This season, Sam Boardman (Project Echelon) is making his first foray into the European peloton. On his third race day, he lined up at Trofeo Pollença and found out, unfortunately, what happens out the back.
You can (and definitely should) read Sam’s dispatch from his first race, Trofeo Calvià, and his second, Trofeo Serra Tramuntana, where he got in the day’s breakaway.
“Dropped,” “ejected,” “attack off the back,” and, perhaps my personal favorite, “spat out the ass”; if you have ever raced a bike or spent any time at all around bike racers, you have 10,000% heard these phrases sprinkled maybe a dozen times throughout a conversation. A little crude? We never said we’re aspiring to be the next Mr. Rogers, and like a crew of filthy sailors, this is how we speak, for we be pirates back from voyage, so you better get used to it.
This particular vocabulary describes the universal experience of finding yourself out of the peloton and out of contention, an experience that has punctuated my previous days here so far, but one which defined my day today. And, you know what, that’s okay! Truly, I wish I could provide you all riveting race reports every single day, relaying tales of fearless and – keeping with the pirates theme here – swashbuckling riding that results in a breakaway or a notable result, but the reality of this sport, as I’m sure many of you are aware, is that, for 99% of us, it is not that. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be an experience from which there is something worth gleaning. There are days when you do animate, and there are days when you just barely hang on, and today I experienced the latter to the utmost degree, so let’s talk about what that looks like.
Phase 1: The race start – Not dropped yet
Today’s Trofeo Pollença notably did not start with a threshold test out the gate, so thank you to whoever was in charge of that. Now go and tell your psycho friend who was responsible for yesterday to turn it down a scooch.
Instead, a flat 50 kilometers composed of a loop on the northern end of the island lay between us and our first uphill test of the day, a three-part slog up the Col de Femenia and the backside of the Puig Major. This valley section was, um, what’s the phrase I’m looking for? Oh, yeah: FUCKING. SCARY.
You hear all the time about how fast the peloton is these days, but it’s truly something else when you are living the reality of trying to navigate through a bunch of elbow-bumping, caffeinated meatheads (myself included) who have stuck themselves in sixth gear, and are going about 65 kph through roundabout after roundabout to try and hold position. Remarkably, I was reminded today why most of these people are professionals, for as terrifying as the neon moving amoeba that is the peloton was, shockingly there was only one crash that I saw during this part of the race (the result of a collision through a roundabout).
The tumble would stretch the peloton out in a slightly more exposed section through Alcudía, where I would struggle to make up ground to try and have another crack at a move up the road. I would put in a couple digs following moves, and I would initiate one, but nothing stuck. Finally, through a right-left section, Hugo [Scala Jr; teammate] would boost it out of the pack in a group of four (soon to be six once two bridged up), and the peloton would decide that, yes, this was acceptable, and promptly – wait for it – drop anchor. Yo ho ho, keeping the analogy alive.
Phase 2: Pee time – Still not dropped
With the break up the road and the pressure to chase not yet on, the peloton took its collective nature break, a hilarious spectacle of dozens of men clad in neon spandex lining the roads, rockin’ a communal piss against a background of the Mallorcan mountain ranges. It’s a ridiculous part of our sport and I love it. Imagine all the beauty, color, and visual dynamics of a fine renaissance painting with all the scandalous intrigue of public urination. Truly, it’s a sight to behold.
Phase 3: Pee time’s over; now we rage – About to get dropped
Once our bladders were good and empty, it was time to get back to business, which meant the bigger teams would park it on the front and start riding really hard. Generally this results in the peloton becoming the shape of a balloon, with the string leading the charge and the balloon itself becoming the circulating mass of teams moving up the side, going back into the middle, then being forced to the back as other teams move up and into their place.
This phenomenon is known as the “washing machine,” a fitting title as I generally find myself shitting my pants every time we do this. Navigating up the sides to position our designated leaders of the day is always sketchy because you can’t really see what’s in front of you, and if something happens and the pack expands, there is approximately a one to two millimeters of space between you and the edge of the road.
I thought we rode well collectively to deposit Tyler [Stites] in decent position going into the first of the three parts of the climb, and at that point, it was time to grit my teeth again and hang on.
Phase 4: Pack climbing and uphill crashes – Welp, I’m getting dropped
Given how strong everyone was in this field, even though we were on a climb, everyone was still together and still going relatively fast. The key difference, however, is when you are pack climbing, any misstep means that you stop a lot quicker than you would on the flats, meaning any bobble does exponentially greater damage. So when a pile-up happened in front of me and a couple other teammates about 1.5 kilometers from the top, and before the first little respite, it split the group and effectively ended my time in the peloton. I would strain and push and grind as much as I could, but there was no catching the back of that group. My day was done.
Phase 5: Going through the emotions – I am properly dropped
- Denial: I am NOT getting dropped.
- Anger: FRICK!!! I got dropped.
- Depression: Maaaaaaaan, I got dropped, this sucks.
- Bargaining: I would do anything not to be dropped right now.
- Acceptance: Hey, I’m dropped, but wow, look at that view!
Phase 6: Riding it in – Dropped, but not alone
With 70 kilometers or so still to tackle, the first bit of calculus I went through was to find the closest group of riders and latching on to roll with to the line. As much I think we’re inclined to be alone and annoyed because of a day’s poor showing, I can promise you that getting in a group and having the rhythm of rotating will help you not only process and better move on from the emotions, but also ensure that you can finish the day as quickly as possible. For me, this meant tucking myself into a group of 10 or so people, and settling into the rotation for the next 2 and half hours, almost all of which was spent in complete silence. We crossed the finish line 18 minutes after the day’s winner, netting me 125th place, the third-to-last finisher on the day [there were of course dozens who didn’t finish at all – ed.].
Phase 7: Processing – I got dropped? Alright then!
Returning to the team cars, I was disappointed, but regaling the days hardships (and successes, as Tyler had finished strongly in the chase group contesting for a top-ten finish) offered the perfect pick-me-up after the day’s colossal drop. My rule of thumb has always been that I allow myself 20 minutes to be annoyed and moody after a day I wasn’t happy with, and after that, it’s time to move on and look forward, but I didn’t even need that much time to get over my sour attitude. Immediately we were cracking jokes, laughing, and smiling, the steady sign that I needed to remind myself that, at the end of the day, I absolutely love riding my bike with my friends, and racing is just a symptom of that love.
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