So I can climb. I guess. Today started off rainy: we staged through intermittent cloudbursts at the registration building. This was to be the "road stage" - meaning fireroads, jeep trails, some highway (!) and one dirty, dirty whore of a trail called "fisherman" or something. My goal for today was to hang with the leaders as long as I could and try to make up for the miserable day I had yesterday.
My feet were (are) in rough shape, and I tried taping them. Rebecca (Rusch) found this completely unacceptable and broke out the most comprehensive kit of tapes, bandages, gauze and some other first aid effects I could not even identify. She gave me these amazing fake skin blister cover things and some very robust tape to cover them with. That was very awesome of her. Feet wrapped up like a Japanese teenager, I rode over to the start house.
The beginning of the race was a "neutral" climb up sand hill road, "neutral" clearly meaning "go as fast as the pace car". By the end of the neutral section, we had established a lead group of 20 or so riders. I was, surprisingly, in this group. Through the singletrack and up another climb, I actually moved up a bunch of places and was riding with a Cannondale factory team rider. Holy crap, Im 8 spots behind Jeramiah and not totally dying. There was another fast descent, and I passed the Cannondale guy.
And thats where my plan started to unravel.
Mike (or was it Ray) yelled "Mike, you have a flat!!" I was about to yell "quit messing with me, ya jerk" when I discovered that there was in fact no kind and loving god AND my tire was indeed flat. Wow. Everyone got to pass me again, but at least this time I flatted right next to a bunch of the organizers who were really nice about helping me fix it. This time the culprit was a thorn I must have picked up when I was trying to be a hero on that descent. Nice.
Another 40 mile time trial.
And the climbing! Jesus H. Floyd Mayweather Christ such climbing. I knew there was exactly zero chance of catching back up to the leaders, but my real goal of the day was to make up time from yesterday. So I climbed in one gear bigger than I wanted, and descended like a damn fool. I was drifting through corners on open roads hoping that there wouldnt be a pickup truck filled with rednecks approaching at 50 miles an hour. That was the funny part though - I swear we climbed more than we descended today. Like we were racing inside an MC Escher painting, the road went up, and up, then turned right, then went up, and up; I was literally swearing at the gravel - insulting its color, size and distribution on the trail (though toward the end of the race, the swearing had devolved into completely inarticulate yelling).
I was passing folks quickly at first: very moralizing. After about 25 minutes of balls-out chasing I came upon (or perhaps created, Im too fried to remember) a group of fellow stragglers. We made a decent attempt at a paceline, but (again surprisingly) I dropped them on the climb. I was chasing one Alec Petro, who spurned our invitation to get on the Transylvania Pain Train. He dangled just out of reach for literally 30 miles, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away; he finished just before me. Sometime around now I passed a horse and buggy.
I did, however, pick up Selene Yeager, who is an absolute monster on the climbs. She had at least 10 minutes on the nest best female racer at this point, and was consolidating what was going to be a commanding stage win. She took my wheel on the descent (I have no idea why, lord knows I wouldnt trust me flying around blind corners at 40 miles an hour) and we pulled into "the fisherman" or whatever they are calling Hell in this part of Pennsylvania.
Now dont get me wrong, I really liked the trail. But it did play a dirty trick on me. A very dirty trick.
There was this big log. And I can generally jump over big logs. This particular big log had a smaller, much more... hidden log behind it, exactly where my bunny hop should have resolved. My front wheel hit that second log at full speed and I planted my face directly into the ground about 2 feet behind it.
Now, I know my mountain bike readers will know what a "yardsale" is, but I will take a moment for the non-bike lurkers. A true yardsale happens when you lose some, most or all of your gear when you crash. This was a yardsale of legendary proportions: I literally lost the food out of my pockets. Thing is, I had just lawn-darted into the unmerciful Pennsylvania dirt (well, soil with rocks) and was able to think only of heaping abuse on the offending log.
Selene came around me, wisely choosing NOT to hop over that turd of a log, must have seen me looking like Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer (think inappropriate blackface) and told me to take a minute to get myself together. I didnt listen. I got back on my bike and followed, leaving my food, CO2 and MY GOD DAMN NICE GLASSES sitting on the trail. The glasses I will likely miss later, the food I most certainly missed sooner.
I hacked my way through the rest of that trail, riding shamefully - but riding. I pulled through the "fisherman" cut up, soggy and only halfway to the end.
At this point, there were some flat spots and I was able to "hammer", if indeed thats what trying to barely turn over too big a gear means. I picked off a few more guys in no-mans-land, thought I got lost, stopped, waited until I saw someone crest the hill and floored it up ANOTHER climb. I was unsure when I stopped racing the Transylvania Epic and started racing the Giro, but I was sure in my crash-addled brain that Basso was up the road and it was my job to chase him down.
As anyone that knows me can tell, I do not consider myself a climber. But today (and yesterday) I discovered that I can indeed climb, if certain conditions are met:
1. I need a reason - I wanted to catch Weir. I figured that he would be so pissed about all the fireroad climbs he would scorch the very earth with the fury of his Billy Mays beard. And that would probably take valuable time.
2. They need to be a relatively even grade - none of this 7%/ 18% crap.
3. I need to make my own pace - I do not follow accelerations, I chase with the relentless certainty of a zombie hunting human flesh.
4. The roads (trails) need to be in miserable shape - Maybe not a condition, but it helps.
I got to the last aid station, a mere 10 miles to the finish. "All fireroads from here on out" they said. I got a bottle, drank a coke, and took off. Notice I did not grab any food. I had a bunch of that in my pockets, right?
What they did not say at the aid station was that there was another 2000 feet of climbing in those 10 miles. And dear god, they were NOT all fireroads. I discovered my food problem about a mile (downhill) from the checkpoint. And I wouldnt have climbed back up that at gunpoint.
Climb, boy. The last 10 miles took an hour and fifteen minutes (with an average race speed [excluding flat-change time] of 13.4mph, this was horrible) and my belly started to do that thing bellies do when they are unhappy about what you put (or in this case do not put) into them: gurgle, gurgle, CRAMP, gurgle CRAMP etc. The climbing was really starting to get out of hand. I was hurting, and badly.
I came up on someone in a WTB kit. Holy crap, did I get Weir? Turns out it was Ben, and he was dying harder than I was on that greasy-ass climb. We werent racing any more, though. We were surviving. I pushed up what had become a stream, and managed to turn my pedals enough to get to the end, two minutes down on Weir and four down on Moeschler. 12th on the day, 14th overall. Not bad, considering I had a mechanical and a pretty spectacular crash.