Today’s stage was shorter than the previous four. It wasn’t without it’s challenges, though…
We actually didn’t do that first little bump at the beginning. Something about permits and insurance & whatnot for where the course was to be routed. Instead, we started at a ski resort at the base of the Breckenridge ski hill. With the changes to the course, the start would take us briefly across the hill before hitting a wide singletrack, rooty/rocky trail and beginning the ~2000ft climb to the top over Wheeler Pass. Without much room for sorting of racers, the promoter opted to start us in waves. I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind the order of waves after the Open Men, but the singlespeed women ended up in the last wave.
As I mentioned in my previous report, I was starting to feel good.
We were on the gas from the gun. As soon as we were on the trail, Jen (the woman leading the GC and winner of stages 1-4) took off up the climb, and I kept pace. We hit race traffic almost immediately. Most people did their best to move as quickly as possible, but sometimes it meant taking a rough/punchy line instead of a smoother one (Pleeeeeeeease don’t throw me in the briar patch). I was able to get around Jen when she spun out on a root (I think). I had a decent gap up the remainder of the trail until we made it to a service road. At that point, she had caught up to me and motored ahead up the road. I tried to chase, but ended up popping and nearly having to stop.
Once I regained my composure, I began getting back into a rhythm and grinding my way up the hill. I eventually made it to the next piece of singletrack that would eventually lead up and over the pass. It was periodic riding/hiking that eventually turned into a long hike-a-bike. I could see Jen waaaay in the distance, but as I continued, it seemed like the gap was getting smaller. I was hiking as hard as I possibly could and riding at every feasible spot. I imagine you’d get a similar feeling if you were trying to use a lightweight flyrod to catch a giant tuna.
As we neared the top, we raced almost all the way through the open women’s field (who had started several minutes ahead of us). I passed Jen and ended up one rider/hiker back from Open class leader Amanda Carey. Amanda took off down the mountain- a super fast, sketchy as hell descent-followed by a couple of guys. I regained my composure (again), mounted my bike, and followed. I know from geeking out with Strava that I could get a solid lead on Jen if I descended well.
I can say now that I’m a little terrified of descents from the high passes. The steep, treeless landscape totally screws with my head and makes it seem like someone has taken my field of vision and rotated it 45 degrees. Everything actually went well until I made it into the trees. At that point, there are periodic rocky sections, and the trail is bench cut. Somehow, as I negotiated some rocks, my bike and I were ejected from the trail. I flew through a really scratchy shrub and belly flopped onto a rock. It bruised my hip/belly and split my knee open. It hurt like hell, but I peeled myself out of the bushes and made haste before I lost more time.
Once I was at the bottom, It was onto a local paved bike path- A.K.A. Singlespeeder purgatory.
The path goes on for several miles at a slight downgrade. I spun/coasted repeatedly and tucked down as tightly as possible all the way to Frisco, where the trail turned off and led to the final push up the Peaks Trail back into Breck. The Peaks Trail reminds me a lot of Syllamo- short climbs, some kinda steep, with lots of rocks (it has lots of roots, too, which isn’t really a Syllamo thing, but they ride pretty similarly). It is, quite possibly, my most favorite trail of the entire race. I had no idea if Jen was making up time on me, so I attacked it with everything that I had left.
I ended up being the 2nd female finisher overall (5 minutes behind Amanda Carey). Winning means gaining a little time (11 minutes or so?) on Jen. Not nearly enough to make a difference in the GC, but days like today are the ones I’ve trained for. This is why I spend hours beating the pavement in 100 degree heat or sweating intervals out on the trainer.