I have been very slack about getting the details of the race I promised up. No more, here they are written up for your reading pleasure. If you are thinking about doing this race next year, DO IT!
It all started with a 4:45 am alarm going off and me jumping out of bed to look outside to see if it was still raining. It was raining and a nice 38 degrees outside. The first thing I noticed was the nice size puddles still in the parking lot. I quickly got dressed and headed down to the hotel lobby to get some breakfast for my big day ahead. I quickly ate among the other racers and families staying at the hotel and got back to the room to get dressed in the clothes I had laid out the night before. Knee warmers, bib shorts, base layer / sleeveless, short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, sleeveless wind vest and long fingered gloves. I was dressing for a spring ride even though it was summer and even though it felt like winter outside. Welcome to Leadville I thought.
I put on a winter stocking cap underneath my helmet and pulled a very large rain coat over my camelback. My pockets had 10 or so gel packs, 2 packs of cliff shots, and 4 cliff bars. 100 oz camelback and a 20 oz water bottle on the bike with Gatorade was all the liquid I started with. I rode a cold, wet 1 ½ miles down the hill to the start area. My rear tire was a little low on air so I stopped and asked a guy using a pump if I could borrow it after he was done and he said sure.
I rode to the intersection of 6th and Harrison streets. There were already a bunch of folks lined up at the start and it was only 5:20 am or so, and the race start was not till 6:30am. I managed to get a place about the second half of the intersection near the outside and got checked in by a race official. I made sure to save room for both the David’s. Shortly after I got there, I saw David Phelgar and called him over. We both were wearing our Cycles de Oro kits. Both with the wrong years wind vest over top. We chatted about the weather and the fresh snow that was visible on the mountain tops near us. Then Anna found us, snapped some pictures and gave us words of encouragement.
There was already a lot of media around, but the helicopter coming at us with the camera nose mounted gave away that this was a really big race, with Lance Armstrong involved. It felt really cool being in a race with him and so many other top pros that you read about in magazines and on websites. I handed my heavy rain jacket to Anna and took off my stocking cap. I gave her one more kiss for luck, and then she took off to get some pictures from the front. I wished David good luck one last time, and then counted down with the race announcer. We are off. David disappeared so fast, moving up in the crowd without effort it seamed. I tried to hold his wheel, but the mass of cyclist shifted and moved so much it was impossible. The start was go fast, then stop, go fast, stop, then all the sudden the group was really moving. I saw 28mph on my GPS. We are really moving down the paved road all downhill. A beautiful rainbow on the horizon, oh that is so cool I thought. What I should have thought was, rainbow means rain up ahead. I warming up everywhere good, but my hands are getting colder and numb.
We crossed the railroad tracks and jumped off the paved road and started on the dirt road. Over a cattle grate and I heard someone blow a tire, BAM! Then someone is yelling for help for a downed rider, a woman lying in a ditch with several riders around her. Around the next bend and a huge cow is in the road, causing everyone to laugh, because we all felt like cattle in that crowd, being herded up the mountain. The next 5 miles is the first climb and riders are stretched 3 and 4 wide across the track at this point. It finally slows down so much the hike a bike starts and I am walking up the mountain with the big mass of riders all around me. I get to the top of St. Kevin after the riders start to break up on the climb and I can ride again. The walk was not that far, but it felt like wasted time. I blew through the first aid station as Anna was not meeting me there and its only 11 miles into a long race. Down the paved road again, now it starts to pour rain on me. I really am moving in this section, but getting good and cold. At least the traffic is opening up and I can go at my pace. Next the up and over Sugarloaf pass. Good grind, not to hard, but helping me warm up.
After a few more tough miles I reach the Powerline aid station. It was hard getting here it seams, my body fighting off the cold and not responding well. I see Anna on the right side of the course just before the race supported aid station; I pull out to see her and ask for a few supplies. I jump back in and take off to head over to the top of powerline.
The decent is steep and wet; the clay like mud is flying all over me and the bike. It’s so bad that I can’t see my GPS because the screen keeps getting covered. I make it all the way down, cross the creek and onto the paved road. This section is going by fast. I feel like I am finally getting going and warmed up. I race through the twin lakes, Anna is not waiting for me there, thank goodness because it’s a full on three ring circus. People everywhere, I can’t even tell what is an official aid station or personal aid station for people. The whole way thru I am trying to be really careful and not get taken out by all the people on the road. This is probably only a fraction of what a Tour De France racer feels like on those mountain tops, but it is really scary and cool at the same time. Everyone yelling out at you and cheering you on, it really gave me a rush. Another surreal moment in this section was when I was crossing the damn. Lance Armstrong was coming at me directly in my path. He was flying and he had a motorcycle following behind with a camera man on back. About 15 ft from me; he jumped to his right and flew past. He was on mile 60 something and I was on mile 40 something. After the race through twin lakes with no stops I kept going looking for the new aid station on the other side of a ranch where we cruised through new single track that was pretty cool. I saw Anna and had to signal to her, she was shocked I had gotten to that point so fast. I did feel good at this point, but knew I had a lot to go. I told her I loved her and took off to climb the biggest climb.
I started at around 9,400 feet and began the climb up Columbine Mine with a top out of 12,600 feet. The grade is not that bad, very good, gravel / dirt road with tons and tons of switchbacks for the first 8 miles or so up uphill. I settled into a pace I felt I could hold and climbed up and up. Watching lots of racers fly past, scanning them all for David Phelgar. Right before the tree line, I saw that familiar Cycles de Oro kit and yelled out, “Go Dave!” I heard a shout back. Next comes the really nasty part of the climb, very rocky and rutted. On and off the bike again and again, passing a few along the way and trying to stay out of the way of people flying down the other side. I watched a guy lose control and fly down the slope about 25 yards off trail, he finally got stopped and hiked back up. Then there I was, pulling into the Columbine Mine aid station at 12,600 feet with a 360 degree view. I was all business and handed over my camelback to be refilled, bottle too. They gave me a cup of hot soup and a PBJ sandwich. I ate fast and took off. I was very windy and snowing a little at this point.
The downhill was very fast. The first 2 miles above tree line was really challenging, with all the rocks and ruts and bikers still coming up on one side. Then I got to the nice grade gravel road section and was flying. I just let the bike go as fast as it could peddling a little when it started to get flat. I took a few corners a little too fast and almost wiped out a few times, but overall was very happy with the way this section went. Soon I was back with Anna in the aid station at the bottom, I gave her a quick kiss and told her I did not need anything, I knew time was pressing, so I told her just to go to the finish line and not worry about any more aid stations, if I needed anything I would just get it from the race support and with that I was off. Back thought the next little section and back at the crazy crowd at twin lakes. The crowd had died down here a bit, but I just hammered thru on my way to the bottom of powerline. The rolling mix getting over there was no problem I felt like my power was holding well.
Powerline on the other hand was waiting for me. Powerline going back is starting out at 9,400 feet and climbing back up to 11,100 feet in less than 3 miles. I crossed the creek on the bridge again and shifted to my easiest gear seeing the very steep, rutted hill before me. I tried, but did not have the power to stay on the bike, so I jumped off and began the push up the hill. False summit after false summit toyed with me. This is the part of the course that really plays with your head. You think that the next top you can see has to be the true top of the mountain, but no, there is another that pops into view as soon as you crest it. You get to ride for a few minutes and then it’s back to the hike a bike. At this point I was really feeling the brand new mountain bike shoes I had never worn except for this race. My right heel felt as if it had no more skin. I just pushed on. I was so happy to get to the top and back on the bike. I was happy with the nice flat fast section back to the powerline aid station, where I grabbed a coke and kept rolling.
A very fast paved descent led me back down to the paved climb back up St. Kevin. All I remember about this part of the course was doing my best to climb at my limit to stay on track, I pretty much rolled thru the last aid station here, with a volunteer telling me to push and the time was getting really tight. The downhill began back on the dirt and this was a really fun section. I was letting it fly, passing a few riders in this section. I watched as the numbers on my GPS were getting closer and closer to 100. Back over the cattle guard and onto the pavement that was supposed to take me to Leadville. But wait, I noticed my GPS was now showing 100 miles, I asked the guy next to me about it and he replied “no it’s like 105 miles total.” With 20 minutes to go, I was now growing concerned about missing the 12 hour cut. I put it into the big ring and put my head down and really started digging deep to push myself hard. The next surprise to me at least is that we are going a different way to the finish from this point in. A rolling dirt road called the boulevard. I wanted this bad. I kept thinking about how it would be to do all the training I had done all year, all that missed time with Anna and I could not let it go down without accomplishing what I wanted to do. I was not going to let that happen. Every time I felt myself ease up, I would shift down harder and push to keep the pace up. After getting off the dirt road, people were starting to appear on the side of the road, cheering us on, telling us it was just over the next hill. It was tight, so I pushed harder.
One last pitch up a paved road, I dug deep and pushed myself over it as hard as I could. Then I saw the finish line. Oh how sweet that sight was. I knew I had it and started to get really excited, but instead of sitting up, I put the bike in the hardest gear I could and gave up all the rest of the energy I had. I told myself that I was going to get it all and that way I could be proud of what I did, knowing nothing was held back. I loved hearing all those folks all the way to the line, yelling, telling me I had done it. I rolled up the red carpet they had laid out and just felt so happy. Anna came bursting thru the crowd after hearing the announcer call my name and gave me a huge hug just after a volunteer put the metal around my neck and told me congratulations. 11:56 was my official time, I had done it. Anna snapped some pictures of me at the line and helped me off my bike. Dave and Wendy appeared and helped me as well. I sat down on the grass and started to get really cold really fast. Dave and Wendy helped get my bike back to the hotel, while Anna helped me back to the car. A 2 hour hot shower got my temp back to normal and Anna went and got us food and a celebratory beer.