I think one of the more remarkable things for me about race day was how calm I felt in the morning before the start. Getting geared up and actually riding made all of the things I had been worried about just kind of fade into the background……
Ken and Merilee said a couple of inspirational words (which I mostly didn’t hear :))
And the gun went off. 1500 bikers clipped in (one of the best sounds in the entire world) and started out of town.
There are a bunch things I think I did really well in this race.
Thing #1: Stay patient.
The start of this race is a very fast paved descent down towards the first climb. Leaving town the entire road is taken up by riders who are eventually going to funnel onto a dirt jeep trail. It’s going to back up. St Kevan’s (the first climb of the day) is notorious for having to be walked because you get stuck behind riders who cannot make that climb. Because of all of this the start is a very frantic, fast, sometimes dangerous exercise where people in back who think they are good work very very hard to get up front. The grizzled vets told me that nothing that happens because of another rider will cost you a 12 hour finish on race day. So even if you walk St. Kevans it will be OK.
I relaxed into the initial ride and was passed by what felt like 1000 riders. Deep breath.
It backed up and slowed way down getting onto the dirt. Then when we got to the St. Kevan’s climb it really slowed. St. Kevan’s is not a bad climb. It is rocky in places, and loose in places, and it is kind of steep in places (like 10-15%) but its all doable. The frustrating part was that you need a certain amount of speed to go up and over things like rocks and so a little fast would have been better. But I geared down, when I had a chance I went past people, when I didn’t I rode how I could. Up and over St. Kevans.
The second thing I did well on race day?
Thing #2: Take the race one piece at a time
In case you missed it this is a long, long race. And it has a lot of long climbs in it. If you think about things that are not right in front of you, it can be overwhelming.
On the descent from St. Kevans: relax, rest, recover, drink. The Sugarloaf climb was next on the agenda. This climb is really fun. Probably my favorite of the day. The bottom part is a 2 lane dirt road with a nice 2-3% grade. Again I got into a really good rhythm and climbed up the mountain passing lots of people going up.
Things #3: I climbed well
The altitude never got to me (I never thought about it), I found a rhythm on the climbs and rode what felt like the right pace. Apparently it was a pretty good pace.
The top part of Sugarloaf is a jeep trail with lots of loose rocks. The grade goes up but stays at a manageable 6-10%. I continued to pass people going up. Sugarloaf was fun.
Once I got to the top of Sugarloaf it was time to start thinking about the Powerline descent. Weight low, butt back, look ahead, stay calm. I am not a strong technical descender and I got passed by a lot of people on that descent. But again the grizzled vets all said a 12 hour finish would not be won on a descent (though it could be ended). I wanted to get to the bottom, quickly but safely, preferably without flatting. Mission accomplished, I felt good about how I got down.
Out onto the road for a quick traverse to the Pipeline aid station. I was fortunate to hook into a strong group of 10 or so riders and we pace lined the distance with a really quick 20-25 mph average.
I had two crews working the race. My oldest son Bailey and my good friend Jenni were at Pipeline waiting for me.
Like a nascar pit team: old bottles out, new bottles in, no adjustments to bike needed. And I was off.
I was there for about 15 seconds.
The next section was the “flat” pipeline traverse to Twin Lakes. Since I pre-rode that section I knew what to expect and it flew by at a comfortable pace.
Thing #4: I paced myself well
I never felt like I was going too hard or putting too much out.
Twin Lakes is the big aid station and is filled with lots and lots of people. Coreen and Noah were there waiting for me. Another surgical pit stop. Three bottles for the climb up Columbine. Off I went.
Columbine. That is the climb that they hype as being the legendary climb of this race. The Fat Cyclist has said that this is the second hardest climb of the day (for me it would turn out to be the 3rd hardest). It starts with about 4 miles of gradual switch backs up the mountain. Through an aspen grove. I felt really strong and I kept passing people on the way up.
Then a funny moment. I am climbing and I see someone sitting of the side of the road with a Clarkson University polo shirt on. Peter Coffin, a former student of mine now in CO for grad school, was taking pictures, just because. Small world.
(Author’s note: I rode back and forth with this woman most of the day. She smiled a lot more than I did. 🙂
Second note, this picture is from Peter Coffin as are the two pictures from the start with the bikes.)
I said “Hi.” We exchanged pleasantries (it was all quite civilized). A quick high five and on up I went.
I continued to feel strong and passed people all way up. The scary part of Columbine is that it is pretty narrow and people are coming down while you are going up. If you pass you really need to pick you spots. I walked in two places on the Columbine climb: right at the tree line and a little higher up. The rest I rode. Then I was up at the aid station where Noah and I had volunteered last year. I didn’t stop. I didn’t need or want to. Down I went.
The descent from the top to the tree line is technical and long. Much like Powerline the goal is to stay up right with the added bonus of trying to not hit anyone who is till going up. Once into the treeline the speed picks up because the surface is better. People passed me again going down, but I was in my own zone. I rolled back into Twin Lakes feeling very strong and excited. Over half way home. And I was about 30 minutes ahead of the 11 hour splits I wrote down on my bike. It was at this point that I knew I could finish this race. I was going to need that confidence because little did I know that I had finished the easy part of my race. I was going to go to a dark place before this all ended. (Should have known. Ken warned us all.)
Picture of the day
Another one from Jenni. The people of Leadville were awesome.