We lined up as has become tradition for the last stage: Those with a final bid for glory (or a simple desire to get this over with as quickly as possible) lined up in front. Behind: a rollicking, beer-soaked party of mostly-spent racers who were measuring their last effort in cans, not kilometers. I was in the former group. I was excited.
I wasnt running my nice rear wheel - I noticed some carbon fraying and didnt want to risk catastrophic failure on the last day.
Because I had a plan.
The start was actually pretty fast, or maybe six days of getting repeatedly and mercilessly dropped was beginning to take its toll. I was off the back in no time, and was in all honesty not worried at all.
I knew this week had been hard on everyone.
I also know by now how my body responds after several days of abusing it.
I would be fine.
I just needed a few miles to get going.
And get going I did. I picked up an excellent rabbit in the lanky form of Barry Wicks, who was obviously recovering from some mechanical issue. He was (rather painfully) followed through the second singletrack section, and "allowed" to go clear once we got to the fireroad.
Like I said, I had a plan.
I started picking up riders on the first long climb. Climbing now felt like I was taking a test I had stolen the answers to - It held no more surprises; no fear or trepidation regarding its length or grade. It had become an automated process - a stimulus/response condition where open-mouthed panting replaced salivation.
And I was getting faster.
You see, as soon as the guys up front (looking at you, Mattyus) decided to spray us with watts I sat up. And (Im assuming) because it was the Last Day Of The Race, all the guys who had been roundly defeated in the first half of every previous stage decided that today would somehow be different.
They tried to hang.
And as the hill-noose tightened, hang they did.
After spending six days at the gallows, hooded and dangling like a posse-caught horse thief, I managed to get the rope off my neck and my breathing under control. My efforts were more calculated, though no less intense. I pushed my dying legs down one at a time, focusing on a point ahead not fixed by distance, but by how many ragged breaths it would take to get there.
The descent was fast and deceivingly treacherous. I should add "welcome" here, also. I caught up to Sagur at the bottom. He looked shell-shocked and distant.
I rounded up Theo next, and had a good time rolling up to the
Coming out of the knee-high brush, I got a look at Matt Miller. He was about 20 seconds away.
It took me almost 20 minutes to reel him in.
Target acquired, we rode together until his shifter broke. On a screaming fast downhill about a mile from the finish, we were side by side. The course veered suddenly right, and directly up a hill that literally no one was in an appropriate gear to ride. Matt yelled his encouragement and farewell, and I scurried up Transylvanias final kick in the nuts.
Standing up and sprinting almost the whole way to the finish, I crossed the line in 10th. I had apparently put enough time into Cory Wallace to move up on GC, and for what might be the first time ever, I managed to properly execute a plan in a mountain bike race.
At least a plan that wasnt just "go as hard as you can until the end".
I would like to thank everyone involved with this race for putting on a fantastic show for us. Also, my coworkers for making this prolonged absence possible. Thanks to my sponsors for keeping me fed, well read, full of coffee, and rolling fast throughout the season. And finally, thanks to my wife for being awesome and putting secret cookies in my bag.
Hopefully Ill see you all here next year.