Today’s course for day three of the Steamboat Springs Stage Race was a road course held on quiet country just north of Steamboat. Fifty five miles along on an out and back filled with rollers and a finish line on the last long climb of the day lay ahead. For the Pro Men 1/2 a small out and back detour was added to give them an extra 15 miles to cover. All I can say is that I’m glad I only had 55 miles to cover. Read more after the break, (sorry pics will have to wait as we’ve had a slight camera and computer malfunction.)The Cat. 4 race didn’t start until noon and that was just enough time to allow the wind to pick up. Being on roads in the open plains we all knew it was going to get ugly. The first miles were a neutral roll out along dirt roads, then once we hit the pavement the racing was on.
A few guys attacked but go nowhere and we really rolled steadily along. I did a bit of work up front but also rode in the pack to conserve energy. I kept an eye out on a few guys that were close to me on the G.C. but other than that I just followed wheels.
At around the 25 mile mark (the out and back course was 30 miles out, only 25 back to avoid finishing on dirt) the leader on the G.C. took a flyer and was gone. It turns out this guy was an alternate for the U.S. Nordic Combined Team and actually raced on a relay in the Olympics. We let him go but unlike yesterday when he took off never to be seen again this time we kept him in sight.
As we neared the turn around and feed zone the gap was only 15 seconds or so. Then all hell broke loose. I got to the inside to get my drinks from my wife (thanks!) but a guy in front half-heartedly threw his water bottle and it stayed on the road. I practically had to come to stop, but I was right in front of my wife so I grabbed my stuff and went.
Up the road was a disorganized group trying to bridge up to the leader and I knew I had to latch on. Two guys were on their own and were just about to latch on while another group of three was going for it as well. I tried to latch on to the group of three ahead but could only come within ten yards. The three up front stayed away while the second group didn’t make it to them, but they did form their own group and were also gone. With those two groups containing one rider only 30 seconds back and another only 40 seconds back I knew my spot on the G.C. had just gone up the road.
I looked back to see a pack of six or so coming up so I soft pedaled and latched on as they came by. At this time I thought we could still bridge to the second group of three, but I was really hurting. The effort to bridge after the feed zone disaster and then another hard effort that didn’t pay off had stung me bad. I knew it was going to be a long 25 miles to the finish.
Then disaster hit again. I was at the back of our group of six when suddenly the young rider in front of me touched wheels with the rider in front of him and he hit the deck. I slammed on my brakes, unclipped and basically rode over his front wheel. Thankfully we had just crested a roller and were in a major headwind so we were only doing about 10 M.P.H. I clipped back in and saw the group was only ten seconds up. At this point I knew if I didn’t get back on I was done. Not the “I finished but am way back now” sort of done, I mean the “put me in the broomwagon, I’m spent type of done”. The only thing that saved was the rider behind me that motioned for me to come up on his hip, sheltering me from the wind. We rode steady and I yelled at the group ahead to slow down and let us catch back on. They didn’t really slow, but they didn’t accelerate either. We made it back on without too much effort, but I was hurting.
All I could do was follow wheels and even that was hard at times. My hamstrings started to cramp up again to make this bad situation worse. I honestly thought of pulling over and being done with it. The only thing that saved me was the entire group was feeling ragged so we rode together, not wanting to drop anyone. If anyone had put the slightest attack in I would not have even tried to go, I would have stopped pedaling.
Of course this was about the same time my hamstrings decided to start cramping. The next five miles I spent pedaling through legs that twinged and stiffened with every revolution. The wind was now more in our favor, but it was still a cross wind. We got a good echelon going and no one tried to get away. In fact, guys were slowing down and making sure no one was dropped on the small climbs we faced.
This allowed me to get in more fluids and energy bites to fight my cramps. I had spiked my PowerBar drink with some coconut water to get more electrolytes in and it helped big time. My legs started to come to the good which was a huge boost to my motivation. I had weathered the worst of it and was still hanging on. I knew I was going to lose my 3rd place overall, but I wasn’t going to just cruise in.
We rolled steadily for the next 20 miles or so but as we came into the last two miles we would face two long climbs to the finish. At this point it was understood that it was every man for himself. This was fine with me because I felt I could out climb the other riders.
As we hit the bottom of the first climb, which was the longer of the two, I kept the pace high and quickly it was down to three of us. The rider that was only one second back fell off, but the other one, only 18 seconds back was right there. We kept the pace steady with no one really taking a dig.
After a quick descent it was time for the last climb. This one was about 3/4 of a mile long, steady and open. Again the pace was steady, no one wanted to go too early. Then for some reason I decided to grab my water bottle to dump it over my head. We were about 500m from the line and the rider that was going for my G.C. spot hit the gas.
I uttered a profanity, shoved the bottle in the cage and set out to pin him back. It didn’t happen and I ended up crossing the line in 8th place. I quickly grabbed some recovery fluids and went for an easy spin.
I slid back to 5th overall, the rider that pipped me at the line is still behind me only eight seconds back now. So tomorrow’s crit race will be interesting. We are a minute behind 4th, and 7th is a minute back so he and I will be fighting for 5th and 6th. The difference is $20 in cash, so it’s more than just pride on the line.