Giro d'Espoo 2013 is now behind. I tried to keep this post as short as possible, but you know, sometimes that's difficult. I hope you don't fall asleep or bounce back to browsing through your facebook feed, at least not straight away. I also had a cam with me during the race so there's both video and pictures from the in-race, so you'll get a picture of how it is cycling in a bunch.
We needed to wake up quite early to get from Turku to Espoo in time. That time was 5.50am. Due to "whatever that thing in my knee was", I slept poorly, waking up every now and then to check how the knee felt. I managed to pour in some porridge and bread in me and 7.30 am the bike was in the car and we were traveling towards Espoo. Before packing the bike in, I took a short ride with the bike to feel how the knee felt while cycling. It didn't feel good at all.
Nervous we arrived to Espoo well before the start. We got our stuff from the organizers and went back to the car to prepare. Not only was I nervous because of my knee, but also because of the wind. I'd say it was around 10 m/s and winds gusting up to 15 m/s. Having probably many beginners in the group, these heavy wind conditions could be a dangerous thing to have. The only thought at this point was to be able to finish the race.
It was sunny though, and when we lined up for the start, I'd taken a short warm-up, and the knee felt a bit better. Hope started crawling upon me. It was again nice to see that cycling brings so many people together, and in a country like Finland where the public opinion is that you shouldn't talk to strangers, those barriers were all of a sudden removed. Had a nice talk with other cyclists and the mood was good.
And then we rolled. The start was somewhat hectic as usual, but all in all the first kilometers went pretty okay. But the wind. I already felt we were in for a pretty tough 3 hours in the saddle today.
111 km is not that long a race, and in just a couple of hours we were well on our way to approach the finish. Passing 70 km we had some rain, but for me that was only a nice "refreshing" shower. The knee had functioned pretty ok, but I could feel the legs were already a bit tired. As usual, even if I had started in the front of the group I again found myself at the back of the group. And every 2-5km there were some gaps I had to close down when the cyclists in front of me were not able to follow the pace anymore. A bit frustrating situation. The idea is to ride in two lines, but in the very beginning people who for some reason think the will finish earlier at the front of the group will pass you who follow this principle of riding in two lines. They pass you on both left and right, making it sometimes pretty dangerous. And at some point, these cyclists find out the pace is too high and the fall behind. And this is where the "close down the gaps" begin.
The heavy wind made it extra difficult, especially when the wind was blowing from the side. Cycling in 50+km/h in some sections and suddenly getting a blast of wind from the side easily throws you 1-2 meters sideways. Fortunately I managed to hold on and avoided crashing. There was 3 small crashes in the bunch during the whole race. Those were all in uphill sections and caused by stupidity. The big picture though was pretty clean riding.
I knew there was a big hill at the 100km mark. Legs were slightly tired but I felt the effect of having that number on my back. When we got to the bottom of that climb I got out of the saddle and from the back of the bunch I got to the front, and kept on attacking. I was joined by a couple of other cyclists and together we kept a pretty good pace. The last 10 km are mostly downhill, only 3 hills to pass. I did the job in those climbs, otherwise the other guys kept the pace high. I was really enjoying cycling! My legs felt really good, I was able to follow all sprints easily and felt strong. I also tried to cheer the others to try to hang in. In the last km I still felt strong, and took the lead. Shouted out to the others to follow and made an increase in pace. Unfortunately the others were not able to follow, but still they had almost the same final time as I did. Breakaway groups are the best thing in cycling, and having a strong group is so motivating. There are no words to explain that.
I arrived to finish with a time that was 4 minutes "worse" than last year. I was not disappointed, quite the opposite. The last 10 km was super strong riding, the time was worse because the group could not keep the pace quite as high as last year due to the heavy winds.
At the finish we chatted with the "breakaway" guys and everyone was all smiles, me included. I also received a big thank you from a guy that was riding in the same start group. He had been riding behind me almost all the way, and thanked me for a steady and safe riding, that made his journey much more pleasant. It's always really nice to get this kind of feedback, and made me even more pleased with my race. It usually is hectic with braking and sprinting in a big group, but you can always minimize this by looking over the shoulder of the guy in front of you. By doing this you know what is happening and this minimizes sudden braking and situations usually does not come as surprises when you know what's happening in the group a couple of rows in front of you.
At the finish, I also had some time to chat with Alexander Stubb. A great person who also enjoys cycling a lot. Always cheerful and happy to talk with you even if he would be busy (even if I had a Samsung to take this picture with, and not a Nokia).
I waited at the finish for my friend to arrive, and during that time the muscles had cooled down and I could feel the pain in my knee, back and hip. I had probably unconsciously been careful with my knee while cycling, and hence probably did not ride in the best possible position. But that didn't matter at that point, I had finished, I didn't crash and it had once again been a superb race!
And here's a 20 minute video from the last 10 km and the breakaway (available in HD):
So if you ever doubt taking part in any cycling event, read this post again and just do it!
Hope you managed to stay awake all the way 'til the end.
Have a good one!