Karel knew it wouldn't be easy. But he didn't let it get to him. After he picked up his number, we headed back to the house where we were staying and Karel did a bit of resting for the rest of the afternoon. I prepared him a yummy lunch, almost identical to what he had before the Tampa Twilight Crit.
I made us mixed rice, eggs (Karel had two sunny side up, I had scrambled) topped with cheese, broccoli (cooked in olive oil on a skillet) and orange slices. It hit the right spot for Karel before he rested on the couch.
I caught up on emails for most of the afternoon and Campy did his share of napping with Karel.
Around 5:30pm, we headed to the race venue in downtown Charlotte. As Karel was getting the trainer ready for him to warm-up in a parking lot, Campy and I headed down the street to watch the women's race. Wow - they are fast!
The spectators were starting to line the streets so I made my way back to Karel to pin his number on his jersey and to wish him the best of luck.
Karel did not appear nervous but I know to just leave him alone so that he can get into his zone. Around 7:10pm, Karel headed to the corral to get staged...
Something new for Karel - as this was a BIG race with a BIG $50,000 purse prize, Karle had to sign-in on a big board before starting the race.
As all the teams started to crowd into the starting area, the call-ups started...
".... stage winner of Giro d'Italia"
".... stage winner of the Tour de California"
".... multiple USA crit winner"
The list just went on and on. Karel follows a lot of these guys via websites as these are some of the top cyclists from around the world.
For Karel, this is fun. Suffering may not be that much fun but he really loves riding his bike. This certainly takes him WAY out of his comfort zone but he only has three options...
1) Race local Florida races with guys at his level
2) Race as a Master's rider, among guys at a similar level
3) Race in the Pro category, among some of the best athletes in the world.
What would you choose?
One thing that Karel has taught me (and I have learned to embrace), is competition. A true athlete is not afraid to be beat but that doesn't mean he/she is not afraid to give it his/her all.
I read a quote once that said something along the lines of "train as if you are the worst, race as if you are the best".
Life is too short to always stay in your comfort zone for when you do the same thing all the time, you get the same results. Karel knew this race was far beyond his level as there is no way that he can train (and recover) like guys who do this for a full-time job. Karel works 45+ hours a week as the GM of the Trek Bicycle store in Jax 5-7 days a week. Karel's competition - they ride their bikes for a job.
Knowing that there was some heavy duty money on the line, these guys were not holding back.
The course was really technical and one of the hardest I have ever seen. A typical criterium is 4 corners around a block, typically less than 1K. In this race, each "lap" was 1.2 miles, with two "blocks" at each side of a long straight away (essentially the street was divided into two sections - out and back between each corner section).
You can see the course here:
Karel told me they were going 35-37mph on the straight section (with a slight grade that was noticeable on the bike) and because of the narrow corners, there was at least 1 crash at every end of the course for the first few laps. Lucky, Karel was not affected.
The problem with this course, was that with 140 starters, the line was spread out far around the corners that when the guys were slowing from the fast straight away, the front guys were accelerating back to fast speeds.
It was a constant struggle for Karel to move up because despite feeling really good during the race, guys in front where just giving up. Karel refuses to give up even when his body is screaming NO.
Around 40 minutes into the race, the field started to break into three sections and sadly, Karel was just behind the mid section. He sprinted to try to get up to the middle pack but the wheels he was drafting off of, started to drift back. Eventually, the guys gave up and with Karel giving everything he had to get back to the group, he exhausted all his extra efforts.
I finally found Karel outside the course and he was disappointed. I felt sad for him cause I know how hard he tries to finish these races. I tried to convince him that he did finish the last two crits but we both knew that this race was likely the hardest race he has ever done - all because of the course and the caliber of athletes. Even though I was so incredibly proud of him for lasting 40 minutes (considering that guys were getting dropped in the first 10 minutes and only 80 guys finished), it's hard to be an outsider (as an athlete myself) because I know when you want something so bad and it is not always within your control.
You see, that's cycling. It really makes me appreciate the sport of running and triathlon because so much of it (more like all of it except for weather and terrain) is within our control. Cycling is far from controllable circumstances. For you can be having a great day and someone is just having a better day. Watching Karel really makes me value my sport, my body and what I have within my control which is the ability to control my attitude, nutrition and pacing. For training is far beyond just putting in the miles but rather just giving your best effort on race day which is solely reflected on how you trained. It's not about training "hard" but rather, training "smart".
In cycling, you have to be strong, fast and smart. You have to be lucky and you have to have guts. Karel trains his body just as hard as he trains his mind and without giving excuses for the situation (we don't do excuses in the Sumbal household), I know Karel is in the best shape of his life. Fueled by plants and still, at the age of 35 yrs, he loves riding his bike.
After Karel changed his clothes and texted some of his close racing buddies, we all went back to the course, enjoyed some local pizza (yum for local late-night eats) and watched the end of the race.
Due to the dark, I wasn't able to take very good pics so here is a video I found on YouTube from herrjohn.
Karel slept in on Sunday and we both enjoyed the morning, sipping coffee and enjoying a few last hours in the beautiful city of Charlotte, NC.
A much easier drive home, it was nice for Karel to reflect on the race and re-charge before Gearlink Cycling Classic this weekend (I'll be running the Iron Girl Half Marathon the same day, earlier that morning on Sunday) and then the BIG race of the year - Athens Twilight to kick-off USA crit Speed Week!
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