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 ...

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