Thursday, August 16, 2018

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

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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

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