Tunnel vision. The constant focus is burning my eyeballs as fleeting images of the trail flash past. The corners continue to hit me, one after another.
Barely time to breathe, let alone drink or eat or look around. I know the mountains beyond the hill I’m currently descending are beautiful.
I know the Aspen glades and scrub oak lining the trail are providing the perfect shade for abundant wildflowers of all colours.
But I cant look. I can’t take my eyes off the trail in front of me. My ears pop as gravity is shed. My legs begin to tire. Not from pedalling, but from the forces exerted to muscle my bike around the next corner.
Finesse has gone, four hours of racing has removed the delicate and smooth style I aim to ride with, and I’m left here battle against my bike to hang on. Just a little bit further.
Huge tall meadow grass swallows either side of the trail. Over 6 foot high, the grass makes each corner blind. Slightly cross eyed from sprinting up the biting little hills, I fly around the bend on feel and instinct as much as control and sight. A lapped rider scrambles out the way barely in time; I fly by, a blur of sweaty muddy achy body and bike – I would have said thank you if the mental or physical ability to talk remained within me. That was lost a while ago. Jersey unzipped, I carene into the finish area and skit across the gravel to cross the line. Four hours and thirty-four minutes after starting the Steamboat Stinger, I’m done. I cruise to a stop, debating whether dismounting my bike will cause my legs to cramp. Eventually I succeed in crawling into the shade where I sit down, rehydrate and relax. A good day in the saddle: today I rode myself out of a rut, of the mental kind.
Ruts aren’t always bad. Before this year, I’d never given serious thought to the distinction between Endurance racing and normal cross country. I thought of those longer, independent races as less serious and potentially poorer in competition. Starting off the season on a team solely focussed on these longer races made me re-evaluate things, and signing up to race the Growler back in May, I realised I’d be standing on the start line with some of the fastest racers in Colorado.
I finished 8th at the Growler, and was hugely satisfied with a good position and a strong finish. Later in the season, in Crested Butte I’d got the hang of racing for four hours, and finished the Wildflower rush feeling strong in 8th position. Slightly dissatisfied, I looked back on the race and realised I still had a long way to go before I would be standing on the podium. More familiar territory in Winter Park, I was bitterly disappointed to finish 8th in a race that should have suited me perfectly; short, technical and mostly downhill. Fitness or skill wasn’t an issue here, but simply racing clever – an hour and a half race flew by and I finished with enough energy to race again.
So this weekend I wanted to do better. The Steamboat Stinger was new, and with the majority of the leaders racing on unknown territory I thought I could stick up at the front and maybe get a podium. My goal, however, was anything but eighth.
As I was hanging onto the lead group for dear life , legs twinging and lungs bursting, I wished I had started a little bit slower.
As I was caught and passed by the second group at the beginning of lap two, my legs cramping and breathing ragged, I wished I’d soft pedalled off the start line.
Coming onto the last climb, though, something kicked in, and determination flew back into my legs. My fatigue addled brain calculated that I was lying in 8th place, and I just couldn’t let that happen. The fact I was actually in 9th didn’t become apparent until the finish line!
Jerseys began to flash through the trees ahead of me. Each pedal stroke was calculated to avoid cramp, and slowly I picked off the riders: Black and Yellow, White, Orange. Careening down towards steamboat for the last time, riding scared from the local I’d just overtaken, I stopped caring about position, results or time. I was riding fast and strong and it was satisfying.
Steamboat is a very interesting place, somewhere I’ll be returning to, and the perfect venue for some serious Mountain bike racing.
Thankyou to Katie O’Block for making use of my Camera and taking some Beautiful photos