Updated: Sep 27, 2019
I don't always break, but when I do...
60 degrees, sunny, and a light breeze wafting waffle vapors through a crowd of a thousand made an idyllic setting fit for the most painful day of 2019. 133 miles, 10k ft of climbing, piles and piles of people, dirt, and pain.
"I have done a lot of classics and I don't think I have suffered that bad in a decade of being a pro..." - Peter Stetina, of Trek Segafredo, winner of the 2019 BWR
My goals for this race were to push far beyond my limits, stay on my bike, and enjoy the sights of the California mountains! If these were accomplished, then I would have learned something, grown stronger, and experienced a pleasant day. In any book that counts as a win.
Peter Stetina (Trek Segafredo), Edward Anderson (Hagens Berman Axeon), Ted King (Cannondale x SRAM x ROKA), Joshua Berry (Giant Factory Off-Road), Cameron Piper (Specialized x Rocket Espresso), Phil Gaimon (Cool Kids)..... the list goes on. With the cannons-for-legs that were present at the start line the race was guaranteed to be at one hell of a clip. The start was relaxed for a total of 4 minutes before we hit the first series of descents.
57mph on 38mm Teravail Cannonballs is still, to this day, the fastest I have gone on my All-City Cosmic Stallion. At this pace, the herd of 300 men and women careened violently towards the first series of dirt miles. A hard 180 at the base of a monster descent was probably not the best call on the promoters part, but we are all allowed a mistake occasionally. Another vexing mistake was made by a rider to my inside who did not see the 180, yelled at me when I attempted to turn, and effectively moved me from top 30 to top 100. But hey, these things happen, it's bike racing. Moments later, the first single-track gravel section began. In an attempt to offset the mishap moments before, I began pedaling with violent fury. "Single-track" may be an overstatement. It was really juuuust wide enough for 2 riders. A fact I took full advantage of by shoving myself into the bushes while playing a repeat track of "on your left". I was able to make up some serious ground over the next few miles of winding, climbing, single-track. Hope glimmered on the horizon as we exchanged the dirt for pavement. The lead pack sat another 15 seconds up the climb ahead of me. I could not believe I had made up that much time in the previous 10 minutes. Belief began to settle in as the realization came that making up time had cost me dearly.
In my desperation to get back, I had set my matchbook on fire. Time for damage control.
Turning the dial back too far was not an option; I still had a finish line to get to, but continuing as I was would not serve me either. I jumped onto the caboose of the lead chase pack and held on like a free climber. I waxed and waned between beginning to recover and going further into the red for the next 10 miles.
At this point, the goal was to drive whatever group I was with until we caught the collateral damage from the lead group. Approaching the base of the first open gravel climb, I began setting the pace. No one out of the group of 30 followed initially, but by the top of the 4-mile climb, 3 had joined my cause. Down the next ripping descent the goal was speed. Pedaling, dialing in the berms, and generally being stupid, I was able to gap the riders that met me at the top and get the next group in my sights. 49 miles in and 10 to the top of this climb. Get around that corner, up to the next rise, past this group of riders, on to the next incline. This was my world for the next 10 miles. Looking at the race, not as another 90 miles, but just trying to sustain my pace for the next 1 mile helps me dig deep.
Honestly, one of the only things keeping me pedaling hard was just how astoundingly beautiful my surroundings were. If my effort was not already taking my breath away, the spiraling drops and profound serenity would have done the trick. By the peak of the next climb, another well-endowed chase had formed from the wake of the lead group. We hammered and hammered and hammered, turning our well-endowed group into more of a puny affair. Mile 76 brought the base of a 3-mile wretch we had descended earlier in the day. Our puny group turned into 3 by the top and 2 by the base of the next sandy decline. Red kit man, as I like to call him, and I rode together for the next 40 miles.
It became evident he meant me harm as he flew up climbs, rocketed down descent after descent, and generally set a pretty unreasonable pace where he could.
We traded pulls for an hour and change but after that he was tired of looking at my ass and promoted himself to executive pace-setter. For the next half hour he attempted to drop me many times, but his draft was too sweet and I was unwilling to let go. Red kit man had pulled us within 20 seconds of the next group, a tidy affair of 4, with his valiant effort. Up the next climb I set a pace I believed he could handle but it proved to be too much for him, and I said goodbye to my no-talking, no-smiling, angry-pulls, dangerous-descending amigo.
Catching and passing the next group of 4 brought with it much pain and one new friend. This dude could actually look at me without venom seeping from his eyes so it was a good trade. We exchanged pulls, caught and passed some soloists, and gained one more friend in the process. Enter Double Peak. 5 miles at 5%, 120 miles into the race. I had been fighting off cramps for a while, and oxygen was not climbing onto the brain-train first. This resulted in me believing that the "1500 meters to go" sign meant to the finish (I also did not have my computer with me). I was clearly misguided. As you can see in the picture at the top of the page, this one hurt. In an attempt to lose the two riders with me, I put in an effort I did not believe myself capable of holding and held on for dear life. The small moans of pain escaping my lips seemed to fuel the cheers of the spectators and their yells hurtled me to the top in agony.
Imagine my horror as the top of the climb funneled me not into a finish arena with waffles and beer but into a 180 so I may hurtle back down the 5 miles I had just conquered. 8 miles to go.
I put on a brave face, got into my aero tuck, and sent it down the next 5 miles with all the enthusiasm I could muster. All out was not enough and a rider I had previously left joined me once again. This guy could descend. He put it into me down one of the next paved descents and I caught an unlucky light. Grateful for a break I slammed some nutrition and began the last few miles alone. 1 mile to go. I was caught by another group a small bit later and rolled into the finish with them, sitting a comfortable 3rd of 5 as we crossed the line.
Looking back, it was definitely the hardest day of 2019 for me too, Peter. Some things I will not change as they served me well. The ground control and speedy rolling of Teravail's Cannonball tires allowed me to descend like a dumb-dumb consequence free and drill the pace everywhere else. My All-City Cosmic Stallion will be by my side, ready to careen, sprint, bump, and grind our way to any finish line. Infinit Nutrition's Go Far blend fueled my rage to perfection and I am sure my cramps would have come sooner and been world-ending had it not filled my bottles. But some things do need adjusting.
I would like to return next year with some minor changes to my setup. Due to so few miles actually being on gravel, the 38mm tires were too wide. I think 35mm's will more than do. Off-season will include more zone 4. Calling out turns to my fellow riders would have helped me here also. All in all, this race was well put on, gorgeous, painful, and exhilarating. I cannot wait for 2020!