Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Jason's View of the Gila

What are the odds that I would be the only one to flat during the TT stage last Friday?

Overall I am pleased with my race. The Cat 4s had four days of racing:

64.2 mile RR Thursday
16.15 mile TT Friday
15 lap (approx 15 mile) CRIT on Saturday
71.8 mile RR Sunday

I'd heartily recommend this race to anyone. Especially if you like hills. And wind. I thought it was windy in CO, but it's also windy in NM. You are always either going up or down. And into the wind. The only flat part of the four days of racing was the criterium, and even then there was an 80-foot something hill in the middle.

A total of 9 guys (and a girlfriend- not mine) went down to Silver City, NM. It was about a 10-hour drive from Longmont. There were four category 4 and five category 3 guys from the Blue Sky cycling team. Along with 4 other guys I stayed with the parents of one of the racers. We had a great meals every night and were able to stretch out on furniture other than a motel bed.

In Thursday's RR, we had a pretty gnarly descent in the first 15 miles of the race. There were even a couple of crashes. Then we had to climb and that's where I lost the pack and the peloton broke up. For the next 30 or so miles there was a group of anywhere from 6- 12 of us who chased the leaders. At the feed zone, positioned along another good steady climb, the pack broke up further and it was down to 8 of us. We all crossed the line within 30 seconds of each other. I was disappointed I didn't nail the initial climb but pleased about my finishing effort. I finished the stage 35 of 85 riders, only 6:34 down.

I was looking forward to Friday's time trial, since if I have a strength in cycling that would be it. We went in reverse finishing order of the prior day's road race. The time trial course was also all either up or down. I felt pretty good at the turnaround. About 30 minutes into the effort, just as I was starting the last climb until about a 3 mile downhill, I flatted. Yep, you heard me. Barely used, maybe 75 miles total on the tire, brand new Continental Giro tire. Tread wasn't even worn. The damned sidewall just blew out. No puncture or anything. Unfortunately, the rules for the race is that any rider unable to finish the time trial b/c of a mechanical gets the time of the slowest rider. What should have taken me b/w 43- 45 minutes took me almost 58 minutes b/c the slowest finishing time was 57:54. I lost 16:50 on that stage and the official result had me finishing 83 of 83 riders. All that preparation for naught b/c of a low-end Conti. I'll never skimp and buy a $30 tubular again to race on. I'd just have to look at each stage's finish versus the overall GC, or general classification. BTW, an official did bring me a neutral wheel and I was able to ride the 5 miles back to the start/finish.

Saturday's criterium was in downtown Silver City. It was a 1-mile square with an 80 foot hill. This was only my 5th criterium ever, so I really didn't have any expectations but to finish and not get pulled. I had trouble clipping in right from the gun, so I was already at the back of the pack from the beginning. In a nutshell, I finished 17 seconds down from the peloton, 49 of 82 racers and could hear the moto behind me for the last lap or so. About 30 guys did get pulled and lost two or more minutes.

My legs still felt good for the closing road race. This race all comes down to the final 15 or so miles. It is essentially a reversal of Thursday's course, so the last miles are all climbing at 6% or higher grades. There is a short but brutal stretch of 17% grade as well, with a total of 5600 feet of climbing. It was rolling neutral start for the first 2 miles out of Silver City. I had good positioning being right in the first 10- 15 riders. At about 10 miles or so into the race, it was agreed upon to take a pee break, so you had 80 guys pissing on the side of the road. Talk about solidarity. There were a few who kept riding at a slow pace, but then the peloton re-formed. The pace really started to pick up, and after taking a bottle at the feed zone around mile 45 or so, I blasted to the front. Yes, I was leading the peloton for a good minute or two. There was a small group that broke away early on, but I was able to ride the 15 or so miles before the climb at the front. The final 20-mile stretch of road was closed to all but us racers and support vehicles. As soon as we turned the corner and hit that 10% grade, it seemed like half the field passed me. Over the final 18 miles or so of climbing, I passed a handful of guys. My legs felt pretty good as I kept thinking to myself about Super James, Ward, Pinewood Rez, Lee Hill- all those stout climbs I did to at least mentally prepare myself for the Gila. Of the 7 or so guys I worked with in those last miles, I out-climbed all but one guy on the uphill finish. I was more than pleased with my effort, finishing 29 of 79 guys and losing 7:28 to the winner.

Officially my GC placing was 42 of 79 racers and 30:29 off the winning time. Six guys apparently dropped out b/c of crashes or fatigue. My goal was to finish in the top half of the field, and if it wasn't for that flat during the time trial stage, I would've likely come in the top 30- 35 riders or so and easily would have met my overall goal. All in all a fun but grueling race, especially that last road race. I am tempted to think about the 2009 Gila, but it is a long time away from family. Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I also rode a couple more mountain passes in southern CO on the return trip home yesterday. I rode another 40 miles and bagged La Manga Pass and Cumbres Pass. Although not that steep with grades topping out *only* at about 8%, my legs were pretty fried from racing and it was a pretty tough climb. I now only have 4 more paved mountain passes to ride in the state. I'm certainly stronger after 200 miles of riding in five days!


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