The rain washed quickly up the valley. From the east, clouds lowered until the Gore Range was no longer visible above Vail. The Aspens lining the course began to shake as the rain fell, and everyone retreated to the safety of the lodge. The GoPro games wasn’t looking promising. The rain had come in about half an hour before the start of our race. Sad faces abounded. The pine clad mountain dirt would soak in the moisture well though, leaving the perfect course for the race
To my disappointment, the rain eased. I wanted a mud race. Racers emerged onto the start line. Crowds appeared too. The GoPro games attracts 50,000 people to Vail over the weekend, with many people watching a bike race for the first time. Perhaps it was a good thing the rain let up. I lined up second row. I tried to squeeze onto the front row, but got shut down by Steve Tilford – a ex-pro who REALLY wanted to stand next to Todd Wells. With such a steep sustained climb on each lap, I wasn’t too worried, and when he missed his pedal on the start line I managed to get around him and start racing. The lap was seven miles long; a very steep dirt road climb from the base area gained us just over 1000 feet, followed by a sustained swoopy descent in the Aspens with lots of man-made turns and jumps, and then a series of four smaller climbs – each gaining about 100 feet in elevation to finish you off entirely. Three laps.
I started cautiously. Knowing the pace would be set by Howard Grotts – all 120 pounds of him – I didn’t think it sensible to follow. I settled into about 16-18th place, trying to settle to nerves from riding far back. It paid off though, and I quickly started passing people without getting out of the saddle. Legs were burning, and I started to regret running the 36t chainring… a couple of extra gears would have been really nice on the opening climb. By the top of the first climb I’d settled into a group with Ben Sonntag and Mitch Hoke. We cruised into the descent to find muddy roots and slick turns. I was in heaven. Everything was unpredictable. I had my foot out in most of the berms, remembering what it’s like when neither of your tyres are doing what you tell them too.
Unfortunately by lap two the sun had come out enough that the mud was gone, but in its place was tacky dirt. Ripping fast mistake-proof dirt. With no more advantage to be gained going down, the race returned to its pure climbing focus. By lap three I was hurting, but with no one around I rode on at my own pace, trying to make myself hurt with the vain hope that someone might make a mistake up ahead. I didn’t gain on anyone, but I didn’t crack either. I finished in 7th place. two places better than last year in a similar field.
It’s been a while since I’ve started and finished a race without hope of winning. It sounds a little defeatist, but as I step up a little in competition I’m going to have to play races smarter, rather than just suffering from the gun. Howard Grotts and Keagan Swenson are both true World class talents, and they also have the hard-earned benefit of being full time. With only Alex Grant in front of me having a job (he’s got a baby too – I really have no excuses), I have to work a little bit harder to get the results I’m looking for. As I approach Missoula, I know I’m climbing well, descending well and have my head in a good place. Lining up at the back of the field (Yay UCI points) is going to be a big mental battle for me, but I think I have the strength to move up well and not let it get the better of me.
Planning is now turning to the later season races. July 4th in Breckenridge for the Firecracker 50, July 11th in Boston for the Boston Rebellion ProXCT, and then July 25th in Wisconsin for the WORS cup ProXCT. Excited to travel to some new places!