I’ve raced the Steamboat Stinger since its inception in 2011; since the first year I was racing Mountain Bikes in Colorado. It wasn’t intentional, but it’s become the only race to stand the test of time. It’s become a yardstick for where I am in the year, where I am in the world, where I am in racing.
Each year can be measured by a different atmosphere; in 2011, I was a fresh new member of Epic Endurance Cycling; we were kindly invited to stay at the house of Brian Sells, a teammate who opened his doors to a collective of 15 or more people. We ate well and enjoyed the views from his house overlooking Cow Creek on the western edge of town. I was new to mountain bike racing, and I was performing on enthusiasm alone.
When 2012 rolled around, I was now an established rider with the Epic Endurance posse, and we had a great relaxed evening with a very similar group of people; 15 of us in one apartment, getting excited and nervous at the same time filling bottles and listening to each others stories of success and failure.
As it turned out, the 2012 Stinger ended in failure for me. I snapped my chain after making a silly mistake, and then spent the next hour chasing frantically, which led to my final mistake. A blown corner put a branch through my spokes, and my race came to a very sudden halt. I wanted to be back again to prove that 6th place in 2011 wasn’t just a factor of a weak first-year field.
If the condo in 2012 was excited anticipation, 2013 would have been summarised as relaxed comfort. Christa contacted some friends from her previous life as a ski racer, and they generously welcomed us to their house at the last minute. Amy Harris and Chip Coe went out of their way to make us, almost complete strangers, feel entirely relaxed. We sat around after dinner on the sofa and talked, eating chocolate and generally ignoring the fact we’d be up at 5:30 the next morning to race. Amy, a mountain biker herself, imparted all of her local knowledge, and offered to hand us bottles during the race too.
The race started as hard as a cross country; rubbing elbows and close passes. As if everyone momentarily forgot that we had another four hours of dancing before the music stopped and the final positions were decided. In the previous two editions of the race, I’d been dangling off the back of the enthusiastic pace setter, wondering whether I’d see my breakfast again before the top of the hill. This year was different, as I was the one setting the pace. A brief confirmatory look over my shoulder revealed plenty of people in the position I’d been in before, and by the top of the climb it was a small group of five left standing.
Eventually it was my turn to get popped off the lead pace. I was reassured that I was the second to last person to get dropped, but from the moment the gap opened up in my front of me, I was riding scared. It was no longer about catching the person in front, but fleeing from the imagined demons of a full field of riders behind me. Around every switchback I heard tyres on the ground behind me, and pedalled a little harder out of the corners. Glimpses of second place through the trees in front were reassurance that I couldn’t be going that slowly. Legs twinging with the onset of cramp, a pedalled over the final demoralising rollers towards the finish, unable to stop myself looking over my shoulder at the empty trail behind me. That ranks up there with one of the better feelings.
I finished 26 minutes faster than my 2011 time, and faster than than the winner of either of the last two races. Most importantly for me, though, was riding four hours with no mistakes, no drama, and no panic. I’m going to aim for all my races from now on to be a little more controlled, and a little more organised.