With a relatively short rollout before the first climbing I was sure to find the front quickly. Slotted into the top ten and tried not to spend too much time on the front as the group was already pushing hard on the early false flats. Some single speeders and flat bar guys did what they needed early in the first steep paved climb and when Rob Cummings and another rider pushed hard over the top I followed. The group came together on a steep downhill but I was glad to be towards the front when we turned off onto the first gravel climb.
The first climb was steep fast and while an initial shock to the legs I was happy to find myself at the front and even pushing the pace as it leveled off in spots and the group settled in. Towards the top I could feel myself going to deep so let off just slightly and dropped off the wheels of Rob, a guy named Stephen Mull and a Canadian named Parker Bloom. They were all riding super smooth and I could tell my own body language was getting ugly. Rob and Stephen were clearly feeling good and pushed on. I kept Parker within sight and all the sudden Erik Tonkin comes grinding by me on a very steep section. Ok, 5th on the course. Catch Parker and Erik on some rolling terrain after misreading a turn and finish out the climb with them. Here Erik comment “I just want to finish this thing today”. What a goof ball, made a mental note that he’ll probably descend like a wild man and ride hard later on if I can stick with him. On the initial rolling, gentle descent a group of 3 catch us from behind and pump some pace into the group which I appreciate because I’m riding hardest out of the three I was with. Someone mentions “let’s work together, we have a nice gap” which was weird to me considering there were two guys up the road and I’m not worried about anyone that couldn’t even hang with us on that first climb.
Then the steep descending begins and it is an absolute ripper. For how hard some of the guys rode and descended I was always the one to keep pace high over small rises or flats and often found myself at the front. I misread another turn and found it hard to see the arrows that noted course directions. The signs were really small and the way the arrows were designed I could hardly tell which direction they pointed till I was right on them. At one turn I sent almost half the group down a spur and we all had to emergency stop and run back up. Group rejoined and the descent was back on. Another wrinkle in this was that my GPS had the route but not any other local map so all I could see was the route itself, no other roads on the map that would have helped when coming to slight changes in direction. Tight pace lines, hopping pot holes, trying our best to float over chunky sections. I felt in control… but just barely and had to remind myself you can’t finish a bike race with broken bones.
Towards the bottom of the descent I hit a rough spot and foolishly backpedaled half a stroke to change leg position. This slacks the top of my chain and dropped it off my 11 cog and down into my frame jamming it. Then I lose the chain off the front chain ring, spend a few moments gingerly trying to get chain back on front before I realize it’s jammed in the back. Luckily this is at mile 20 and the first aid station is one mile away down terrain so steep we’re all just freewheeling anyway. Coast into aid station with group and am surprised to see Stephen and Rob there, both with what look like mechanicals. Nobody needs water or food already surely. I stop and unjam my chain and an aid station volunteer holds bike and even gets his hands greasy to get me back on my chain ring. Parker puts some air in his tire and we are off the catch the group again. Was Rob still back fooling with his bike?
Catch the group and the whole front of the race is back together as we climb the relatively gentle route that only the 70mi course covers. Stephen, Parker, Erik, plus 3, plus me… 7. Where’s rob? Turns out Rob cut his tire pretty bad and it wouldn’t seal. The aid station gave him a plug and he was back in business. He was running really low pressure from what I saw earlier and paid for it with a rock getting up onto the delicate sidewall portion of the tire. He chased back up to us and settled in still on the climb heading out A Line road. About when he did Stephen fell back and stopped. Heard someone mention later he had a loose crank and he ended up having to stop a few times and finished a ways back from us despite riding very smooth and strong early. The next 10 miles was fun racing. Gentle climbs and flowing descents that allowed the group to ride “safe” even though we were still hammering in pace lines and jumping out of corners. Really fun. Came to the second aid station and was glad we decided to stop. I took a little too much sugar early in the ride and was having an upset stomach and a hard time keeping fluid coming in. Topped off my hydration mix bottle with water, jammed the second half of a bar in my mouth and we all got on the way pretty promptly. Hit a steep paved descent which ended in a sharp U Turn to rejoin the 50mi course. I made another rookie mistake and locked up my rear brake coming to a quick “whoa” which garnered some whoops and jeers from the other guys.
Then we started the B-1000 climb. My goodness. We all rode together the first mile or two but I had no choice to back off and stay within myself. Still 25 miles from finish, can’t bonk…yet. One other falls back a bit before I do so 5 up the road. The climb gets brutally steep, lots of 50mi riders walking. 36×30 was way too heavy, wished I had my 32, but instead just glad I was still moving with some illusion of pace. Climb goes on forever and views become incredible, I try to take them in but the physical situation at hand is getting dire. Finally get to the “top” and find my legs again on the false flats. See Parker and catch him and he jumps in behind. Tells me that Rob just killed the group on the steep climb but others seemed to stay somewhat close. We soon hit areas where snow was still on the sides of road and tracks without snow get narrow in some spots. We come across Tonkin and he slots in and I’m starting to wonder if he even cares or remembers we’re in a race. Later he tells me the other two chasing Rob were only a minute over the crest ahead of him but by the time he got there they were out of side so he just tooling around and even “checked out” a spur road off course before deciding to just sit up and wait for someone with a map. The three of us start down the steeper section of descent and it’s becoming clear this will likely be the group I finish in. My left leg is now very uncomfortable after going so hard so early and my arms are also very uncomfortable putting weight on the bars. Left foot going numb on the gravel so I am grateful for the sections of paved road but devastated then they end again.
One final rise that takes us between the main forest road we were descending and the paved finish stretch. Towards the top Parker keeps the pace high and I try and manage the gap between Erik and I. We rip the last steep descent and hit the pavement with a few seconds between each of us, me in the back. So thankful to have made it without any flats and I breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing it’s paved and slightly downhill all the way to the finish. I sweep up the guys quickly and push on just for the fun of it although both quads are threatening to cramp at even the slightest hint of effort. Erik and Parker take some pulls and I begin to wonder if 4th place is worth trying to make a move for. We make the turn towards the event venue and with a mile to go I decide it is, making as pitiful an attack through and off the front I can manage. Get a decent gap and I can see Erik putting in some effort but not making any progress. Try and settle into a good TT position but there is no fiber of my being that feels smooth. Parker is doing his own TT and catches on at a slight turn a few hundred meters out. I keep pace high but take the final turn onto the grass too wide. He comes by and we drag race to the mat. I’m able to almost pull back even but he takes it. 5th place overall. 4hrs 13 minutes… 5 minutes back from top 3 who also came in for a sprint finish between them.
Can’t help but feel slightly disappointed given the effort I’ve been putting in lately and that ultimately some better scheduled nutrition and a little more comfortable fit could have changed things. Ultimately happy to have kept the bike functioning and stayed with it mentally the entire 4 hours. I think 8k feet of elevation in 70 miles is always going to favor smaller riders and there just wasn’t enough of my kind of terrain for my strengths to help me enough. A brutal course to open the season with but encouraging given what’s ahead.