My love for climbing mountains on a bicycle was questionable at best. The only thing that kept me from stopping was that fact that it would be harder to start back up again. From the looks of it, you wouldn’t have thought it was about keeping momentum, but more a struggle not to fall over.
July 16, 2011. It was 5:30 a.m. as I sat in the hallway of our hotel eating my breakfast; I was trying the best I could to anticipate how today’s race would go. There was an all-star lineup of some of the nations top professional cyclists that would be gunning for the win today. It excited me. I was looking forward to the tactics that would be played out. To chasing attacks and putting in a few of my own and to the amount of climbing at elevation in the Tushar’s. From the week’s prior, I had good legs and some decent miles. I was sure about nutrition and the bike setup was clean and smooth. Everything was falling into place.
Tolbert and I pedaled from the hotel across town to the start line where hundreds of anxious cyclists gathered. Not much sizing up going on down there. Just some really good vibes mixed with nervous thoughts and bad jokes in hopes of keeping tensions light. After a quick racer meeting the call up began. Names like Jeff Louder, Tim Johnson, Tyler Wren and Tinker Juarez to name a few. I felt ready. Ready to ride with these guys and give everything I could because I wanted it badly. And before I knew it, the time was now.
As the neutral rollout began to leave the city of Beaver, the pace lifted and the attacks began. One second I was sitting comfortably in the pack and the next I was trying to bridge the gap that opened a few bike lengths ahead of me. I tried but couldn’t make it. I couldn’t believe what I just saw happen. How could I have let that go? I thought there was still hope though and with the help of a few others, maybe, just maybe we could bridge the gap. Within a mile or so, it was apparent that the lead group was riding much faster than the four of us. There went my race. Within the first three miles of a 69 mile race, mine felt over.
The four of us including Greg Gibson, pushed on and opened up some time on what was left of the group. At that time, I still felt okay and finally settled in. My goal now shifted to keeping a steady and strong pace and hopefully I could make up some lost ground over the next 55 miles. There was lots of climbing to be done and I was ready.
At about mile 25 just before the second feedzone, Thomas Cook who started two minutes behind our group, caught me. He was on the gas and riding really strong. I had been riding alone and didn’t realize that I was moving a bit slower than I’d like to. When Cook passed me I sprang up and jumped on his wheel. I expected to feel pretty crisp still, but realized I didn’t have much punch in the legs. Or was it the heart. My legs didn’t feel fatigued at all. Just nothing there telling them to go faster.
As the race progressed we dropped off what seemed to be the edge of the world and headed toward Circleville. Still feeling a bit low, I didn’t put much effort into the decent, hoping that I’d have something in the tank to climb back up. And that’s where the real hurt began.
Most “crushers” will attest that the climb back out of Circleville was a true test of grit in more ways than one. It was exposed, hot, windy and steep. It was there that my love for climbing mountains on a bicycle was in question. The only thing that kept me from stopping was that fact that it would be harder to start back up again. From the looks of it, you wouldn’t have thought it was about keeping momentum, but more a struggle not to fall over. By now my stomach was turning inside out and my desire to race bikes ever again was quickly fading away. My new goal was to make it to the final feedzone because I knew they’d have a cold Coke and a shady spot to sit.
I made it. I stopped and dropped my bike. Everyone in the feedzone came rushing to my aid. It was amazing. I asked for a Coke and within seconds, a cold one was in my hands. I could hardly get it open. I sat down in the dirt and slowly sipped what was probably the best Coke I’ve ever had. Not too long after I was there, Tolbert cam rolling in. His group of 30-39 year olds, started two minutes after ours. He was looking determined but was also nursing his second flat tire of the day. I think I cheered him on while he quickly replaced the tube. I decided to try and head out with him as well as Duff Johnson another Kuhl rider to see if it would help motivate me to finish. I gave it all I could and both of them ended up dropping me, on the DH. I had to laugh about that after. Tolbert looked strong though and was riding better and more confident that I’d ever seen him ride before. I was happy to see he and Duff ride away.
I continued slowly and eventually crossed the finish line. 69 miles, 10k+ of climbing in 5:34:58. Over an hour behind winner, Tyler Wren. I didn’t have much in me and I sort-of broke down. Not sure where that came from either.
The beauty of racing bikes isn’t found in winning, although that can be a very beautiful aspect. It’s about the personal battle that you make of it. The hard work and training you set a side. The time you dedicate in both physically and mentally preparing yourself. For some of us, it costs a lot of $. Thanks to the help of sponsors, that burden can be lightened significantly. There’s also a huge sacrifice behind the scenes that supports each racer. Family, friends, other athletes… Sometimes all the sacrafising can be a bit more than we can handle. Too much to carry up the mountains. For me, the past month or two have been a bit of a struggle. Lots of change happening with my own personal battle of stacking myself too thin. But the behind the scenes support never gave up on me. Friends and family were always there cheering me on. The beauty of racing bikes for me is discovered nearly every time I strap on a number plate. A new discovery of myself and the ones I care about most in life. Thank you very much for always being there.