was able to latch on to the main pack, albeit the tail end of it. Predictably enough, my suspect conditioning gave way and I splintered with a group of about five riders, by my estimation about ten seconds behind the main packing. And here's where the fun started. Just as I was gaining some semblance of a rhythm, the guy towing us along took a wrong turn, bringing us all along with him. In the fifteen seconds it took us to get back on the course, the lead pack was out of sight. Great. I was slightly perturbed by what happened and I was left with one other guy. So while rushing to get back in it, at an intersection the marshal was signaling to turn right. Or at least I thought so. Turns out his hand gesture was connoting a "stop" to the other cars (geez how could we mix that up. But yeah we did) and I was off-course again. This was a longer distraction, about 30 seconds. By the time the entire thing was sorted out, I was all alone on the course, deflated and demoralized at such an unseemly turn of events.
I thought of abandoning the race altogether, but then again I'm not a big fan of DNF's. Sot suffice to say, it was like riding an ITT over the final couple of laps, a lonely, solitary route that most would not even bother completing. I even saw a crash along the route, which as I would learn later on involved national triathlete Kim Mangrobang, who was due to compete at the Elite Under-23 ITU Asian Championships in two weeks. She would later share that one of those hyperaggressive junior riders cut her, resulting in a crash on those slick roads. Sort of reminds me that in order to be successful in cycling, you just have to be plain fearless in taking risks. I guess it's still something I have to learn over time.

I eventually crossed the line in what seemed like forever, much to the bewilderment of my teammates who figured I'm slow, but not THAT slow. Adding to my chagrin, when the results were released I was mistakenly placed in Excutive A, registering as the last rider to arrive in the division of the strongest executive riders. Oh the horror. Once everyone was accounted for, we all headed back to our hotel to freshen up and reflect on the day that was.
The Lighter Side
After a hearty buffet dinner prepared by the PCL people, the team retired to our comfortable villa at Fontana. We later indulged in the company of veteran elite triathlete Rayzon Galdonez and top executive cyclist Makoy Almanzor. You often see these guys in the heat of athletic competition, and it was refreshing to hear them dispensing race advice in equal doses with classic wisecracks. Here are some of my personal favorites :
Rayzon : Yung nakasabay ko sa run na elite na foreigner na babae nung Camsur, tinanong ako, "Are you Okay?" Ang sagot ko, "No, I'm not Okay. I'm Rayzon. Rayzon Galdonez pleased to meet you what's your name?"
Makoy : Panalo talaga ang Red Horse. Pag sa Red Horse, puro Tama, walang Mali!
With hearty laughter resonating from our living room, I quietly retired to my comfy bed, knowing that we would be in for the long haul for the Stage 3 road race the following morning, the longest leg in the tour.

Stage 3. Road Race. A Valiant Effort.
An early breakfast at the nearby Mcdo served as preliminary fuel for the 118 km race that would pretty much replicate the TTT route, only it adds a relatively tough stretch on the outskirts of town to make for several 23k loops. We even ran into my Team Powerpuff Boys buddy and ultramarathon star Junrox Roque ( who's starting to become a force to be reckoned with as well in the short-course triathlon scene) hanging with his executive club Aboitiz Power, a team loaded with strong, veteran riders. For one, at least we all have knack for sausage Mcmuffins early in the morning. Having had our fill amidst the friendly banter, we make our way back to the hotel to get geared up.
We're Late Again
As you may have noticed throughout this feature, this is starting to become somewhat of a recurring theme. For some inexplicable reason, even with considerable lead time, we somehow end up rushing towards the starting grid, making it with less than five minutes to spare. As the peloton was finally released for the conventional "friendship" lap, my thoughts were drifting towards the specter of somehow churning in a creditable performance with my thighs already beaten down from the previous two stages. Word was going around pre-race that last year the peloton took it "easy" during the first few laps because of the relative toughness of the course. With this in mind, I was thinking perhaps I had an outside shot at keeping up this time around.
The friendship lap was relatively brisk, and it comforted me that I was pretty much within the same line as the main pack. So far so good, the whole gang was in sight and I was getting a good feeling about this. The rolling course was not easy though, and I pondered on how I could keep up with the frenzied peloton once they released us. The rain had gone away and the sun was slowly starting to beat upon us. Long ways to go for this.
As my luck would have it, the peloton was released just before the Fontana incline. Great. The funny thing with cycling is that the barometer for success and failure is measured in seconds , seemingly indiscernible nuances spelling the difference between victory and defeat. About a second or two before the peloton was released, my mind inexplicably wandered to some mundane subconscious trapping. And before I knew it, poof. Everyone had at least a five second lead (a lot) on me, and by the time I managed to get my bearings I was speeding along at 45 kph in a vain attempt to catch up. I passed by our team captain Deo and screamed "Habol tayo Kap!!" knowing very well that the slightest let up and we kiss this race goodbye. I raced uphill with cajones-shrinking gusto, and before I knew it I was converging with a fairly-sized group who dropped from the lead group. The pace was frenetic, right around 35-36kph during the early juncture and my lungs seemed to be bursting from the sudden rush. As we stretched out into the highway, a familiar uniform pulled up next to me, and I was overjoyed that Kap had mustered enough to make it into the safety of the chase pack. Save for the TTT, I have been working mostly as a loner for the entirety of the tour so this was certainly a welcome development.
Hanging On
The middle laps saw the chase pack dwindle from a high of as many as twenty to roughly about eight or nine guys. The tough course was unforgiving and the heat and humidity were starting to bear down on us. On the flats we'd hit it in the 45's, then would be focused on the low 30's in a bid to conserve. Slowly but surely, we were getting there and actually putting in a creditable performance by our modest standards. As we were lurching towards the halfway mark , we were quite surprised to see Col. Bong struggling alone against the crosswinds. A strong, consistent rider, we were not accustomed to seeing him get dropped by the peloton . He hung around with us until the feed zone, at which point we just lost track of him. We would later find out that he dropped out of the race after feeling the aftereffects of flu-like symptoms from the week prior. With our reserves slowly being depleted and the sun beating down heavily, it was an interesting proposition to just drop out as well and call it a day. But maybe we had enough to still hack it out... .
Going Down Swinging
As we approached the final lap, our original group had pretty much dropped like flies one by one, and with roughly 20k to go it was just me, Kap and two other dudes. We would take turns on the trangko in a bid to conserve energy, but from this point out it was pretty much all guts and glory. Me and Kap would alternately fade out from the group, then claw back with every ounce left knowing that getting dropped at this point could pretty much mean a knockout blow to one's aspirations of a good finish.
With about 10 kilometers to go entering the homestretch, I felt like I was bonking big time. The other dude fell behind and Kap was still going strong. I told myself, I fought so hard to be in this thing all morning, why give it up now? I figured, might as well go down swinging. As your body bottoms out its reserves and gradually starts to shut down, that's where one's mental fortitude is taxed to its utmost. So with as much effort as one could muster, my battered body was somehow able to throw down 37kph for about a 2 kilometer stretch to catch up with Kap, who I gather didn't even noticed that I was gone. Crossing the line together in 4:06 with the last of the Mohicans was as gratifying a finish I ever had in a cycling event. Checking my race data, the finish time was a bit misleading because of all the long stops we took at the feed zone, and the actual speed we maintained was practically 30kph over a distance that mirrors a Manila-Tagaytay roundtrip. None too shabby I guess for someone with marginal, intermittent training at best. Yipee.

Made it.
Overall, the team had a very creditable finish. Erick stuck with the Executive A main pack in all the road stages, which is highly indicative that he is racing at an extremely high level right now. Cycling main man Julius showed his worthiness to be promoted to the "A" level by nabbing 2nd runner-up podium honors in the 35-39 division of Executive B. The rest of the team all showed traces of significant improvement from the last time we raced here, so we all went home happy. A somewhat unfortunate accident during the last stage marred our good vibes though as Wilnar crashed in a freak accident with only a lap to go, bringing down three riders with him from within the peloton. He suffered a nasty gash on his forehead, but in typical manner he played it down even if he looked like one of them WWE wrestlers who open wounds on their forehead with their hidden razors.
That notwithstanding, it was a creditable effort with tons of room for improvement. As for me, it's back to the drawing board on how to get back into top form. Maybe I'll grab a Red Horse while I'm at it. Puro kasi tama diba, walang mali. :P

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Of Bad Breaks and the Joy of Triumph : The 2011 PCL Tour of Clark + training