I ran up the walkway to transition. Unlike Lake Placid, where your bags hang on hooks, in Florida the bags are on the ground, ordered by number. There is a changing tent.
My bags were at the far end of the last row for the men, so when I grabbed my bag, I saw there was another person changing behind the tent- and there were volunteers there catching wetsuits. So I changed behind the tent. There's no way to overstate what a timesaver this was. The tents are generally a madhouse, at least when you finish the swim in the middle of the pack. I was able to get shoes and gloves on, stuff nutrition in my bike jersey, get my number on, grab my bike and be out of transition in about 4 minutes.
That said, I'm hard-pressed to know where to start on the bike. I don't want to be a whiner. I don't want to bitch. I knew there would be drafting out on the course, and I knew it would affect where I finished. I spoke to my coach the day before the race and he specifically told me I should avoid surging to fight the packs. At the end of the day, what happened to me happened because I rode 22 mph instead of 24 mph. I had a good bike, despite the fact that I was absolutely buried overall- 330+, compared to twice ranking in what- the top 120 ?- at Lake Placid. But if I had buried the course ?
I'd have really run like crap. After all, the bike isn't about the bike- no one gets a medal for riding 112 miles- you get that medal for getting off the bike and running a marathon....
I picked up my first drafter shortly after I started riding. I ran my bike out past the mat, past where the other athletes were mounting, and then hopped on the bike while it was moving. By the time I had clipped in I was already pulling away from the other cyclists, but I quickly developed a shadow. This shadow, which appears in some of my race photos, appears to be about 5'8" and 175, which is amazing because I'm 5'4" and 135. The shadow followed me out onto the first long straight away, or about ten miles.
But then I was able to settle into a pace and was starting to feel pretty good. I finished the Propel in my water bottle, ate both when I got on the bike and again 30 minutes later. The first feed station is up on a hill, and I got myself some Gatorade and set to working on my nutrition. After that, things went well for a while. As I have no computer, I had only perceived effort, and time checks when I hit 10 mile markers (there were also KM markers, but i was being mathematically lazy and just using the mile markers to compute speed.)
However, at around 20 miles a pack of 20-plus riders swept past. I started dropping back, which takes a while. I was angry.
But what made it really bad was this: After they passed they went the same speed I'd been going, leaving me no choice but to pass them. All of them. I was angry, so this was a real surge, exactly what my coach warned me would lead to gastric distress.
This happened several other time with large groups in the next fifteen miles. I was not well-behaved. By that I mean I did not bear the drafting well. I asked people where their pride was. When people would tell me to relax, I'd tell them I'd relax when they'd stop &%$^ing cheating. This is not good. I should have kept my mouth shut. I would sit up, aggravated, and get harshed on for sitting up and not just riding with the group. It's one thing to draft, it's another thing to rag on people for refusing to draft.
I also should not have surged, but each time it happened, I'd drop four bike lengths behind the last bike in the chain, and then accelerate and pass the whole group- now between 30-40 people.
I had no problem doing it- passing large groups. Once you get out to their left, you are still getting a draft, but you're passing, so that's legal. I cut in sharply when I got up past the last person.
On one occasion as I was being swept over, I gave a hard left head fake and upset some mid-packer. That I regret because it was dangerous, but not as much as I regret the surges. Then something happened at 35 miles that changed the race for me. I passed my friend Steve Surprise. A pack immediately engulfed me. I started dropping, by sitting up and not pedalling. Maybe the drafters are right and this is some dickish, perverse version of following the rules. I can tell you some day someone is going to ask me 'what's wrong' when I sit up like that and I'm going to accidentally stretch my left arm out and catch them in the mush.
I went back by Steve, who was still pedalling but also dropping, just not as quickly. One of the officials had been following the large pack- you could hear the motorcycle.
She didn't penalize the pack of thirty-plus people. No, she flashed a red-card to my friend Steve, who was trying his best to drop back and had just been caught up in the back of the pack. It was a totally absurd penalty. I was behind him about 50 yards, banging, literally banging my front wheel up and down and screaming 'No f%cking way !'
I took another run at the pack and passed them, but it was the last senseless attack. My heartrate went through the roof, my stomach started to turn over the way it only can when it's full of Gatorade and Cliff Shot Blocks, and I knew my coach had been right and these surges were simply bad for me.
I was mad at myself for losing my temper, and I knew I had to get my ego and my temper under control and ride my own race, because at the end of the day, if I rode clean, that was great, but if I wanted to have a good race- and a shot at a sub-ten- I had to ride clean and smart....