This race is one of my favorites. I don’t know exactly why since I have never finished it. I have either flatted or broken a spoke. So it has been a bit of a love hate relationship. I love the course. I love the concept. I love this time of year. I hate not finishing races.
I arrived at the race just in time to roll up and get a good start position. In the past the first dirt section has been killer fast and I wanted to be ready. The first lap started out pretty slow and I was having a fantastic time. I spent most of the lap in the front 20 racers and smiling. Looking around and seeing several Bissell, Jelly Belly, Wonderful Pistachios, Optimum and other pro riders in on the front with me was cool and fun. I felt fantastic. My legs are finally coming around and I couldn’t have asked for a better set up. I came through the first lap exactly where I wanted to be. My teammates were looking equally as comfortable and riding in the front or surfing around. The dirt was in fantastic condition, except a couple of areas that warranted extreme caution. (Turn to finish line, a couple of big /wheel swallowing pot holes, etc.)
Second lap was a bit faster with more attacks, but it was still very comfortable. The wind started to pick up and I got excited. I usually can do well in the wind and started to pay more attention to positioning in the cross wind sections. On this lap we screamed up Nelson. I was in my 53×15 up the climb, pretty much going as hard as I could. Attacks and bridging was occurring and I was suffering. I crested the climb in perfect position, but on the transition to a flatter section my left inside calf cramped. This has been happening a bit this year and I can’t figure it out. I switched to Speedplay pedals, but other than that I haven’t had any changes that warrant this cramp issue. I had been metering my water more than I should due to the fact I only had 2 bottles for nearly 80 miles of racing on a dry hot day. But I didn’t want to take it all in too quickly. I guess this was my mistake, because I had to drift to the back to let me leg de-cramp. I slammed some Gatorade and a gel, but by the time my leg came around I was about 10 seconds off the back. I began to chase in earnest and caught 2 riders. We began working pretty well together and started the 3rd lap of 4 a few seconds back.
As we were just about to catch the main group (which had slowed once the break was established) I made a critical mistake. I was the last of the three after taking a pull and kinda riding on the edge of where the road fell off into the ditch. The rider in front of me drifted right and rubbed my front wheel. I overreacted (I shouldn’t have been crossed wheels anyhow) and went into the ditch. I tried to recover and shoot back out, but instead wrecked. I didn’t go down too hard, but I did slip into the ditch again. I crawled out, put my chain back on, and chased. I lost a minute or two and was now way back. My knee was bleeding and swelling up a bit, but really no damage had been done. My two compadres caught the pack just as they turned onto Nelson and I was full gas chasing. I was pretty upset with myself for this lack of concentration. The wind was picking up considerably then and I began to lose time to the pack. Race was over. However, I hadn’t had any mechanical at this point so I decided I must finish the race.
A teammate had passed me as I went down and was about 40 seconds ahead of me, chasing the group. I began to see if I could make it up to him and work together. He was too fast and I ended up chasing him for about 20 miles. Eventually he blew up and I was able to make it up to him. We tried to work together, but poor Ryan had blown sky high. I offered gels and what little water I had left, but he was done for the day. I took a few pulls and he told me to go on since he was so spent. I ended up pushing on a bit to the finish.
It was a long tough day. I was disappointed to waste good legs, but I also was pleased with my fitness and the fun course. I had three teammates finish in the front group, just off the winning break. The team is riding great this year. I am excited to see how they do at the Tour of Gila in a few weeks, a big goal for many riders on the team.