Yesterday I participated in my first ever Tour de Helsinki sportive. I had high hopes for this event as I had been training the whole summer with this particular event in the back of my mind. I can’t say there was much external pressure to perform, but of course I wanted to do well for myself. I’m really happy to report that everything worked out pretty much like I had planned. All in all I had a blast.
While I had known the date whole summer I really started preparing for the ride the day before. I tried to drink lot of fluids and ate two well-balanced meals. I took the bike out for a spin to collect my time chip and while at the velodrome had the friendly lads from Kivenlahden pyörähuolto take a look at my rear derailleur shifting. They took care of the issues in no time so when I got home all I had left was to wash and lube the chain.
In the morning the sky was grey and the day didn’t look too promising. I had had a good night’s sleep so filled my water bottles with sports drink and rode the few kilometers to the start area. I had high hopes the day as the weather forecast promised sunshine for the afternoon. Already on the way I had a leisurely chat with another rider. Despite the massive size of the event there is still a real feeling of community when you take part.
At the start area I found my way to the back of the pack marked as 32kph. Soon enough the whole area filled and an english expatriate Mark found a spot near me. I was wearing irish colours so maybe he though I was from british isles and we started chatting. Incidentally he was riding a carbon bike he had brought working in China. Since I was participating alone it was really nice to have somebody to talk with first part of the ride. Especially the slow 10km riding behind the front car would have been kind of lame unless there was a somebody to talk to.
My wife had brought our son to see the event in Pitäjänmäki so it was really fun to see his smiling face as daddy rode past. That really got me energized and ready to go, but the speed picked up only after Bemböle. I think the change of pace caught some people off guard. There was a big crash 10 meters in front of me already in Oittaa. Bottles, men and bikes were flying and I had my first big spare. The Velskola hills didn’t really feel like a challenge as I had tackled them alone a few times during the summer and knew what to expect.
I was really happy to see some familiar faces in Lepsämä cheering for me. That was all the encouragement I needed as at that point I felt like I had what it takes to finish. I wasn’t really feeling any strain my only goal was just to keep safe in the peloton. There were plenty of close calls and quite a few people had gotten injured (broken hip, collar bones etc.) in crashes along the way. I had a real scare myself when the guy in front of me all of a sudden started skidding and tried to stop with his foot on the ground.
I realized soon I had made some mistakes. First of all I stopped to fill up my water bottles two times early on. Consequently I had to catch up the peloton on my own twice. I stopped three times so I think I spent quite a bit energy chasing the pack. Looking back I would not have had to race quite so fast as the peloton was always slower than me in the hills. As the day wore on I noticed my lower back getting sore. I think I had tightened the saddle bolt so that the saddle wasn’t exactly level. Luckily the back wasn’t the biggest of my challenges.
Somewhere after Sipoo I realized I had actually been riding in a pack that had dropped 500m from the main group. It took some major effort to get me back to the group. Riding alone 40km/h against a harsh head wind really takes a toll on you. Just as I was going to give up I remembered a cookie my son had given me before I left home in the morning. I munched at it for a while and all of a sudden noticed the group had stopped at the last pit stop. I had some pickles and the rest of the way was smooth sailing behind police motorcycle escort.
Cruising to the finnish was a breeze and I even managed a little sprint for the cheering crowd gathered on the velodrome. The sun was shining and I noticed Mark in the crowd. After congratulating each other and shortly going through the ride I was left to enjoy the wonderful atmosphere on the stadium. The only thing I missed was some friends to share the experience with. The sense of accomplishment was shared by all attendees and the field was filled with happy faces.
Looking back I think TdH 2012 was an experience worth the time and effort. There were some lessons learned, but I’m really happy with 4,5 hour net time and 657. place finish in the field of 2550. I even did a short cool down ride to finish off my first 100 mile day. So all in all a very good day. I have some plans for next year, but I’m not sure I want to include TdH to the schedule due to the number of crashes. Time will tell.