|Photo credit: Christina Luebbert|
Quite a few friends were doing the 68-mile race, but I was happy to stick with the 50-mile course, telling them "it's too early in the year to suffer". I even volunteered to do an Instagram takeover for Sport Chalet, where I'm a cycling ambassador, because all I wanted from the race was a fun training ride with friends.
Just like last year, our group fractured on the first climb out of time. Unlike last year, I was in the middle instead of immediately off the back. I've spent a lot more time on the bike this winter, and that made a big difference in how I felt. Chuck and I ended up riding the whole race together, with Jim and Robby ahead of us by a good margin.
|Snapping a picture over my shoulder and getting photobombed by my friend Jim right before he passed me.|
|Chuck on a pretty section of gravel|
It was a great day to be on bikes. We turned onto the paved road that passes the big tree and really started flying, passing some people as they stopped at the aid station and others just because we were moving faster. I felt really strong. I've been training a lot more consistently and was excited about how well that seemed to be paying off.
The course is basically an out and back with a small lollipop at the far end and two larger loops in the middle and near the finish. We flew down the last big hill on the outbound leg and then climbed the subsequent uphill much more easily than last year (when I had to walk part of it). As soon as we made the left turn to start our homeward journey I realized the secret of my newfound speed.
The turn into the headwind made forward progress even more difficult, but for some reason I still felt good and -- very rare for me -- never let the wind get into my head. Chuck started to fade a little during this time, so I had to be careful not to pull too far ahead. This was a weird turn of events; I don't think I've ever been stronger on a bike than Chuck, and I'm much more comfortable being the one who's bringing up the rear.
Closing the end of the lollipop we ran into Bob and Luke, who were about to start it. We had a nice little impromptu team meeting at the intersection, sharing the delicious butterscotch whiskey Bob had brought along. Well, I guess I wasn't actually very good at sharing since I drank basically all of it. It was a tiny little bottle...and did I mention delicious?
|Randomly meeting up with teammates!|
Photo credit: Luke Lamb
Luke tried to convince us that, since we were just out for a training ride, we should repeat the loop with Bob and him. I was moderately torn, but in the end I just offered that if I felt good after finishing maybe I'd ride back out to meet them.
"Oh," he laughed, "So you think you're going to beat us?"
"I'm pretty confident," I replied, and then spent the next 25 miles half expecting them, fueled by righteous indignation and manly pride, to come shooting past me.
They started on the lollipop while Chuck and I headed back towards the finish line. While he demolished me on the downhills -- my downhill mojo a casualty of the primarily flat training rides of this past winter -- I continued to be weirdly strong on the flats and strangely impervious to the wind. I mean, I definitely had to work hard even to maintain a 13 mph pace at times, but it didn't bother me. I think looking out for Chuck, much like tormenting Peter at Frozen Feet, was a good distraction for me.
Chuck told me I should just go ahead and drop him, that I might be able to podium if I wasn't waiting, but a) there was no way I'd leave him behind after he spent 40 miles babysitting me at BT Epic and b) after not racing for the first half I didn't see much point in starting now.
|There were several paved sections, this one with one of the UltraMax trucks out providing roving support.|
Volunteers waved us back onto the gravel at a blind intersection, and we reached the timed hill climb shortly after that. "Don't wait for me," Chuck said, "Go for it!" I got a good start up the hill and could hear Chuck cheering behind me. A little more than halfway up I started to fade and then had to veer into the thicker gravel at the edge as a minivan sped towards me in the middle of the road. I topped the hill, crossed the timing mat, and leaned over my bike panting until Chuck rode past.
The last few miles confirmed my decision to ride the 50-mile course. I still felt good, but I'm not sure I would have with another 18 miles of riding. We crossed the finish line in 4:16, got changed, and headed to the little cafe for the soup and drinks that were included in our registration fee. Hanging out afterwards with free food and drinks was the perfect end to the race.
We'd wandered outside to visit and watch for Bob and Luke, and they arrived just as awards were being announced. I knew there was no medal for my 4th place spot, so after clapping for my friend Yvonne's second place award I tuned out the rest and was talking to the guys when Bob said, "Did you hear that? They just said your name!"
|Queen of the Hill...or, as Luke would say, Queen Over the Hill|