2012 Pacific Populaire

It doesn’t seem like it should be anywhere near time to start writing about the spring cycling season. My mind is still very much in the mountains. And yet yesterday was the 2012 Pacific Populaire. I signed up for the 100km distance even though I haven’t cycled further than 20km – or even been on my road bike, for that matter – since October. I figured that if I could do the ride 30 days out from a blown knee, I could certainly finish it in spite of being completely out of cycling condition.

After a late night drinking beer and participating in a hot sauce eating contest (perhaps not the ideal preparation) the morning did not dawn promisingly. When I woke at 7am, I could hear rain pounding on the bathroom skylight. An hour later it had mostly tapered off, and I made my way through the soaking streets to the muddy registration area at the Riley Park Fieldhouse. There were a tremendous number of cyclists gathering, and everyone was in good spirits in spite of the dubious weather.

For the first couple of kilometres I was part of a huge pack of cyclists riding elbow-to-elbow, but then the traffic lights thinned the group out as we passed through Kits on our way to Marine Drive. On the UBC hill I realised that my quads were in no way recovered from the heavy skiing on Friday, but speed had never been a primary concern for this ride; it was more about getting back on the road bike after the winter, and having fun.

The clouds started to break as I crossed the Arthur Laing bridge into Richmond. To my surprise, I didn’t need to look at the route card once on the first half of the ride. It makes me realise just how established my life here is now: I know these streets like the back of my hand, and every one is permeated with memories of other rides. Just before the Woodward’s Landing control, I gave a nod to the Ossur HQ where I was fitted with my knee brace just before the 2010 Populaire.

At the control I ran into my friend P, and after getting our cards stamped and ingesting fistfuls of cookies and carrot cake we waved a hello to J, the third member of our group, who arrived just as we were departing. P and I joined up with some riders who were motoring along at a decent 32km/h; I knew my tired legs wouldn’t be able to keep that pace up for any distance, but it was fun to ride as part of the pack for a while.

The second half of the ride also brought home just how much of a personal challenge the 2010 ride had been. I remembered zoning out in my own little world of pain somewhere in the strong headwinds on the New West Highway, but as I pedalled along yesterday I found that there were whole stretches – including the transition from the highway to River Road – that I simply didn’t recall at all. This time the winds were gentler and I stuck with the fast group as far as River Road, where my quads decided that 28km/h was quite speedy enough. My neck and right shoulder were also feeling the unaccustomed hours on the bike by this point, and I had to stretch them out repeatedly to try and ease the twinges.

I crossed back into Vancouver on the Canada Line bridge and headed through blossom-filled side streets back to Marine Drive. Under blue skies the kilometres ran down surprisingly quickly. The hill up to Arbutus on 25th felt like just as much of a slog as last time, but infinitely less painful. I let my speed drop on the final stretch and just enjoyed the last of the ride back to Riley Park. When I got there I splashed through the mud to get my card stamped, then found a patch of sunshine to wait for J and P. (P was actually going way faster than me until a flat tire waylaid him on the New West Highway.)

My official time was 4:15, which is slow compared to my GranFondo times from last summer but not bad at all considering my total lack of preparation. My legs and lungs did well apart from the residual quad tiredness, but my problem shoulder was pretty sore today. I need to spend some time cycling up mountains to get back into proper cycling shape, but realistically I know that’s not going to happen while there are still opportunities to be skiing down them.

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