I learned that one yesterday at the Burke Mountain Hill Climb Race in Burke, Vermont. I actually found it quite easy to committ a series of rookie mistakes that I just couldn’t recover from.

It is often said that most plane crashes happen as a result of a chain of events, often called the error chain,which  is a term that refers to the concept that many contributing factors typically lead to an accident rather than one single event. Sounds like what happened to me yesterday afternoon.

I usually like to get to my races way ahead of time, usually the day before. Yesterday I left my house in Saint-Bruno, Quebec for Burke, Vermont at 12:00pm. I was happy that my beautiful wife Mary Lou and three of the kids were part of the trip. The drive to Burke usually takes about 2:15 hrs to 2:30 hrs. The race started at 4 pm so it left me plenty of time to check in, warm up and line up. Yeah right.

As soon as we got on the highway we hit traffic. Stress. Family pee break. Stress. Need to have lunch. More stress. We finally got to Burke at around 3 pm. I checked in, got my race number, changed and got ready to warm up. “OK, we got that part of the race out of the way. Now let’s get to the start line.”

After a race warm up, I usually line up at the start surrounded by strangers. I like to take a few minutes to review race strategy in my head, make final mental preparations, check that my Joule 2.0 is properly recording data one last time and visualize the race as it was planned with the input of my CTS coach Jason. Yesterday, as we lined up to the start line, I took time to chat with fellow racers, introducing my buddy Fred to various racers I have met over the last two years while doing the BUMPS Northeast Championship. I didn’t even pay attention to the pre-race instructions as I knew I was in “for a great race.”

The gun goes off!

I usually settle right away in my target power zone and only put on the gas to pass riders and make sure they think about it twice before trying to follow me. Yesterday, I couldn”t clip in my left foot. I tried again. And again. I finally clipped in. I looked up and saw the pack way ahead. I panicked. “I am strong, I can sprint to reach the pack”. I sprinted and reached the pack. I was out of breath.  Things were going too fast for me, I couldn’t compute what had just happened and I couldn’t generate a revised race plan. I stuck to the old plan.” Let’s aim for 295 to 305 watts.” Yes, but the old plan didn’t include not being able to start racing at the start and surely didn’t include sprinting – and hitting 600 watts in the process – to reach the pack.

As I hit the 15 minute mark, I wanted to get off the bike. My race was over, I thought. “I am sure my family will understand.” As I lowered my power below 200 watts I started thinking about all of the little things that had gone wrong. Human nature is such that one would like to think that these were merely “external factors”. I am not framed that way. What happens to me is my responsibility and most times, I have had at least some part of the outcome. Stop or go? All my thoughts were negative. I didn’t even find the mental strength to finish off a couple of heavy breathing guys going up “the wall”. I just felt like getting off the bike.

Then my 2010 inspiration showed up behind me.

I am talking about Dominique Codere, the 2010 winner of the the F50-59 category and second overall woman in the BUMPS Northeast Championship. I noticed early in 2010 that my race times were always very close to Dominique’s 2009 times.

I was therefore able to set realistic time goals and keep a good pace in every race based on Dominique’s 2009 results. When I doubted my ability to meet my time goal during a race I would say to myself: “I know I can do it, I know I can match Dominique’s 2009 time.” And I would then keep the power up and meet or do better than my time goal every time. Thanks Dominique!

Over the last couple of years I have gotten to know Dominique better and she is truly an inspiration to a lot of the new Canucks riders doing the BUMPS races (and many others I am sure). Not to mention that Dominique truly is a very nice and pleasant person to interact with.

At Burke in 2010, I rode close behind Dominique for the second half of the race and we kept each other focused and motivated. She is a strong competitor. Last year I stood right behind her until about 100 meters from the finish and she really helped me push my limits. In 2011 the roles were reversed. I was in front of Dominique by a few meters and we kept pushing each other. Thanks Dominique, you helped me again this year.  You rescued my race.

I guess racing is a little bit like flying. You can’t let yourself be distracted by all the little things that go on around you and you need to be able to think fast if something screws up.