Can anyone really say they’re happy to be back at this race? The suffering, the altitude, the heat, you name it and there’s an excuse to never come back to Beaver, however, somehow the allure of flying along gravel roads in one of the most beautiful off the beaten path corners of the country with some really fast dudes sucks you back in. One promise I did make to myself after last year was never again use a mountain bike. While the advantages on the descents and washboards were nice, the gearing (32×11-42) and tires (1.75 Renegades) just weren’t fast enough for the pavement and flat out speed sections. This year with Giant I had the opportunity to be on the new 2018 TCX….wow what a difference. Grant at HQ set it up with a 44x 10-42 and Schwalbe G One 40s, however, after a few KOM hunting sessions in the Santa Monica Mountains I realized that 44t was just more that I could push on steep ascents when my legs were screaming, exactly the conditions I’d face on Col du Crush. We popped the 40t back on and after a day of blasting fireroad climbs I knew it would be perfect.
I rolled into Beaver on Friday afternoon just in time for a warmup spin in the 100+ degree temps and 40+ mph winds. It was brutal. I ran into my friend Al and we cruised up the road for an hour and picked up Janelle along the way. This event always brings out so many awesome people. I was crossing my fingers the weather would calm down a bit for Saturday. It did…and didn’t.
We lined up around 7:45 and there were the usual call ups. Jeepers this was a stacked field. About a dozen guys went to the front. The pace from the start was fast. Instantly we strung out single file as we blasted down the road. Popowski and Blaugrund of Juwi attacked immediately and shortly thereafter Menso followed suit. The peloton sped and slowed along the pavement and when Al went up front to snap some photos I hopped on his wheel just to keep a steady pace. We hit the dirt about three minutes behind the leaders and a minute or two in front of the peloton. Al fell back and I finally got passed by Todd, Ben and crew just past the lakes. My legs still felt good but it was nice just to have a little head start. Driscoll and Ishay and a few other guys flew by shortly after and I hopped on their wheel. By the time we hit the top of the first climb we added Menso to our group and off we went.
I was having trouble hanging onto wheels during the descents. Forty mph on loose washboard gravel was pushing me out of my comfort zone. I fell off the back down the Col du Crush, which was extra bumpy this year, but was able to grab Menso’s wheel and Blaugrund clawed back from behind. The three of us pace lined all the way to the fireroad when Menso detached. From there it was pavement and back up the Col du Crush. Don’t look up. Never look up. No matter how good your legs feel the moment you look up and see the road winding into aspens 4k feet above you’re heart sinks. The staff and volunteers this year were amazing as usual, especially on the climb. There were water backpack sprayers, Coke handoffs, ice packs placed down the back of the jersey and plenty of bottles and perfect handoffs. I can’t say enough good things about the support, it’s really some of the best I’ve ever experienced. But I digress…
By the top of the climb the temps were in the 90s and I was baking. Even when you hit the top it’s still not over, there’s still about 2k left to climb as you roll along the meadows and forest, finally a little descent, and then back up the final one mile near 1k foot climb. What a mind F*. I could see Blaugrund dangling in front of me but there was nothing I could do. I kept turning around in panic to make sure there wasn’t anyone sneaking up on me as a crawled up the final few hundred meters. The rain drops were starting to fall and the air had grown chilly. I pushed through the finish in 9th.
Top 10 had been my goal and I’d just nabbed it. What an honer to be in the mix at such a high caliber event.
Things got ugly very quickly. The wind howled and thick drops began to splat the pavement. We took cover under the tent. The announcement for the podium was made but a giant lightning bolt less than a mile away sent us scurrying under the tents. Hail. Bigger rain drops. The finishers were really starting to look miserable as the weather deteriorated. Foil space blankets were handed out as riders shivered, their bodies in shock from fighting near heat stroke and then suddenly fending off hypothermia. What an adventure.