Saturday, September 22, 2018

Mavic Haute Route Rockies 2018: Stage 7 Woodland Park - Colorado Springs

Please consider a small donation to Team Type 1, the official charity partner for the Haute Route by visiting my fundraising page, no amount is too small.

Stage 7 (Last Stage):  Woodland Park - Colorado Springs (Pikes Peak)

56.7 miles
7,171 feet
High Point: 14,114 feet (Pikes Peak)

4 AM and wide awake for the last stage of the Haute Route Rockies 2018.  After 6 eventful days in the saddle I was only a 56.7 mile ride away from finishing the longest bike event I have ever participated in.  The 56.7 miles however would consist of 2 timed sections, the last of which would be the 12 mile climb to the top of Pikes Peak (14,114ft).

During training I had planned to join my coach and ride Pikes Peak.  Unfortunately things, as they often do, conspired against me and I never got the opportunity.   I really would have liked to have known what lay ahead, but it was too late now.  I would just have to make it up as I went along.

I was sitting 19th overall and 3rd in my age group and that in itself was beyond what I thought I could achieve going into day 1.  Now as I got ready for breakfast and the day ahead my thoughts turned to the task of defending my position.  I was tired and hurting but in surprisingly good spirits.  The plan was simple, find the numbers of the riders closest to me and mark them - what could possible go wrong.

I walked into the breakfast room at 5am.  Thankfully this time I knew exactly where to go, which was a good thing as I needed time to eat well before joining the team for the transfer to Woodland Park and the 8:15am start.  Despite my best efforts I was still the last to get to the team car thanks to the infernally slow lifts.

After a 2 hour (ish) transfer from Breckenridge we arrived in Woodland Park where we pilled out of the car and geared up.  At the start line I found myself separated from the Team Type 1 riders.  Looking around I saw faces of familiar strangers, those I had shared the road and journey with but had not met in person other than maybe a few words here and there.   I also saw fresh faces of riders joining for the day and ready to throw down on the big climb ahead.  I had time for a couple of quick pictures before the official count down.  Then we were on our way.

I felt pretty good as we approached the first timed section.  Now it is worth mentioning that the first timed section would take place on a private gravel road.  A short 2.7 mile climb to get everyone warmed up for the main event.  I had finally figured out where all my rivals where and I was diligently marking the rider closest to me in time.

Timed Section 1 +703 feet over 2.7 miles
High Point: 9600 feet |
Start: Mile 3.6
Finish: Mile 6.3

I should have been ready for the surge and in my defense I was.  I let them go whilst staying on my mark.  I figured out to late I had made a miscalculation, which is a fancy way of saying I screwed up.  I could see the riders ahead but the effort to bridge would be a big one.  I decided to limit my loses and conserve energy for the big climb to come.

I put the mistake behind me as the gravel extended past the end of the timed section giving me time to enjoy the scenery.  It was a great section of road and I was having fun.  The corners were loose gravel and decidedly sketchy.  I wondered why some were riding so hard and taking unnecessary risks before a big climb.  I put it down to a combination of last day enthusiasm, a passion to go fast or fresher legs than mine.  Whatever it was, I let them have at it, whilst I cruised.   It was therefore very sad to see a rider down and to learn later that he had been forced to abandon on the last stage.  I don't know his story but I felt for him and mentally wished him well.   After pulling over for a few pictures the road kicked up slightly and went from rideable to unrideable although it was fun to watch many try.  It made for some great pictures.  Once over the rise I was back on the bike and coming to the end of the gravel.   At the feed station I pulled up at the team car in great spirits. It had finally sunk in that I had one major climb to go and I knew I could make it.

Timed Section 2 - Pikes Peak +4756 feet over 12.2 miles
High Point: 14114 feet
Start: Mile 9.6
Finish: Mile 21.8

I was riding high, mentally and physically as I started into the last time section.  To keep my spirits high I cracked open a playlist on my phone which was mounted to my stem as I pushed on.   To start with the gradient was gradual and I felt really good.  I was able to lay down consistent power and make my way through the field.  I had no idea what lay ahead but for now things were going well.

I continued to climb well, catching riders that had left the feed station ahead of me.  Then gradually I noticed I was not closing the gap as quickly as I was before.   Then my progress stabilized but I was still laying down a good power number so I settled in.  At the 10K point and somewhere around 11,000ft things started to go wrong.   I was finding it harder to breath and both my heart rate and power dropped.  I tried to lift the effort but my body simply would
not respond.

It was not long before I was no longer spinning smoothly but starting to grind my way up the climb.  My power continued south and it was frustrating as I watched riders I had out-climbed ride by.  My body was simply not responding to the altitude.  Then as I rounded a corner and looked up my heart fell into my shoes.  The magnitude of the climb hit me like a hammer as I saw an imposing set of switch backs ahead of me.  Already suffering I knew things were going to get much worse before the climb was over.  I forced those thoughts out of my head and instead concentrated on turning the cranks, I would not let my mind abandon me even if my body was doing a good job of it.

I was digging into deep reserves and still the mountain had more to throw at me.  On the switch backs the road was exposed and each time I turned a corner it felt like I was riding into a 20mph head wind.  It took a force of will to hunker down and push on.

During planning I had been torn between a 11-30 or 11-32 cassette.   In the end, since I needed a new derailleur anyway, I went with the 11-32.  I can tell you that decision might have made all the difference.

I had no gears left and I was quite literally marking out the meters to the top.  I alternated between talking to myself and looking for the next meter to pass on my computer.  At last the wind dropped and the road leveled out a little.  For those of you who don't know Pikes Peak, this was just a false summit.  After a gradual descent the road kicks up again to the real summit.  Although I had gone from racing to surviving the change in gradient and drop in wind gave me a hint of a second wind.  I really mean a hint.  I changed into the big ring and turned the cranks to carry as much speed as I could over the easier section and into the final part of the climb.

In the stories this is where the hero finds a second wind and fly's up the last part of the climb.  I would love to say that happened, but alas in this story there was no second wind.  I had left everything on the road.  I gritted my teeth and ground my way slowly to the top, and the top could not come quick enough.  At last the finish was ahead of me and although it took what felt like forever to arrive, arrive it did and I was finally across the line.  I had done it, I had survived.  The racing was over, all I had to do was finish the day.  I crossed the line in 58th place losing 51:02 to the leaders and 2 places in my age group dropping from 3rd to 5th.  I did however defend, if defend is really the right word, 19th place in GC (General Classification).

At the top my good spirits returned and I hung out at the team car, ate and then got the camera out for some hard won pictures with my trusty steed, Blue.  As the wind chill started to kick in I headed down.  Sadly the descent was the most tedious one I have ever ridden.  I was stuck behind cars driving at 25mph forcing me to ride my brakes.  It was slow, cold and hard work.  In fact the complete opposite of what it should have been.  At one point I thought my rims were going to melt.  Later I would learn that others actually damaged there wheels.  Finally I reached the entrance to the park where Phil and Dan were waiting for the team to re-group.  It was good to see them and I pulled into the parking lot.

35 miles To Go

After 15 -20 minutes there was still no sign of the rest of the team.  The sun was shining but the warmth was not getting through.  Instead I was starting to shiver with the cold.  I hung in for a little longer but when a member of the team rolled in and announced they were going on I decided I needed to move, so leaving Phil and Dan I joined him.

I had nothing left in the tank, my backside was so, so sore and it was just now sinking in that I still had 35 miles left to ride.  On the up side we were going down hill and I was no longer forced to ride my brakes.  With the road pointing down I was able to carry speed, I unintentionally distanced my team mate and soon found myself riding solo.  I was simply trying to survive to the end as I watched the kilometers tick by.  The descent was so long that I started to hope against hope that it would be downhill all the way, and for a while it felt like it would.

The road started to level out just as I approached a rider ahead.  I rolled up on her and we chatted for a bit, she was a local one day rider and I was silently envious of how fresh she looked.  She told me I was in for a treat.  I asked why and she told me we would be riding through the Garden of the Gods.  There would be no we and it was a treat I would happily of forgone.  As the road pointed upwards I had nothing in the tank to stay with her, I simply let her ride away from me.

Now I know the Haute Route wanted to show off Colorado but I was in no condition to appreciate the scenery and the Garden of the Gods felt like torture.  I did stop to take a couple of pictures but in truth it marked the start of the death march to the line.  By this point I could barely sit on my saddle and every up hill section of road was punishing.  At last the finish was in sight.  I would like to say I felt a sense of achievement as I rolled through the finishing barriers but all I wanted to do was cross the line and get off my bike.  I am sure I was not the only one feeling like that and it would have been great if the Haute Route had a photographer at the end to make the final few feet more memorable.

Instead I was handed a medal, told where to get a T-Shirt and headed to the team tent to collapse in a chair and wait for the rest to arrive.  It was all a little anti-climatic as things quickly went into motion to have my bike broken down and packed ready for drop off.

I headed into the hotel to buy myself lunch which I ate at the bar by myself before heading to my room to catch up with Sarah.  She was very excited to hear from me and asked if I had a photo crossing the line.  Prompted by our conversation I went back to the finish line to get a photo.

Final Results

General Classification (GC):  19th (+180:06)
Age Group 45-54 (AG):          5th  (+112:20)

After Party

With my bike dropped off at Fed-Ex and my bags mostly packed it was time for the after party.  Jim my coach stopped by for a quick visit just before I boarded the bus to the party.  I had no expectations and was looking forward to it.  The venue was nice and the food was good, there were gluten and dairy free options for all courses except desert, not even fruit.  The rest of the evening however was disappointing.

It felt like a promotional event vs a celebration of an epic adventure.  The videos in my opinion did not capture the true essence of the event, they came across as polished promotional material lacking the raw effort and personal stories we had experienced.  We then went into the award ceremony where I was shocked at the decision by the organizers to recognize only the first place rider in each category.  I felt really sorry for the 2nd and 3rd place finishers.   For the most part professionals or ex professionals cleaned up all the awards and prizes leaving me feeling that there really should have been an elite category just for them.  With the award ceremony wrapped up the after party came to a close and I was not unhappy to hop a ride back to the hotel.


During the after party the cough that had been developing over the last few days finally took hold and I spent the night coughing and blowing my nose.  The experience was that of a high grade fever without the other symptoms and I was just a little worried.  I put it down to a form of  altitude sickness and took heart in the fact I was flying back to sea level the next day.  Back home the symptoms improved but took over a week to clear.   Maybe it was something else but I was happy to see the back of it.   It had been a real adventure with highs and lows but when all is said and done I was very proud of the achievement.

Would I do another one.  I really thought before I went that I would get hooked and want to do more. I certainly met a few serial participants.  Personally I am glad I did one but I would have to think hard or be persuaded before signing up for another one.  I simply did not feel as connected to the event in the way I thought I would be.

I trained hard for the event with the intent to race and do as well as I could.  I certainly learnt a lot about myself and made many mistakes along the way one of which literally lead to a pain in the butt.  With the Haute Route behind me it is now time to regroup and focus on the upcoming Cyclocross season.  Talk about a radical shift in training from long distance endurance to short duration threshold intensity.  Bring on the next adventure ...

Until Next Time MaxLifeOut and Keep It Rubber Side Down ...

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Mavic Haute Route Rockies 2018: Stage 6 Breckenridge - Breckenridge (The Queens Stage)

Please consider a small donation to Team Type 1, the official charity partner for the Haute Route by visiting my fundraising page, no amount is too small.

Stage 6 Breckenridge to Breckenridge - The Queen Stage

113.6 miles
11,178 feet of climbing
High Point 11,991 feet (Loveland Pass)

Stage Results

General Classification (GC):  19th (+136:47)
Age Group 45-54 (AG):          3rd  (+81:31)

The queen stage, is the name given to the most challenging stage of an event and the Haute Route Rockies 2018 queen stage was about to start and my nerves where on edge as I fought to control my emotions.  A few hours earlier my alarm went off at 4:30 am but I was already awake and ready to get a head start on the day.   What I did not know was that my well laid plans were about to go sideways starting with my kit which had been picked up from reception by the team to keep it safe and was now somewhere in the hotel and not at the team van.  The fun continued with incorrect directions to breakfast, not once but twice.  Then when I found breakfast I did not have time to eat properly before having to rush back to the van to find that my kit was still missing.  I was hoping from one foot to the other as calls went out for my kit.  When it finally arrived I tried to rush back to my room, yes I said tried as both the distance and speed of the lifts only served to heighten an already stressed out me.

Somehow despite all the delays I was at the start line on time.  I was not relaxed or composed but I was there and that was what mattered most.   The night before I had traveled in the slowest elevator in the world and met someone who was riding the stage as a one day event, so it was no surprise to see new riders at the start line.  I thought no more about it until after the stage when I was disappointed to learn hey were ranked along side those of us with 5 stages in our legs. 

Timed Section 1 - Loveland Pass +2464 feet over 8 miles
High point: 11991 feet |
Start: Mile 15.6
Finish: Mile 23.6

Rolling through the start line and into the first 15 miles of the day I was plagued with saddle sore.  I wish I could put into worlds just how uncomfortable I was, those of you who have had saddle sore will know what I am talking about.  I had fight not to let the pain mess with my head at the thought of the 113 miles that lay a head.  I told myself "you just have to get through the first few miles and it won't be so bad".  I was able to compartmentalize the pain. Yup, it can be done but it definitely took effort.   Over the last 5 days I had learnt a lot about how to ride the event and what my body was capable of but I also knew I had just scrapped the surface of what there was to learn.  The one lesson I was learning over and over again was "do not change your saddle unless you are absolutely 100% certain of the fit" and even then think twice.

To help with the discomfort I thought about what I would do in the first time section.  I would go with the leaders, that's the plan.  Right, that plan lasted until the start of the segment because once across the line an observer might have thought we were on the last climb of the day not the first.  I was playing the long game, I hoped, as I let them go and watched them ride away from me.

Despite meeting lots of new people and making a few new friends I was a little surprised and if I am honest disappointed that I was spending a great deal of time riding solo, even when in a pack.  I put it down to the fact that I was racing and also the nature of endurance riding.

I needed to ride smart and account for the accumulative fatigue as well as symptoms of altitude.   That said with the day stretching ahead of me I was in surprisingly high spirits which would have been even higher if my butt would quit hurting.  I had a gut feeling I could put in a good day and hoped that my gut was not lying to me.  It does that from time to time.  I finished the first time section in 31st place 9:47 down on the leader but only a minute or so off the pace of my main rivals.  One down, three to go.  We regrouped as a team at the feed station and joining a larger group we flew down the mountain to the start of the second segment.

Timed Section 2 - Guanella Pass +3030 feet over 10.1 miles
High point: 11670 feet
Start: Mile 40.6
Finish: Mile 50.7 

At mile 40.6 we crossed the timing gate and started the Guanella Pass climb.  I decided to stretched myself a little by raising my tempo.  Sadly looking back, I can't remember anything more than the effort and an image of tarmac or riders just ahead, which is a shame because I am sure the surroundings were epic.  I now understand when professionals say they don't see any of the scenery we see when we watch races like the Tour De France.  The reality on that climb was one pedal stroke after another as I  worked to squeeze a little more speed out.  Despite the increased effort I would later learn that the lead riders had out paced me.  I finished in 37th place 25:30 down from the leader and 7 minutes down on my rivals.   Two down and two to go.  I regrouped at the feed station and joined the pack to the next segment.  The bridging distance was 13 miles into a strong head wind and I was really grateful to be able to shelter in the group.  We passed through Leadville, the highest incorporated city and the second highest incorporated municipality in the United States and the home to Floyd Landis cannabis company,   

Timed Section 3 - Kenosha Pass +1383 feet / -466 feet over 10.9 miles  
High Point: 9997 feet 
Start: Mile 63.9 
Finish: Mile 74.8

Timed Section 3 to Kenosha Pass was an up and over segment where the advantage would be with a group over a solo rider.  I knew the key was going to be staying with the pack.   As we approach the time section I realized a little late that I had far to much clothing on.  The group was forced to slow into a T junction and I followed the queue of a team mate to take off my vest and arm warmers and hand them to a support car that appeared right with us.  It was a good decision but poorly timed.  As we where handing off our clothes the front of the pack started to accelerate into the timed section leaving the two of us gaped off of the back and having to chase hard to reconnect.  It was really frustrating as we had to bury ourselves to bridge the gap that suddenly appeared.  It was a gut busting chase as we shared the effort and dug really deep.  I knew that if I did not make contact I would bleed time and that was the inspiration I needed to grit my teeth and squeeze out the power to connect with the back of the pack.  With a last push we were on and able to sit in and recover a little.  The chase had put me in the red and the recovery was short lived as the pack pushed hard up the climb and I was again forced to dig deep into my reserves to stay with the pack.  My team mate was unhitched and as I saw him drop away I told myself "not far to the top, not far to the top, just a little longer" it hurt but I stayed with them.  The next section was a rolling decent were I was able to recover and then move up  to the front of the pack where Phil and Dan where changing off and driving the pace higher and higher.  The finish was gradually down hill to the line and I followed Phil as he pulled through to the front, Phil pulled off and I was leading the train when Dan launched a blistering attack. The group reacted and lifted the pace as riders rolled to the front.  This is were staying with the pack made all the difference as the collective speed increased as each rider lifted the pace either incrementally or as a result of an attack.  I crossed the line at high speed with the front of the pack finishing in 21st place and 9:52 down from the leaders and only a minute off of the pace of my rivals.  Hanging in with the pack had paid dividends. Three down and one to go.

We then had a 20 mile transition to the next feed station. It was along a major highway into a head wind whilst gaining altitude over rolling terrain.  Put simply it was a brutal and frankly unpleasant 20 miles of riding.  It was made even more unpleasant by the pace, a glance at my computer confirmed I was riding near or at my race pace.  I had no idea what the leaders were thinking but I forced myself and hung in with the pack for a few more miles before the surges up the rollers forced me to weigh up the benefits of shelter against burning energy I would need in the timed section to come.  I finally made the decision to fall away from the pack and conserve energy.  It was the right decision but it made the remainder of the ride to the feed station even more grim and scary.  Out of the shelter of the pack and with no support motor bike in sight big trucks came screaming past me so close I could feel the hairs on my arms stand up before I was sucked into the back draft.  I was very happy and relieved as I entered the town limits of South Park in one piece.   I just wanted to find the feed station and seeing a support car at the side of the road I stopped and asked.  He did not know and could not tell me how far as ironically his map was in miles whilst my queue sheet was in KM - go figure.  I gave up and followed the road.  Fortunately it was not long before I saw the station off of one of the side roads.

I  arrived minutes before the group I had dropped away from decided to move out together.  Phil said "are you coming" and I replied "you go on, I need a moment to eat and get ready".

Timed Section 4 - Hoosier Pass +1443 feet over 9.6 miles 
High Point: 11542 feet 
Start: Mile 93.4 
Finish: Mile 103 

After a few minutes I was ready to go, but there was no group to ride with.  I started out solo but then remembered that the first part of the timed section was flat into a gentle climb.  A group would travel much quicker than a solo rider and I was not about to make that mistake again.  I slowed down and stopped, waiting for a group of riders.  The problem was that most of the fast riders where now ahead of me.  After a short wait I saw a small group approaching, I am embarrassed to admit I was that rider that messed things up.   I was rolling far to slowly and the group piled up around me as I joined them earning me shouts and admonishments, of  "what the .... idiot", well you can guess what they might of shouted - it was totally justified.  Apologies made, we got over it quickly and crossed the line as a group.  As a small group there was going to be no free ride as we all had to take turns, I noticed that a few individuals where taking longer pulls than needed which was slowing us down.  A couple of well placed suggestions that were accepted without question and the group formed up into a rotating echelon.  I want to say right here that it was an Awesome echelon, in fact once of the best I have ridden in and I wish I could of shared that with the group.  Individually we might not have been the strongest riders but we carried good speed and style across the flat section.  Alas it would not last as the road started upwards the group started to crumble.  One rider attacked and invited me along but I declined the surge and stayed at a steady tempo allowing me to pull away from the others.  From there on out it was a solo ride and whilst I was emptying the tanks I was riding strongly.  Up the last section I had a rider on my wheel that gave me the encouragement to keep pushing the pace.  He lifted the pace towards the line and I matched it with the last reserves.  I had nothing left as I crossed the line in 29th place 11:07 behind the leaders.

The rest of the ride was mercifully down hill for most of the way and I can tell you I was ready to be done.  Why oh why was the last kicker to the finish line up hill and boy did it burn.  At last I was across the line and sitting with the team at the team tent.  A text from Sarah confirmed that my gut had not been wrong and the long game had paid off,  I had moved up 1 position on GC and into 3rd for my age group.  I was on the podium for the day and inwardly pretty stoked.

I was so tired I just needed to recover, I excused myself and headed to my room before the long, long, long walk for a massage, yes again I silently cursed the distance I needed to walk.  When I got on the massage table I told Tina "I might crash" and sure enough despite the deep massage I could not stop myself dosing in and out of sleep as she work her magic and the day out of my muscles.  With no time for a longer nap I got changed and headed to the rider briefing thinking at least today I will be on the podium even if it is just a picture.  So imagine my disappointment when on this of all days, the day I make the podium they decide not to recognize category leaders - I felt robbed and disappointed but I was simply too tired to do anything about it.  Looking back I should have said something after all it is hard enough to make a podium without it being ignored, I will never get that moment back again but hey I did it.

I joined the team for dinner but quickly realized that I was in no shape for socializing or the struggle to figure out what I could safely eat.  I was shattered after just spending under 9 hours in the saddle and I needed food and sleep without drama.  I decided to leave the team and get a take out from the place I found the night before.  It seemed such a simple plan as I left only to turn into another walking fest due to a transport mix up that left me walking back from the town center to the hotel which I can tell you sucked.  Back in my hotel room I would like to say I reflected on the highs and lows of the day but I simply ate and fell into bed after getting my gear ready for the morning.  Tomorrow was the last stage and I would be defending my 3rd place up Pikes Peak. 

Reflecting back on the day it was the longest and hardest day I have ridden to date and I was proud of the performance I put in, overcoming saddle sore, fatigue and altitude whilst riding smart over 8h:42m  and moving up in GC and moving into 3rd overall for my age group - Seriously though No Podium on the Queens Stage - What were they thinking!

Keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mavic Haute Route Rockies 2018: Stage 5 Avon to Breckenridge

Please consider a small donation to Team Type 1, the official charity partner for the Haute Route by visiting my fundraising page, no amount is too small.

Stage 5 Avon to Breckenridge

93.8 miles
8441 feet of climbing
High Point 11,318 feet

Stage Results

General Classification (GC):  20th (+87:22)
Age Group 45-54 (AG):          5th   (+51:37)

I woke up and ran a full body diagnostic, wiggled my feet, moved my head, lifted my arms, raised each leg and finally slid out of bed, yup I was in one piece.  Whats more I actually felt, dare I think it, good.  My Heart Rate Variability (HRV) reading was up and the app, in friendly words informed me I was ready to resume training.  All in all a good start despite a quite literal pain in my butt,  My saddle sore felt like Mt Vesuvius.   Still whilst I was not on a bike and standing up I could almost forget about it, almost.   

At 7:30am the race started with a police escort through Breckenridge.  There was time to settle in and get used to the pain as I sort to find the best position on the bike before the first timed section of the day.  That would be Tennessee Pass, starting at mile 10.3.  At the start of the timed section and climb it was no surprise to see the race brake apart.  Clearly I was not the only one feeling fresher after the time trial day.  As the lead riders rode away I slipped into a now familiar tempo as we headed upwards.  I wanted to do well but the next few days where firmly in the back of my mind.  They included the Queen stage and they would be hard and I would need to reserve energy.   I found myself riding solo pacing myself towards the riders ahead of me.  I was concentrating on my cadence as the medic on a motorbike came along side to check in with me.  "you doing alright" he said,  all I could think to say was "its a pain in the butt" and then nod as he moved on up the road.  It was nice of him to check up on me.

The strategy was holding and I slowly connected with and passed a number of groups on the road.  As we crested the first peak of the timed section I connected with a small group for the descent.  It contained one of the women riders and her groups coach.  He was providing both pacing and encouragement.  As we transition from the descent onto the next climb he marked the transition letting her know they were on the climb and for her to watch her pace.  I wont lie I felt a fleeting pang of envy at the support and then pushed on into the wind.  As I rounded a turn I could see another group just ahead.  I controlled the urge to lift my pace and close the gap, instead I pegged them just ahead of me without investing additional power and effort.  I crossed the line in 34th place 16:07 behind the leaders and less that 5 minutes behind my rivals.

At the feed station the TT1 team re-grouped and moved off together to cover the 10 miles to the next timed section at mile 37.1.  Timed Section 2, Turquoise Lake was 15 miles of rolling terrain and here I made my a big mistake.  Previous experience should have told me to wait for a group, instead still feeling a sense of well being and strength I rode into the timed section with only 2 other riders.  In a group I would have been able to shelter and make use of the velocity of a group whilst in a small group the effort was constant and punishing.  What's more the riders I was with were feeling stronger than me and I soon found myself having to drop back or risk going to far into the red, I would not recover.  Even though one of them was on my team we were not riding as a team and I was soon off the back and having to do all the work myself.  It was demoralizing to find myself isolated and I was frustrated with myself knowing I was giving away time due to a tactical error of my own making.  I could do nothing else other than measure out my effort.  The results confirmed what I already knew.  I finished the 2nd timed section in 76th place.  The only saving grace was that the time lose was not as bad as it could have been, 17:05 down on the leaders and more than 10 minutes to my rivals.  The cost in effort however was my biggest concern.

The distance between time section 2 and 3 was only 3 miles and I rejoined most the TT1 riders and a good size group still smarting from my mistake.  Timed Section 3, Fremont Pass was an up and over with a 10.5 mile climb and over 10 miles of descending.  I would not make the same mistake twice in one day.  The group started the timed section together and worked well as the pace was slowly lifted.  With around 3 miles to the summit stronger riders started to move to the front and push the pace  putting the group in difficulty.  In contrast to my earlier decision this time I raced smart.  I knew we had a long descent and both Phil and Dan were in our group.  Both are powerfully skilled and fast descender's and given the length of the descent I felt confident that controlled losses on the climb could be recovered over the top.

I had moved up to second in line when the rider ahead of me put in a small kick.  I did not respond, instead I maintained a hard but steady tempo.  The lead riders including one of our team members pulled away as I stayed on the front joined by Dan.  We kept the pace hard without blowing the group apart.  Later that night Phil texted me "Yo! You rode really really strong today and professional.  Kept a solid (hard) pace up the climb without blowing the group.  You impressed me today!"  that was high praise indeed and I let Phil know it meant a lot.  His reply was "Thank you man! You made the Jersey look good!".   By the time we reached the top the leaders were out of sight but the chase was on.

In quick succession Phil and Dan lifted the pace with others contributing to the overall speed of the group.  The descent was open and not technical lending itself to faster and faster speeds as each rider used the rider in front to propel themselves forward.  It was exhilarating and whats more the plan was paying off, the breakaway was in sight and we were closing fast.  In no time at all and to their surprise we had bridged the gap.  At the feed station Sean came up to me and said "How did you guys do that!", I told him I had a good feeling that as long as we did not give too much time away with riders like Phil and Dan we would have a good chance of bringing it back together.

All back together and screaming down the mountain we were approaching the end of the timed section which without a doubt would be a bunch sprint to the line.  As we approached the line I watched the riders ahead of me and started looking for position, at the speeds we were travelling positions were changing fast.  With 500 meters to go I slotted in around 4th place and waited.  It all came together as a rider accelerated on my left, I moved onto their wheel.  I was carried forward rapidly, it was now or never so I opened up and accelerated hard off of the wheel to take the bunch sprint on the line.  It felt awesome after such a hard day of racing and a personal victory after my earlier mistakes.  I would later learn that I finished the 3rd time section in 15th place overall 3:35 adrift from the leaders.

We stopped at the feed station to fully regroup then headed out to complete the last 17 miles to Breckenridge.  The ride took us on swooping downhill bike paths which was a lot of fun to ride..  It would have been even more fun if I was not feeling exhausted and my butt was not on fire, but the scenery was spectacular, that was until we exited the bike paths.  The last part of the ride was on road the went ever so slightly uphill.  It was a grind, and I spent the last few miles watching the wheel ahead and willing the distance to the finish to close.   Then just to run salt in the wound there was a last little kicker up to the finish.

Once across the line we gathered at the Team Type 1 tent and I gobbled up an energy bar and sat there listening to the arrival of riders and contemplating the day.  I was bone tired and wanted to get to my room and start the recovery.  I was 20th overall and 5th in my age group so I could not be too disappointed.  There was however still apart of me that wanted to give myself a slap upside the head  for the stupid decision in time section 2.

The downside of long days in the saddle is the lack of time to get a massage and nap before having to get ready for the rider briefing.  On this day I would soon discover it would be even more condensed.  Firstly the hotel we were staying at was a short walk away.  An easy walk if you had not just ridden 93.8 miles.  Once at the hotel I discovered I was on the 9th floor.  Not normally a problem but at this hotel getting to my room was to put it bluntly, a hike, requiring a long walk from reception to a slow lift that stopped on the 7th floor.  On the 7th floor there was another walk to a second elevator up to the 10th floor.  By the time I got to my room I just wanted to stop moving.  But no, then I got the text asking if I was ready for massage, I was, only to discover that Tina was in a completely different wing of the hotel requiring multiple elevator trips and a, you guessed it, long walk.

By the time I was done with massage and hiking around the hotel I had no time for a nap and resigned myself to getting to the rider briefing to be held in an outdoor tent attached to the hotel across the road.  Yup more walking.  It was obvious that I was not the only one tired as the turnout for the briefing looked considerably lighter.  Still tomorrow would be the Queen stage and I wanted to get all the news.  My butt on the other hand wanted me to stop sitting on a hard surface - like now.

Up until this point Team Type 1 had organized dinners but tonight there seemed to be some indecision.  Phil was staying at his place and others had decided to make their own plans.  I was hungry, no scratch that, I was really, really hungry but that was warring with being really, really tired.  I wanted food to magically appear so that I could eat and sleep.  It is amazing how poor your thinking and decision making muscle can be when you are tired and hungry.   Given the lack of dinner direction I thought I would be able to get food at the hotel and retire to my room.   Yeah like the universe was going to let that happen.

The plan fell apart immediately I got back to the hotel.  I was informed that the restaurant was closed because of some issue, staff, and some other excuse I can't remember.    Bottom line I would have to go into town to get food.

I found myself walking yet again as I worked my way into town to a restaurant I was hoping could cater for my diet.  Reception had neglected to tell me there was a hotel shuttle service when directing me, like that wouldn't of helped at all.  I found the restaurant and at last a break, I could eat the food.  I promptly ordered take out and on the way back to the hotel called Sarah to help pass the time as I walked back "UP HILL".  I can only think that the fatigue helped me avoid a melt down.

Once back in my room, I unceremoniously scoffed the food down before getting ready for the morning.  Normally I got my bike clothes and food ready so that things went smoothly in the morning.   With all that had gone on I realized I did not have my laundry back.   One of the nice things about riding with Team Type 1 in addition to the massage time and personal support was that our full kits were washed daily as opposed to once by the Haute Route and only allowing 2 items.  I texted and decided I would deal with it in the morning, that is how tired I was.  I got into bed, turned over and coughed, I then realized I had been coughing quite a bit but I had not paid attention to it. Phil had been coughing for a few days and so had a few other people.   I really hoped I just had a dry throat. 

I was just dropping off to sleep when the phone rang.   I reached over to hear the receptionist informing me they had my laundrey.  "Great" I said.  "I will pick them up in the morning" hung up and finally went to sleep.  It would be a monster day tomorrow.

MaxLifeOut and keep it RubberSide Down ....

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mavic Haute Route Rockies 2018: Stage 4 Avon Mountain Star Time Trial

Please consider a small donation to Team Type 1, the official charity partner for the Haute Route by visiting my fundraising page, no amount is too small.

Stage 4 Avon Mountain Star Time Trial

9.6 miles
1,898 feet of climbing
High point: 8546 feet

Stage Results

General Classification (GC):  18th (+51:56)
Age Group 45-54 (AG):          4th   (+30:05)

As nights went I had a good one only waking a half a dozen times in the night and using the time to drink water and stay hydrated.  Not having to get up at 4 am was certainly a bonus.  I had time for a good breakfast.  After breakfast I thought I would get a jump on the day by taking my bike to the Mavic service van.  It turned out that the start line was further from the hotel than I had anticipated,  but having already started I decided to continue even though I was not in my cycling clothes.

Sitting on the saddle, well simply sucked.  Every revolution of my legs resulted in a stabbing pain that I had to ignore.  When I got to the start line the Mavic team was just arriving.  I explained my discovery after the work they did yesterday and they asked me come back a half hour before my start time to look at it.  So much for getting it resolved early.  At least I knew where to go.

Back at the hotel I applied lots of cream to my saddle sore and got ready.  I wanted to give the Mavic team additional time to look at my wheel as my intuition was telling me it was not going to be a quick fix.  I arrived an hour early and handed over my bike.  After initial troubleshooting I was offered a spare wheel so that I could continue to warm up whilst they worked.

45 minutes later I checked in and the news was not good. Sometimes it sucks when your intuition is right.  The lead mechanic told me he had replaced everything that could be replaced and the problem still persisted.  I was told that the behavior was better but that the wheel needed to be returned under warranty.  They could lend me a spare wheel but it would not be tubeless.  I was surprised and mentioned that I thought they had the new wheels for testing.  They did but it was just my luck that they only had disc brake versions.  I really did not want to switch to tubes so I opt'ed to trust the improvement and modify my riding to accommodate the problem.  Thankfully the work that was done reduced the effect considerably and I was able to use the wheel for the remaining stages without the chain being thrown.  I was impressed by the support and the effort to resolve the problem, and it was backed up with contact details for the North American Mavic GM and assurance I would be taken care of.

With my wheel back on my bike it was fast approaching my start time and before I knew it I was up.  This was my second time ever on a TT ramp and it really was a cool feeling being held ready to go.  Up until I got on the ramp the riders were being sent out 15 seconds apart so I got ready expecting to go quickly when the marshal said "2 minutes to go".  I had a double take moment followed by a "What".  I had to reset myself as they decided to wait 2 minutes before sending out the last wave.  Great I thought, there goes my carrot to chase.   2 minutes later the starter said "Are you ready?", I nodded, I was counted down and with a solid push and I was off.  Time Trials get real quickly and with the adrenaline pumping I replayed my conversation with Jim (my coach).  Stick to the plan and tempo the climbs, I still had the biggest days of riding ahead.  
The start was a long slightly uphill straight.  It took time to adjust to the pain but I soon established a tempo,  putting the pain out of my mind allowing it to become part of the motion.  Left at the roundabout to shouts of encouragement from the police monitoring the coned off course and traffic.  Short climb, quick descent and onto the first major climb.   With riders leaving 15 seconds after me It was no surprise to be caught on the climb.  I had to put my ego aside and stick to the plan. I told myself "ride a hard tempo but do not bury yourself".   Over the top of the first climb and into a long fast descent.  I crested just behind Matt Busche and held pace out of his draft as we dropped into the last climb.  Matt powered away from me at the start of the climb as I settled back into my tempo.

Half way up the climb I started to increase power, lifting the pace to finish strong and limit any loses. I crossed the line tired but not empty, finishing the day in 30th place with a time of 43:13.20 which was 10:41 down on the leader.  I dropped 1 GC  place and defended my age group position of 4th.  When I reviewed my results I found that I lost 5:43 to Colby Pearce the former US hour record holder and leader of our age group.  Overall I was happy with my performance and my ability to stick to the plan.  Later I would learn that Matt Busche caught Phil Southerland who was minutes ahead of him but just before the line,  Phil always the showman hit the line with his arms in the air just ahead of Matt.  Phil tweeted the picture in good humor and it just goes to show pictures don't always tell the whole story.
I rode back to the hotel with the TT1 Team and then took advantage of the day by heading to the hotel, getting an early massage and falling asleep for the rest of the afternoon.  I know exciting stuff, but I really needed the rest and recovery.  After the rider briefing I was really grateful that the team had dinner plans at the Mexican restaurant in the hotel.  It was great to know that the restaurant could cater for my diet and that it was a really short trip back to my room for, you got it, an early night ready for another hard day in the saddle. 

Afterword:   Looking back on the day there where certainly highs and lows.  I was impressed by the help Mavic provided.  I received support from the lead mechanic and he left no stone un-turned in trying to resolve the issue.  When it was clear it was a warranty issue, he contacted his management and provided me with a contact to get the issue resolved once I got home.  It was great service and I am glad I received it.  Without the help I suspect diagnosing the problem via the bike shop and Mavic would have been difficult and very time consuming.

The TT from the ramp to the finish was a professional rider experience and one I really enjoyed.  There seemed to be Haute Route photographers everywhere but disappointingly that did not translate into pictures.  Surly it would not have taken much effort for every rider to be photographed both on and leaving the ramp and the finish but sadly that was not the case.  

Lastly I feel the need to comment on the prizes which for the most part were being swept up by the professional or ex professional riders.  I can't help feel that there should be an elite and non elite GC ranking where the pro's and ex-pros could compete against their peers whilst giving amateurs the ability to compete independently but still compare there times to the elite riders.  At the end of the day it is the amateur riders that fund the Haute Route and I was starting to feel that more could be done to recognize them.

Keep It Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut ...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Mavic Haute Route Rockies 2018: Stage 3 Winter Park to Avon

Please consider a small donation to Team Type 1, the official charity partner for the Haute Route by visiting my fundraising page, no amount is too small.

Stage 3 Winter Park to Avon

94.8 miles
6,751 feet of climbing
High Point 8,913 feet

Stage Results

General Classification (GC):  17th (+41:15)
Age Group 45-54 (AG):          4th   (+24:22)

Thankfully a 8 am start gave me a little longer to recover overnight from the exhaustion and cold of stage 2.  I woke up feeling a little groggy.  I should mention that my morning routine is to take my Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and then Weigh myself.  I was not surprised to discover that my HRV was down after stage 2.  It was good to be aware of my nervous system and although I would not be backing off for another 5 days, I resolved to try to address the need for recovery .   I then focused on getting ready for the day ahead.   The fact that my power meter was not working was playing on my mind since it worked flawlessly during stage 1 after replacing the battery.   The only thing I could think was that the battery provided might have expired.  It seemed a long shot but I met up with Ben the TT1 mechanic and we changed the battery.  A quick ride around the car park and to my great relief (I may or may not have punched the air) the power meter popped into life.  Ben mentioned seeing a little water inside the battery housing so as a precaution we taped the battery door closed to protect it.

My limited impression of Winter Park was one of a small purpose built ski resort.  The hotel was rustic and not somewhere that left me with the desire to return although the place will forever be remembered.  I am sure it is much more scenic in the winter and to be fair I did not do any sight seeing.  The hotel breakfast was limited with scrambled eggs I could not eat (not dairy free), when I asked for plain eggs they told me I could order them but it was too early for the kitchen.  With the kitchen opening around the time we would be starting it was going to be a limited breakfast supplemented with bike food.

When we arrived at the start line we received official confirmation that Stage 2 had be neutralized and all riders were required to get a second transponder fitted to there bikes for timing going forward.

The effort to fit new transponders meant that we left a little later than the scheduled 8am start.  The first timed section would start at mile 6.5, a short ride distance yes, but I had not factored in that we would be going downhill from Winter Park.  Once again I was under dressed and soon found myself shivering as we descended in the chill morning air.  Fortunately it did not take long and soon we turned left and into the first timed section where all thoughts of cold vanished in the heat of competition.

The group was all together as we hit the gravel and I found myself near the front with the race leaders.  In my morning talking to, I had told myself that I would ease into the day and feel out how my body was doing. 

That plan went out the window as I found myself reacting to a sudden surge in the group.  I was now hanging onto the back of the fastest riders in the field and we were moving.  A small gap appeared as one of the riders ahead folded, I heard encouragement from a team mate to go with them and I redoubled my effort and closed the gap.   I knew I could not afford to maintain the power I was putting out but held on for just a little longer.   Finally I had to make the decision to let them go or pay dearly for the effort.  I unhitched with a good lead on the rest of the field and focused on getting to the finish.  The last part of the 14.7 mile segment was a short but brutal up hill climb to the line.  I could see others weaving across the gravel just to maintain momentum as I fought and weaved my way to the line, finishing 17th and 4:24 down from the leader of the race.

Regrouping at the feed station I took on fuel and joined the main group to cover the 23 miles to the next timed section.  I sheltered in the pack and tried to recover at the feed station before timed section 2,  a 10.1 mile rolling gravel segment.

When we arrived organizers held all the riders to ensure the road ahead was clear.  It was an opportunity to take in the scenery and to meet Matthew (Matt) Busche and ex pro and all round nice guy with seriously wicked hair.  He may be retired but boy did he pass me like I was standing still.

I thought the group might ride together with the  GC contenders attacking once a rhythm had been established.  I was wrong.  It might have been different if the group had started together but everyone left in a staggered formation which meant a group needed to form.  My strategy was to wait for the train and jump on.  Well it would have been a good strategy if it had worked but right from the line the group exploded as everyone went full gas.  It was an unorganized mess and I found myself isolated and chasing as riders all around me buried themselves or went backwards.  I eyeballed my power meter and knew I had to establish a steady state pace and ignore the mellay around me.  Getting myself under control and riding within myself I slowly joined up with a small group of riders.  Over the next few miles the group swelled as individuals joined and as a group we brought back others.  Soon we become the second group on the road.  Mission accomplished I was in a strong group.

The rolling terrain comprised of short hard climbs and fun fast swooping gravel descents.  The importance of being in a group on rolling terrain was driven home as the group dynamic moved us far quicker than solo riders.  The climbs were not steep enough to negate drafting and in the descents the rolling surges accelerated the group to faster and faster speeds thanks largely to Phil and Dan's enthusiasm to go as fast as possible down hill.   We picked up strong riders who had been tailed off of the lead group and forced to ride solo.  The group stayed together pushing each other along.  Climbing the second to last hill Will announced to the rider pulling "you know I am here to Help".  Will is a tour lead and strong.  He took over the lead and the rider he was helping asked him to ease up as he un-intentionally applied pressure and almost split the group early.

With 5K to go I found myself off the front having created a small gap on a fast descent.  It was down hill and I felt good but I reigned in the urge to attack.  I knew the group would move faster than me and I did not have the strength to crush the last climb without committing far more than I wanted to.  I cruised until the group picked me up and slipped into rotation.  Right at the end of the section the trail kicked up into a nasty little climb.  The group slowly picked up speed as the strong riders looked to shed the others.  With 1K to go I was holding with the group, I felt strong and considered my options.  With 500 meters I decided I would try an attack, I kicked hard and put space between myself and the others, I held the attack to the line finishing 14th and reclaiming a few seconds and a little bit of self pride after taking a pounding yesterday.  On retrospect it was not a sensible move.  The time gains were minimal and the energy cost high.  As my coach was drilling into me, at altitude you do not recover like you do at sea level, once you go into the red it is hard if not impossible to recover.  I spent matches I should have kept for later.

The 3rd and final timed section "Walcott Climb" was just 2 miles away and preceded by the last feed station.  It would be a climb followed by a long descent covering a total of 10.1 miles.  I joined the group at the start of the climb and  they immediately went hard.  It had been a good day of racing and I had to considered the pro's and con's of going with them.  I gritted my teeth and decided to stick with the plan of pacing the climbs. It was still only stage 3 after all.  I still found it hard to be sensible but my training kicked in and I settled into a hard but steady pace.  Once over the top I shifted gears and started to drive for the line, I could have used Phil and Dan's help on that descent, but alas I was once again solo .  I dropped into a tuck and hammered down hill,  I caught a couple of riders on the long descent.

I might have recovered more time but my mind was rudely jarred to a problem I thought had been resolved.  At around 50 mph I dropped into a tuck when there was a violent jarring and my chain dismounted.  The chain then wrapped around my crank as I went to drive down on the peddles to pickup more speed.  This all happened in those moments between time and it almost resulted in a high speed wipeout as the back wheel jived.  Fortunately I snapped the bike back into line and was forced to appraise the situation. 

The problem had been present in my Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon UST wheels from new.  I had been told the solution was to run them in.  Well they should have been well and truly run in by now.  I was now facing a dilemma.  My cranks were locked up and I needed to either stop and remount the chain or carry as much rolling speed as possible.  I decided to tuck and use the speed I had.  A few minutes later I could see the road flattening out and I knew I would need to pedal.  With no choice I pulled over and remounted the chain.  As I restarted I went to shift and to my horror nothing happened.  I was stuck in a 50/11 with little gradient and worst of all a slight up hill to the end of the segment.

I had no choice but to grind out the gear, losing momentum and speed with every pedal stroke.  I crawled across the timing line and stopped.  I had a whole raft of emotions warring inside me.  I was frustrated, angry, tired and confused.

Once across the line I sent an SOS to Team Type 1 for mechanical support.   Just past the line the marshal came over and started to look at my bike.  He pulled back my brake hoods to check the Di2 connection, unplugged and plugged in my rear derailleur Di2 cable and pushed and pulled at the cage.    Suddenly there was movement and the rear derailleur started to work.  I did not not question it further but thanked the marshal and remounted to limp into the last feed station.  As I got going a Mavic Support Motor bike sent by Team Type 1 joined me.  He called out "I will watch your back" and followed me to the feed station.  I was frustrated and concerned that I would not make the rest of the ride, however for now everything was operational and Ben the Team Type 1 mechanic could not see any further issues, promising to look at the bike at the finish.

Putting the frustration aside I joined the lead group to finish the last 14 miles of the day.  It was great to hang with and arrive in Avon in the lead group. 

It seemed the drama of the day before was in the past with a new mechanical drama unfolding.  To add insult to injury I was developing a very uncomfortable saddle sore but at that point it was the least of my worries.  On the up side I got to hang out with the race leader on the way to Avon.  At the finish line I took my bike to the Mavic service team to look at the wheel.  I demonstrated the problem and explained what had happened along with the history of the wheel.  They told me to leave the bike with them.  When I picked it up I was told it was a new design and needed to be greased properly.   They assured me it had been fixed and I headed to my room.

Later I would learn that the rear derailleur has a fail safe mode that stops operation in the event of an accident.  The violent nature of the chain dismount triggered the fail safe.  The marshal had unknowingly reset the rear derailleur by pushing and pulling on it.

After a welcome massage and nap I was ready for the rider briefing and dinner.   But first there was the small an insignificant matter of a boil forming in the crease of leg in a location very few except your loved ones and medical staff are willing to explore.  Fortunately the medical team was willing to make a house call and the prognoses was a ruptured sore.  It seemed like all my careful planning was coming apart.  I had gone through bike and saddle fitting only to get my very first saddle sore of my life on stage 3.  I was prescribed both oral antibiotics and antibiotic cream to fight the wound internally and externally with the reassuring advice that it was going to hurt like a [fill in the blank] until I stopped riding on it.  Oh Joy.

At the briefing Amber kindly went to the pharmacy to pick up my medication whilst we sat through the recognition of the top three leaders in the GC and each age group.  It still amazed me that all the riders received was a photo in front of the Mavic Haute Route banner, I felt they could have at least provided a small medal or something to acknowledge the achievement for each stage, the presenter even announced them as bronze, silver and gold medal winners.   Anyway the briefing then outlined the Time Trial for Stage 4 and the order riders would leave in.

My wheel  however was top of mind as the presenter outlined a fast descent between two climbs.  Then I looked on the board and discovered I would be the first rider in the last wave with all of the fastest riders behind me.   For many the Time Trial day was going to be a recovery day.  Not for me, sitting in 4th in my age group I would have to race to hold my position.  At least it would not be a super early morning. 

As I walked to the restaurant with Tina the events of the day were playing on my mind and how the situation with my rear wheel could have been disastrous.   At the restaurant I was asked about my day and I was surprised by the thoughtless jokes about my wheel.  Being tired, hungry and worried I was in no mood for joviality on a subject that could have put me in hospital.  I was also unhappy as I had decided to test my wheel earlier and found that Mavic had not resolved the problem.  So in summary I was not in the best state of mind to hear jokes when I needed help and answers.

Oh well at least I would eat well, or so I thought.  The final blow of the day was to discover that despite being assured that the restaurant would cater for my diet I was informed by the waiter there was nothing on the menu I could eat.  I was speechless, tired and hungry and I had expended energy walking to a place that could not feed me.  I found I was surprisingly calm (or possible dangerously calm) as I excused myself and left to find food elsewhere.

Fortunately I was able to defuse myself (helped by being dog tired) on the walk back at the hotel where the hostess of the Western hotel restaurant was a breath of fresh air.  She helped me with my order ensuring it was gluten, dairy and preservative free.  The taco's were great and with a full stomach I was able to relax.

Putting the high's and lows behind me I made a mental note to visit the Mavic Service team ahead of tomorrows race and do my best in Stage 4 as I pulled the covers over me to embrace sleep and much needed recovery.

Keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut ....

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mavic Haute Route Rockies 2018: Stage 2 Boulder to Winter Park (Post Race)

As you probably gathered I gave up posting during the event.  I simply did not have the energy or time to create a new post after each stage.  Rather than stress about providing content I decided to share the experience afterwards.  It has taken me a little while to post as I had to recover from altitude sickness that hit the evening of the last stage.

Please consider a small donation to Team Type 1, the official charity partner for the Haute Route by visiting my fundraising page, no amount is too small.

Stage 2 Boulder to Winter Park

89.3 miles
12,173 feet of climbing
High Point 11,297 feet (Berthoud Pass)

Stage Results

General Classification (GC):  22nd (+16:11)
Age Group 45-54 (AG):          4th   (+12:09)

At 4:30 am I was up before the alarm ready for a 5 am breakfast and a 7 am start.  I am not a morning person and I neglected to train for early morning starts and I knew they were going to get old quickly.   The start line was buzzing and the sun was shining as everyone prepared for what was going to be a big day in the saddle.

Inside track:  An advantage of being part of Team Type 1 is that Phil knows, or is known by most, if not all of the organizers and ex-professional riders in the event.  That is not to say they are not approachable, just that it made introductions easier.

It was after one such Phil conversation that I met Colby Pearce (former US hour record holder) and snagged a couple of selfies.  In stage 1 Colby established himself as the leader in the 45-54 age group and was sitting 8th in the GC.

At 7 am the peloton rolled though Boulder  with a police escort.  It would be a short warm up with the first timed section and climb (Sugerloaf) starting at mile 5.7.  With grades exceeding 15% we would climb to the summit, descend for a short section then climb again to the finish at mile 15.8.  As I looked down at my Garmin I was frustrated to see a blank power reading.  My power meter problems were persisting and I would have to ride the day without it, even though I was using it re-actively due to the altitude it was still a mental blow.  I would have to rely on my heart rate as a guide.

I was learning that timed sections make for very interesting race dynamics.  Racers seemed to hit the first time section hard giving you the choice to either go with them and potentially over commit, or ride your own pace and lose contact with the main group.  With three sections I opted for my own pace and soon found myself working my way through riders as I paced the climb.  Later I would discover I completed time section 1 in 39th place, 17:49 down from the race leader but only 4 minutes off of my rivals.

At the feed station the team re-grouped and moved out with a larger group to share the effort over the 9 miles to the second timed section at mile 24.1.  The second timed section would be a mix of climbing, descending and gravel, over rolling terrain.  The start of the section came after a descent where I found myself out in front of our group with a few other riders at the base of the first climb.  I felt comfortable and sat in to share the work.  We pulled away building up a lead when I stood up in the saddle and my chain snapped.  It took me a second to register what had happened and then my heart sunk.  My chain was wrapped around the bottom bracket and I was going nowhere.   When I finally unwrapped my chain I discovered that the speed link had failed.  There is a first time for everything but really at the start of a timed section, did it really have to fail now, apparently the answer was yes.

The main group soon came by and with luck the Mavic support car was right behind them.  I was losing time but my hopes lifted when I saw the Mavic car.  He pulled over and came to help.  I told him what had happened and he took my bike.  In retrospect I should have taken some pictures as it would turn out that I had plenty of time.  I was however metaphorically hopping from one foot to the other.  I was really grateful that I had support but the support was taking a painfully long time as the mechanic rummaged around in his box for a speed link then to my horror struggled to connect the chain.  I could see that the link was not seated properly as he continued to try to force it to lock.  I finally had to point out the problem and then seated the link myself.  It locked and he took the bike and spun the chain on.  I thought "that's it, I am off",  within a couple of peddle strokes something was wrong, the grinding sound was a dead giveaway.  Stopping I discovered the chain had been run behind the front derailleur.  I had to break the chain, re-thread and re-join it.  I had lost somewhere in the region of 10 to 20 minutes in one go.  Finally I was back up and riding and feeling a whole lot of pressure to ride hard to limit my loses.

Without the support of a group I put my head down and ride solo, the scenery was a blur as I focused on the effort.  Soon  I was turning off the road and onto gravel where I redoubled my effort to claw back time.  By the time I reached the end of the section I knew I had committed a significant amount of effort.  I finished the section in 56th place, 31:04 down from the race leader and losing around 14 minutes to my main rivals.

From the feed station we had a 23.5 mile ride to the final timed section of the day.  The climb to the summit of Berthoud Pass and the high point for the day at 11,297 feet.  We rode as a small group as the weather started to turn.  With the first drops of rain we pulled over to put on jackets, which was a good decision, before long it was not only raining, it was hailing.  The weather remained changeable as we continued on.  After the effort in time section 2 I knew I needed to recover and allowed myself to yo-yo off of the back of the group as they pushed harder than I wanted to ride.  The trade off was a lack of shelter but I needed to conserve energy.  As we approached the feed station at the base of the climb I was joined by another rider and a Colorado native.  He said there was a storm front coming and we were in for "some special Colorado weather."  I had no idea what that meant but it did not sound good.

As soon as we arrived at the feed station there was confusion.  We were told that due to the weather timed section 3 had been neutralized and that the day was over.  Team members started to get changed and pack up their bikes.  A police officer confirmed the situation and I stopped my Garmin and prepared to get changed.  What we did not know was the ramification of not finishing the last time section.  Then someone said they were checking with the Haute Route officials.  Then it got even crazier.  The official word from the Haute Route was that the road was clear and the timing section open.  The police officer was shaking his head and reiterated, it was a bad idea and riders should finish here.  We were caught between the risk of weather and being told the timing section was open.  If we wanted to complete the race we had to ride.  Fortunately I had packed some warmer clothing in my sag bag and after pulling on knee warmers, thin glove liners and my rain jacket I headed to the start of the last timed section of the day.

As I hit the start of the 12.7 mile climb I had no idea what was ahead, had I known I would have packed up at the feed station and called it good.  The climb was not steep, but it was long and high.  It was not long before the altitude started to sap what strength I had left after an already crazy day.   As I got higher, I started to fight a sick sensation in my stomach and head forcing me to ease up on the power.  Then about 3/4 of the way up it started to snow, then the wind picked up and it became driving snow reducing visibility and making for a surreal experience.  Head down, I was managing my body and focused on getting to the top.  After what felt like forever I finally crossed the line but the weather and altitude had exacted a cost.  I had arrived in 64th place, 38:14 down on the leaders and losing almost 20 minutes to my rivals.  I would not know the times until much later.  As I reached the summit in the driving snow my only thought was to finish the stage.  One of the Team Type 1 crew said "do you want to go on?" followed by "Phil went on and is just ahead of you",   In my exhausted and altitude befuddled mind the only option was to go on and finish.  I shouted into the wind and snow "I will go on".  Boy was that a stupid decision.

Let's recap the conditions (picture by Rupert Waterhouse as the weather closed in).  Driving snow with temperatures well below freezing. Visibility a few feet ahead and road conditions treacherous.  I had nothing on my head other than my helmet with lots of air vents, thin glove liners, rain jacket, short sleeve jersey, shorts and knee warmers, oh and toe warmers over my shoes.  I was not exactly prepared for the conditions I now found myself in.

As I started the decent, snow drove into my face and helmet simultaneously freezing my head and blinding me.  My eyes felt like they were freezing and I had to clear the snow from my glasses to see.  The faster I went the worse my head froze forcing me to ride my brakes to both stay safe and try to reduce the cold.  It was a losing battle as sensation in my hands was almost gone.  I considered pulling over but with no shelter on the side of the road I feared freezing whilst waiting for help.  Instead I held on to my brakes feathering them as best I could.   The cold was so painful and I felt waves of sickness.  Then things took a more worrying turn as my vision started to tunnel threatening a potential black out.  I shook my head and focused on staying conscious, I chanted to myself  "stay up, stay up, stay up".  I knew if I could stay together a little longer the temperature would increase as I lost altitude.  I just had to stay upright and conscious, then I felt it, slightly warmer air, it washed over me like hope and I knew then I could hold on to the finish.

As I crossed the finish line the announcer called out "another Team Type 1 rider is in", but my scrambled mind barely registered the words.  I heard someone say "lets get you warm" then someone else lead me to an underground garage.  The words and the result were very different.  I was left freezing cold and confused.  What the official had done was lead me to the Haute Route bag drop.  Had they taken a moment to appraise my condition they might have really helped and limited what happened next.  My bag was not there it was with Team Type 1.   I looked around like a dummy for a few minutes trying to figure out where I was and what to do when I saw Phil's bike outside a cafe across from me.  I used it as a beacon, put my bike next to it and headed inside.  Phil, looked at me and said something like "you too", I just nodded and sat down at a table.  I was so, so, so cold.  I just sat there in cold, wet clothes and started to shake.  The shaking increased and was so violent I could not think, speak or control my body.  My bag arrived and somehow I forced myself out of my wet gear and into dry clothes but the shaking got worse.  The riders at the table were trying to look after me.  They got me a tea and hot soup but I could not hold them for shaking, I could not think straight, all I could do was shake.  I was really grateful for the support and help.  After what felt like ages I was able to get some hot tea and a little soup down.  The shaking continued all the way to the team car and back to the hotel.   I ran a hot bath, then crawled into bed and fell into a fitful sleep for a couple of hours, skipping the riders briefing for the next day before dinner.

In retrospect I was very, very lucky, things could have gone horribly wrong in so many ways. Ironically the Haute Route decided to neutralize the entire stage due to timing issues and what I can only assume to be mixed messaging as some riders where neutralized before the climb.  The neutralization would go in my favor with regard to the timing.  Although I finished 32nd I had lost considerable time due to a broken chain and adverse weather conditions.  I had gone far deeper than planned and the aftermath of the cold and shaking had taken a considerable toll on my body.  How I would perform in stage 3 would depend on my recovery and that meant sleep.

Afterword:  Looking back on the events of that day and how the Haute Route managed the messaging left me with a very mixed feeling.
By neutralizing the stage the effort and advantage built up by some was completely washed away.  In addition the effort expended was in some cases unequal and some might say unfair going forward.  I both benefited and suffered as a result of the stage.  My time loss was wiped away but conversely I raced hard expending a great deal of energy for nothing.   More concerning to me was the poor judgement call on behalf of the organization and the decision to go against the advice of the local police officer who's appraisal of the situation was completely accurate.  In hindsight I feel they could have aired on the side of caution.  Thankfully no one was harmed but that could so easily have been a different story as I later learnt my experience was not unique.  Things happen and hindsight is 20/20 vision and whilst different decisions might have been possible I want to believe decisions were made to give riders the opportunity to compete and finish.  What I found disappointing was how the Haute Route managed the decisions and outcomes after the fact.  They behaved as though it simply did not happen.  The Stage 2 video contained no reference to/or mention of the weather conditions.  No photographs where shown and to all intense and purpose the stage was all blue sky's and clear riding.  When someone pointed this out in the rider meeting there was nervous laughter and a quick change of subject.  In my opinion this was disrespectful to the riders that had pushed through and overcome extreme conditions regardless of whether they should have been put in that position or not.  I know the day will forever be etched in my memory as one of my most epic and grueling days of riding, as I am sure it will be for many others.

Keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut ....