I took a chance today, and it didn’t pay off. That’s bikes racing for you. Todays stage was the shortest of the week at 28 miles, but also mentally one of the hardest. From the gun, climbing was the order of the day. Wheeler Pass loomed above the start line, and as soon as the gun went off, the hammers dropped and we were racing.
The climb from Breckenridge at 2800m to the top of Wheeler at 3810m would have been bad enough, without the added frustration of the lead group taking a wrong turn within the first two miles. For once, I had decided that I needed to go hard from the gun to be in contention going over the pass, so I pushed myself into lactic acid and stayed in 8th place, following the leaders for half a mile in the wrong direction. Although the time lost wasn’t massive, the traffic we encountered in moving back up through the field of riders, which hadn’t yet spread out, was horrendous. My main rival in the GC, Nick Truitt (Yeti/Fox) was lucky enough to make the right turn, and from then on I was in chase mode. The agonisingly steep climb on single-track had everyone off their bikes and hiking, and the slow speed meant that I could see the whole race playing out in front of me up the climb. I’m good at mustering anger energy, and it kept me chasing hard, even though I felt like my lungs were going to jump out of my chest and punch me in the face! I could see Kevin Kane (Rocky Mountain), the local boy wonder, just ahead of me, and cresting the top of the climb I stuck to his wheel and held on for dear life as we flew the 1100m down through loose rocky narrow single-track to Copper ski resort.
Coming onto the toughest section of the day (6 miles of paved and only-just-downhill bike path) I was 15 seconds back on Kevin, and try as I might, I just couldn’t quite bridge the gap. The last section of the day is the peaks trail. If ridden from Breckenridge to Frisco, this trail is a lovely fun rooty rocky 10 mile downhill. Of course, we were riding the opposite direction. Coming onto the trail, I could see Kevin ahead, and a group of 3 had formed behind me and were chasing hard. I turned myself inside up the first climb, and it seemed to pay off: I could still see Kevin’s yellow shoes dancing away ahead of me, and although the occasional glance back showed some people chasing, I didn’t get caught for a long time. That may have been the worst part though: knowing people are chasing me meant that I dug really deep, and when Travis Brown cruised by me with 3 miles to go, I stuck to his back wheel and suffered some more. Something about racing with a mountain bike legend such as Travis made me really want to beat him. I remember seeing Travis on TV in the Sydney Olympics, so riding with him was pretty cool. What was even cooler, however, was sprinting past him with 200m to go and crossing the line in 6th place, just a few seconds adrift from Kevin.
Unfortunately for me GC, I lost time to both Nick, and Colin, who were just ahead of me yesterday on GC. I’m hoping that, even though I’ve lost some time, I can still hold onto 9th place in the GC.
Tomorrow is the final stage. Its billed as a fast and short, grin inducing end to the week. I have a feeling that the top ten will see this as a chance to make some attacks and crack a few people. I will be really happy to hold my position and finish strong. Fingers crossed the legs will agree in the morning.