Gila Stages 3-5

I’m too drained to write an original post about Gila for my blog, so I’m just using the race report email I sent out to our team.  It’s been an extremely long two weeks since I left for Arkansas.  Jon, Gabe, and myself did 9 days of racing in an 11 day span, with a lot of travel before, during, and after.  I’m not looking forward to going back to work tomorrow.  I also have to find some way to make enough money to go to Europe after Cascade in late July, which I have to do in the next month before the next barrage of racing comes along, starting in June.  I’m thinking of painting a house or two.

In terms of how the races went for me as a whole, I’m pretty happy about both Joe Martin and Gila.  I’m placing in the top 30 now on stages, which is an improvement on years past, and as long as the race doesn’t end with a 30 minute climb, I feel like I’m in the mix for a real result.  I just need some more confidence in cornering, positioning, and following the right wheels in the finale, and I’m confident that I’ll be placing in the top 10 by the end of the season.  Here’s the report on Gila.  Hopefully Winger will give me some pictures to use when he gets the chance.

The final three stages of Gila included a time trial, a crit, and a road race.  The team’s goal heading into these final three stages was to win all three stages, obviously.  Failing that, our second goal was to race aggressively while preserving Jon’s GC position and hopefully get a top 10 in the crit.  The time trial on Friday was a big ring type of course (as in 55 or 56 chain rings), with two semi large climbs and some nasty little rollers that made you question your desire to continue pedaling hard.  Wind is always somewhat of an issue on this course, though on race day it wasn’t too bad.  Jesse went off first, followed by Colin, Winger, Dan, Gabe, myself, and Jon.  Unfortunately I went off right when it got super windy.  Just moments before I went, my one-minute man (Gabe) was treated to a nice tail wind out AND back, whereas the wind was definitely head on for me the entire time.  And then right when I finished the wind died out completely.  Oh well.

Dan showed his time trialing prowess with the best result on our team placing 58th, followed by Gabe.  Jon lost a number of places on his GC position, though the final stage would offer the chance to right any wrongs dealt to him by the cruelty of the time trial bike.  The final day, the Gila Monster stage, would be 104 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing.  But we’ll get to that in due time.

Somehow the 36-40 minute effort of the time trial took it out of some of us more than expected and our crit riding ability the next day wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for.  Despite the tiredness some of us were feeling by the fourth day of the Gila, we prepared for the crit with fire still burning in our bellies (I had WAAAY too much yogurt and green chilies before the crit).  After an hour spin in the morning, followed by food, followed by more food, we finished off the afternoon’s preparations with an extended warm up before the downtown crit.  For some reason Colin had insisted on wearing his skinsuit, forcing the rest of us to wear our black kits.  It was 84 degrees.  I’d been planning on kitting up in my wife beater Defeet base layer and pinning the numbers directly onto that.  It was hot.  Damn you and your skin suit Colin!!!

Winger got things kicked off in style once the starting pistol went off.  He took the hole shot and got a lap off the front before the counter move took over.  Jesse was in the counter and helped drive the two-man move up the road for the next couple laps.  Not knowing that Jesse was up the road, I began my own bridge attempt and caught a guy that was in between Jesse’s move and the field, somewhere on lap four or five I believe.  My bridge mate wasn’t working very hard and we got caught by a Colombian national team guy on the short climb on the backside of the course.  He went by us and I flicked my elbow for my break mate to close the gap to him since I’d just pulled for over half a lap.  He ended up letting a huge gap open to the Colombian, which I eventually decided I’d have to close by myself.  But pretty soon it became apparent that it was too late and we sat up as the field caught us a half lap later.  That Colombian guy ended up catching Jesse’s breakaway and dropping the two of them on the climb a few laps later, at which point UHC sat up on the front and road extremely slow tempo for about 40 minutes.  Just a slight change of circumstances could have resulted in both Jesse and I riding in the break together for most of the race.  Instead, we were punished for our errors by having to ride back in the pack for the rest of the race.

With the break gone, our next goal in the crit was to position Gabe well for the sprint once the break was caught, which was inevitable with a bunch of sprint teams looking for their last chance at glory before the final day of climbing misery.

At five laps to go I still hadn’t seen Gabe for a while so I just concentrated on staying in the top 15-30, moving up on the hill and chopping people on the inside corner after the finish line whenever the opportunity arose.  With two to go I got swarmed and never made a big enough move to regain my position.  I finished 40th.  If in doubt, always use up extra energy to position yourself well.  We all lost seven seconds from a tiny gap that opened up on the finish straight.  It really was not our best day of crit riding, but we did at least give it a good shot in the beginning.

The Gila Monster: the final and most brutal day of the race, and possibly the hardest day of the entire NRC schedule, assuming you weigh more than 125 pounds.

It’s one thing to have two cat 3 climbs, two cat 2’s, and a cat 1 in a single stage at sea level, but it’s an entirely different beast when it’s all at an elevation of 5,500-7,500 feet.  Most of the climbing comes in the last 50 miles and, assuming you’ve been dropped and the team car is long gone, drinking enough water in those last 50 miles is an impossible task.

Another early morning start at 8:40 meant waking up at 6:30.  The hot water in one of the houses had been out for most of the week, which meant a lot of the guys were walking over to Tiny Allen’s and my house to take showers in the morning.  The only way into the bathroom, being through my bedroom, meant that I was always getting woken up earlier than I intended.  And I am NOT happy to be woken up 10 minutes before my alarm goes off.  Those last 10 minutes are when I usually get my best sleep.   Tiny Alan felt the same way, and got a bit of revenge on Tall Alan when he came over for his early morning shower.  Just seconds before Alan arrived at our door with his towel and shaving kit in hand, Tiny sprinted to the bathroom and took a Gila Monster-sized dump in the toilet to stink up the bathroom for Tall Alan’s shower.  I was greatly amused…and then the stench wafted into the kitchen and I lost all motivation to finish my oats.

The race started off heading east out of town with some rollers, then took a left turn off the highway into a crosswind/false flat section that lead to the first sprint and KOM of the day, both within 15 miles of the start line.  Joe had warned us of this section of road—the lead up to the first climb of the day—since it might be a good opportunity to follow moves and was at the very least, an important time to stay up near the front in order to make the selection in case any splits occurred.  We were on the lookout to get in a break since we really didn’t have much to lose at this point in the stage race.  None of us were in the top 50 GC.  I was planning on conserving until we got close to the top of the climb, and then following moves over the top and after the descent, but somehow 21 guys rolled off the front way earlier than I, or any of my teammates, had anticipated.  Not one HB rider was present in the massive move.  All of us felt pretty foolish that this happened.  Usually early aggression in such a long, hard race is rewarded by getting dropped extra early, like what happened to me last year on this stage (lots of early attacking then getting dropped on the first climb of the day).  But that was not the case today, and we missed out big time.

With the breakaway gone, all seven of us HBers focused on getting water and making sure we hit the first cat 2 climb in the best position as possible, with Jon having our most realistic chance at a decent result of the day.  Jesse and Gabe did a great job riding up near the front and helped Jon stay out of the wind.  Winger, Dan, Colin, and I got bottles from the car and in one feed zone I grabbed THREE bottles with some super fast maneuvering by Alan!

The cat 2 climb blew a large chunk of the peloton off the back.  Jon, Gabe, and I survived.  Jon stayed in the bubble without too much difficulty.  Gabe and myself came off with around 1K to the KOM, but with some hard chasing, got back into the group after the descent.  We got Jon a water and a cold bottle of Coke, yelled at him that the cat 1 climb was coming up soon, then got blown off the pack again once we hit the bottom slopes of the hardest climb of the day.  The entire peloton split at this point and Gabe and I spent the rest of the day riding HARD tempo with a group of about 10-15 guys.  I made sure to attack Gabe once or twice.  I don’t know when it was last that I spent that much time staring so intently at the hub in front of me, void of any thought and focusing only on breathing and pedaling.  It was a lot of climbing for a Bigguns!

Up the road, Jon was gritting his teeth hard to remain in contact with the main front group of 15 riders, who were making quick progress on what was left of the breakaway up the road.  Jon ended up finishing 45th, which, although not sounding particularly great, was certainly a very good result on such a hard day, especially since 21 guys were already up the road with a six minute gap before the final cat 1 and 2 climbs of the day.  Using a little bike racer math, if that group hadn’t been up there, Jon’s climbing ability probably would have earned him a spot in the top 25.  Bike racer math is often flawed though, considering the fact that it’s completely subjective.

Jesse and Colin rolled in together in a small group, followed by a solo Winger a while later, having ridden the last two hours by himself, suffering in the hot sun and determined to finish.  Dan had been struggling with stomach issues all day long and threw up three or four times during the race.  And so ended our Gila, with Jon taking 47th on GC, myself barely beating out Gabe for 77th only because he was penalized for drafting the team car for less than 20 seconds while he helped Jon get back on after a broken spoke on stage 2, Gabe took 79th, Colin 114th, and Jesse 116th.  It’s hard to look at your own personal result and think of all the hard work and suffering you did to earn such a big number, but considering the caliber of teams here and our (for the most part) aggressive racing style, none of us are too upset about how things went.  In fact, we’re all pretty content.  It was a great trip and will likely be one of my favorite memories of the year.  We shared some delicious team dinners cooked by Alan, a lot of inappropriate jokes that I can’t tell you about on this email list serve, and some good quality time flying kites on our rooftop in the hot sun up in the mountains of the Gila National Forest.  And above all, we got to suffer like only a select few in the world will ever know.  Now it’s time to rest up and began the process of blocking those memories of pain from our heads, for if cyclists truly remembered just how much it hurts to bike race, very few of us would line up again next weekend.

Thank you to Doug, our guest mechanic for Gila, for doing an amazing job on all of our bikes.  I still owe you a six-pack of IPA, though I really should make it a full case.

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