Once again I made the trek to Missouri for the always enjoyable BT Epic. Chris Hon picked me up Thursday night and we spent Friday morning on the local single track near his house, which is a hoot. One thing that always impresses me is the amount of trail work Missouri mountain bikers undertake. Every year I come out there’s miles of new singletrack. Chris explained that the trail creation process is as simple as flagging a route, consulting with the parks and making sure the planned trail doesn’t intersect any ancient Native American burial grounds, and then finding volunteers to help with trail nights. It’s amazing the community and organization they get into the woods on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. We were lucky to hit a new trail right as they were taking the caution tape down. We hooted and hollered as we shot through the rock gaps on fresh dirt. “You’re the second and third riders ever come down this!” the trail workers yelled as they pulled up the flags. “The first just came through a few minutes ago.” And thus a trail is born.
We hit the road and made our way down to Bass River Resort, however knowing my fascination with caves Chris had scheduled a stop at Merimac Caverns on the way. We shuffled into the gift shop and got our tickets for the eighty minute tour. While I’m a fan of a keeping nature natural I tried to appreciate the multi colored lights and “God Bless America” slideshow on the stalactites. I suppose they have to make people feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. The cave system is impressive with over twenty-five miles of underground labyrinth, some of it still unexplored. The tour hardly scratches the surface, sending visitors only a half-a-mile in but it’s enough to get a feel for the grandeur. Back onto the road and into Bass River.
I felt a little pressure to win this year with a close second place finish the year before and a huge improvement over 11th place in 2015. I brought out my own bike this year and had opted for the 27.5” Anthem. But what tires? I pulled off the Rocket Rons and threw on the 2.35” Nobby Nics. Berryman/Ozark Trail is chunky, damp, loose, and usually covered in wet leaves. I needed all the help I could get.
The morning of the race was worm. Almost hot. At sixty-five degrees it was about thirty degrees above the previous years starts. I went out hard. There’s a cash prime for being the first rider into the woods, which means you have to hammer four miles of a gravel road climb with a frothing peloton of 500 riders chasing.
It also means you have the trail to yourself when you get there. I broke again this year. It worked. A train of four riders latched on to my wheel and chased. But, this being a race of awesome midwest MTB dudes and not agro LA roadies, no-one tried to pick me at the finish, although they should have. “You deserved it dude, you put down a huge effort” was the response I got after thanking a chaser. Wow. I love this place. This is what riding should be.
Once we entered the woods things got strung out. Aaron and I were off the front. Way off the front. By the time we hit checkpoint one at ten miles in we had a two minute lead. It was clear he wasn’t going anywhere. Every move was countered and we rode together through the forest alone until mile 26, when, out of nowhere we were over taken by Bryan Foley who blasted around and disappeared into the foliage ahead. We’d reel him in on the climbs and he would loose us on the descents. And suddenly he was gone.
As usual by mile 35 and the long gravel section I was suffering. Aaron who had dropped back to seal a puncture caught back on and chased up the Three Sisters and back into Bass River, where he passed me on the paved climb. I was cross-eyed trying to keep the pace but eventually had to relax and let him slip ahead if I was going to make it seven more miles. The last portion of the BT Epic is the hardest, in my opinion. After rolling past the finish line you still have close to forty five minutes left including the biggest climb of the day. You’re so excited to finish you become convinced the next descent will bring you to the finish, until you find yourself hitting another kicker, a step up, another road crossing, and there it is. The tight turns into the campground.
Time to party
The afterparty is legendary. On Friday evening Chris and I helped unload ten kegs so I know there were at least that many in the beer truck. There’s all you can drink beer, all you can eat BBQ, live music, and, after the awards…a hayride that fits somewhere in-between Burning Man and Deliverance.
What a party. Unfortunately, Grindro fell directly in the shadow of Mexico so while it was an adventure, the convenience of cellphone service, drinkable water and power made it feel a little less adventurous. I flew from Chihuahua to Sacramento at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning and Robbie picked me up at the airport in the evening in the rented luxury RV. Camping in any form is a must at Grinduro and with temperatures in the low 30s at night an RV was the way to go. We rolled into an empty lot late Thursday after almost hitting a two bears on the windy road into Quincy.
Setting up camp
Friday was spent exploring and we stumbled on some amazing trails. After randomly picking directions and riding through a cow field we found ourselves navigating down a gravel road that turned into the Cascade trail system. The singletrack was amazing, especially on gravel bikes.
Saturday morning rolled around and we casually lined up at the start. No stress, no fuss. If you’re unfamiliar with the format of Grinduro there are four timed segments and your time on those segments determines placement. There’s a mile long climb, a fast gravel descent, a rolling pavement section, and a tricky singletrack descent. In retrospect a hardtail MTB would probably have been a wiser choice.
Aid Station Number 1 with Ted and Cub
It’s a bike handlers event with over half of the overall time based on descents and just a few minutes of based on the timed one mile climb. The road section all depends on the group your with. Hang out at the regroup, grab a whisky handoff and wait for the leaders to roll in then grab their wheel and hold on. Unfortunately a series of flats kept me out of the fastest group.
The rest of the sixty mile ride is a food/beer/pedal party with a mandatory lunch stop at the end of the road TT. After lunch and a full belly of wraps and beer you make your way up the longest climb of the day. Take your time, you’re not on the clock.
Back on the road post lunch break
The only advantage is making it down the timed trail before 500 other riders have totally blown it out. Congratulations you made it to the bottom in one piece! Or not. There were definitely a fair share of accidents, fortunately nothing too major but anytime you have 35mm tires, rock gardens, whoops, and a creek crossing, things will get weird. Don’t finish yet though!
The best part of the day is at the ol’ swimming hole on the way back to town. There’s floats, a beach, a bar, and ice cold water to jump into and rinse off all the dust. If you speed back to the campground you’ll enter a ghost town until people finish up at the river. Relax. Now hit the photo booth and start swapping stories.
When Al McWilliams invited me to tag along on a cycling trip to the Copper Canyon at Crusher in the Tushars, he was actually directing his question at Zabriskie. Dave said “maybe”. Al then turned to me and said “you’re welcome to come as well if you want.” I said “absolutely.” True, I hadn’t checked with the wife yet and was bound to face a litany of questions regarding drug cartels, food born illness, water, amoebas, hepatitis, shootings, but as it turns out, Mexico is way safer than the US. No shootings or hepatitis down there but quite a few incidents north of the border while I was riding through gravel paradise. Mexico 1 USA 0.
The view from the top of the world
Just one of the endless photo spots
I don’t even know where to begin. If you ever get the opportunity to visit the Copper Canyon, do it. Don’t hesitate. Barrancas del Cobre or Copper Canyon lies in the northwest of Mexico, in the southwest corner of the state of Chihuahua, situated between the city of Chihuahua and Sinaloa. It’s four times larger and over one thousand feet deeper than the Grand Canyon and is actually a system of six canyons that resemble an open hand, the fingers comprising the mesas and the space in-between representing the canyons themselves. The climate and location proved to be strategic enough to the cartels operation that only in the last few years have the canyons seen peace again. Open war and bloodshed kept it off limits to outsiders for close to a decade in the mid-2000s, but all that was over now we were told. And we believed it. Sure, one of the two restaurants in Batopilas was off limits because of a surreptitious Narco meeting, men with AK-47s roamed the town streets and mountain trails in their pickup trucks and ATVs, and we abided our guide’s pleas to be off the mountain by dark because the “hills have eyes and walkie-talkies.” Still, we felt safe. Biking off campus during my undergraduate years at USC posed more risk than cycling the canyons of Mexico.
Descending into Urique
Al’s dad has a long history in the area. After following the Beatniks around Mexico City he ended up near Creel and fell in love with the area. Years later when he found out an old log hotel was up for sale in the mountains above Copper Canyon he jumped on it, purchasing the hotel and surround land, and eventually buying and restoring an old mansion at the bottom of the Canyon in Batopilas. The family spent years restoring the properties and ran a thriving Ecotourism business throughout the 90’s shuttling visitors between the cool pine forests of the hills and the steamy tropical village in canyon. Eventually the log hotel in the mountains was “borrowed” by the drug cartels and still remains off limits to the family and just about everyone who isn’t buddies with El Chapo. The Riverside Inn in Batopilas takes up an entire city block and is a charming estate filled with gorgeously decorated period rooms, courtyards, fruit trees, a Victorian room, and an incredible staff. It lies just off the town square and is, unfortunately, vacant most of the time due to the dearth of tourists willing to venture into the area. And the riding? That’s a story in itself.
Riverside Inn Batopilas
Only recently have proper roads and electricity found their way into the towns in the canyon. Small terraced cornfields and self-sufficient Tarahumara huts dot the hillsides, thousands of feet above and a full days walk from the village of Unique. No power, no water, only a wisp of smoke divulging their location. We were an anomaly in the canyons. Children ran into the streets to watch the gringos in tight clothing speed by on bicycles. “Where are you going?” one would shout. “Batopilas” We’d reply. Silence. Then laughter. It was an unimaginable trip, especially by bike. The “road” from Unique to Batopilas was hardly six years old and had been installed to allow the Tarahumara to travel between canyons in several days rather than weeks. We were told we’d be the only people ever to make the trip by bike and the only outsiders to see the top. They doubted our athleticism. I don’t blame them.
Taking a much needed break.
Our second ride ride the day before had been rough pavement and smooth rolling gravel before the road plunged 7000 feet into Urique. A perfect gravel afternoon. Our first ride of the day was a morning shred session at the mountain bike park in Divisadero courtesy of our local Creel cycling guide, Enrique. Our Chihuahua Board of Tourism host, Rita, told him to show us the local riding but neglected to mention our terrain intentions. “Gravel” must not have had a direct translation. “You know Hans Rey?” Enrique asked us. “He rides here when he comes. Red Bull course!” He said proudly, giving us an enthusiastic thumbs up.
A bit overmatched
The “easy” route
He shot down the narrow, loose, rocky, single track and disappeared instantly. One thousand foot exposure drained the color from our skin as we skidded down the trail. After “riding” for one hour and traveling only four miles he directed us to the beginner route, which was still on par with the hardest trails I’ve ridden in the San Gabriels… on an Anthem with a dropper post.
Extreme Gravel Grinding
There was a bit of hiking
I guided the TCX down the drops and managed to stay upright; the only rider in the bunch to remain unscathed. The trail eventually dead-ended at a zip line, the worlds longest, with a run close to two miles and vertical drop of over one mile. Unfortunately due to our embarrassing performances we were too behind schedule to test it out. Rita was waiting anxiously for us and our riding credibility had been called into question. “Let’s just drive to Urique” she kept suggesting. Our driver Maclen nodded in agreement. It was clear they did not think we were capable enough to pedal thirty miles before dark. We attempted to explain that we’d be fine once we were on terrain that didn’t resemble a waterfall. Maclen tried to convey that the roads were not a place you wanted to be after dark. After a brief impasse we won. Our credibility dangling on the line.
Some of the best gravel roads leading to Urique
What do you mean we have to climb up there?
Around 6,500 feet the humidity drops and the temperature begins to reach a comfortable level. We’d just hit 4000 feet. The Garmin was encrusted in sweat and barely legible but it assured us we’d only climbed 2500 feet above the canyon floor. Two hours. Eight miles. Forty left to go. We’d also been warned about the route. Our guide shared legends of ATVs toppling over backwards from the steep grade and loose terrain. “Impossible to ride” we were told. Stubborn and determined were sold. The only other option to get from Urique to Batopilas was a six hour drive, an option we didn’t even consider. We were riding. Men with radios and AK-47s hid in the hills. “Good or bad” we asked our guide. “Yes, both.” Should we succeed we’d also be the only cyclists to make the whole trek between Urique and Batopilas.
The long climb from Urique to Batopilas
We rolled along the breathtaking north rim of the canyon and hit the switchbacked gravel descent to Urique just as the sun began to slip behind the mountains. The cool pine forest at the top quickly turned tropical as we dropped below a mile in elevation. Oak and fir trees transformed into acacia and plantain. Each rutted gravel turn presented a lesson in cornering. Sharp rocks littered every apex. One rider came in too hot and found himself sliding sideways on the rubble, slitting open his elbow and exposing the shiny white tip of his elbow; an injury that would later require stitches and a series of antibiotic injections and cost him two of the four days of riding. Again, I was thankful for my Thunderburt but wishing I’d brought a spare set of brake pads. We finished the rest of the descent unscathed but more importantly we arrived in Urique before dark, fully restoring our damaged credibility. It still wasn’t enough to fully convince Rita we could cover the distance to Batopilas the next day.
Dan goes down
Dropping into Urique
Our final day was the longest of the trip but thankfully it was all paved. Stomach ailments and a serious arm infection thinned our ranks but the pre-ride ritual started in the same way; a liter of water and electrolytes, chain lube, chamois cream, and a healthy application of Edge. We rolled out of Batopilas bright and early and followed the river as it meandered up into the mountains.
The long climb to Creel
The canyon walls were already radiating heat. Smooth pedal strokes expedited our journey and I’d never been so excited to see asphalt, even if it was strewn with gravel and microwave sized rocks at every turn. Dozens of switchbacks guided us 6,000’ up the canyon wall in several miles. The air cooled and once again we were in pine forest. The legs responded. We pushed through herds of goat and cattle until we reached our pickup location in Samachique. Sweaty and hungry we piled into the van for the five hour drive back to Chihuahua and return to civilization…and a flight straight to an awaiting RV and a camping weekend at Grinduro, but that’s another story.
Logistically Copper Canyon is a little tricky to get to. We were fortunate enough to have a van hauling all of our gear and I’d highly recommend a guide. We flew into El Paso and drove south for about eleven hours to Divisedero, which made for a long day. Alternatively, you can fly in and out of Chihuahua, which is about a four to five hour drive to the canyon. Plan for plenty of curves and slow going, with cows, horses and other farm animals often taking up both lanes of the road. Creel is the closest city to the canyon and is a stop on the train. As such it has a touristy feel with shops and even a pizza/brew pub.
A detailed/interactive ride route can be found at:
Sure Kamikaze is rooted in baggy shorts, goggles, and blazing down a mountain at the speed of a comet entering the atmosphere, however, the XC race is one of my favorite all year. The course is awesome and very similar to the USAC XC Nationals course of 2015 and 2016. It’s a little longer but still has the awesome Shotgun descent, which will leave you smiling at the end of each lap. The weather is also always amazing in the mountains in mid-September with chilly mornings and cool evenings.
This year the XC race was at 3pm on Friday. I love this race but every year I’m worried they’ll cancel it. The time slot gets worse and worse and for some reason the XC turnout is small, including the Pro field which features a nice payout of a few hundred bucks. I decided I’d be a crazy person and drive up super early Friday morning, race, and then hop in the car and get back to the family. Ambitious indeed.
Five o’clock came quickly and I was out the door by 6, which put me on the mountain around noon. Plenty of time for a warmup and to catch up with friends. I’d resigned myself to a second place finish behind Nick Beechan (which shows just how strong my ambition and mental fortitude are) but Nick hurt his knee a few weeks earlier and didn’t show up. For the first time in several years I was thinking I could win this race! With two second place finishes I really wanted to take the top step. I brought up the Anthem 27.5″ for kicks and did not regret the squish.
We started quick. Young guns Turner and Tate took off flying. I hung on their wheel the first little climb then passed before the singletrack. I could hear them close behind until we got into the woods then there was a gap, but when we hit the long climb they were right there again 10-15 seconds back. Ouch! I was throttled. Gradually toward the end of the first lap they fell farther back and by the middle of the second lap they were out of sight. I stepped off the gas a little on the last two laps but didn’t want to give away too much time. The altitude was searing the lungs but the Edge was keeping the leg burn down. Push push push.
Awards and back in the car for another 6 hours in the car. What a day! I’d do it all over again.
After a clean run in 2014 my Leadville races have been marred by flats. In 2015 a torn tire took me out of the race completely and in 2016 I lost a half an hour as I tried to fill one bad tube after another that gracious fellow racers tossed my way. Oh well. That’s part of what makes racing exciting; the unpredictability of it all. Especially at Leadville- 104 miles offers a lot of pitfalls.
This year the LT100 was again the focus of my season. Coach Billy set up a schedule that had me peaking around now even though I’ve done my best to undermine the plan by spending too much time on the bike. But it’s so fun! How can someone want to take a day off? Guilty.
I arrived in Leadville Thursday evening, picked up my bike from Cycles of Life in town (thanks to Bike Flights for getting it there cheaply and in one piece). If there’s one thing I hate about traveling for races it’s lugging a bike case around an airport, on shuttles and into compact rental cars… but I digress. After a smooth flight and two hour drive from Denver to Leadville I met up with Dave the crew at Floyd’s and am so grateful for their hospitality.
Floyd getting down to business
Friday involved building the bike and going for a spin, the typical loop by Turquoise Lake, up Sugarloaf and down Poweline. If there’s one section to check it’s poweline. The lines change a bit every year and it’s helpful to know where the deep ruts are so you don’t end up in them when you’re bar to bar in race madness. We ordered pizza at the house and made it a movie night. The choice? Tour de Pharmacy of course. It was the ideal race distraction and there’s not a more ideal audience to watch it with. Needless to say Lance didn’t get many laughs.
Race morning comes quickly. The benefit of the gold corral and close lodging cuts down on the stress.With a 6:30am start it’s early, dark, hovering around freezing, and the last thing you want to do is stand around freezing at the starting line. The atmosphere was the same as always. Thousands of people shivering and looking nervous. The Ergon team was noticeably absent as were the Pro Roadie set as they were racing the Colorado Pro Tour race.
The start was mellow. No big initial attacks. Grotts and Wells just hung with the peloton until St Kevin’s climb. The pace wasn’t as hard charging as last year but I knew immediacy my legs were not there. You know that feeling when you know you should be able to accelerate but your body just won’t respond? Uh oh. The heart rate started to redline and I was gasping for air. It didn’t feel as effortless as last year. This was going to be a long day and I was going to have to work.
I watched the front ten slip away and fell in with a chase group of eight. We spun our way up Sugarloaf and shot down Poweline and had found ourselves down to about five. We pushed hard on the pavement, pace lining and riding hard until we pulled in the lead group just before Pipeline (minus top 3 or 4 who were way up the road). We worked together until the base of Columbine. One of my favorite sections is riding through the Twin Lakes feed zone. It’s amazing to see Thousands of people out cheering and supporting the riders. If your struggling it’s a great pick me up before the soul crushing Columbine.
Every year I think I know how long Columbine lasts and every year it seems longer. You climb for a while on the dirt road in the aspens and it’s serene. I found myself struggling to hold a wheel but there are moments of enjoyment. Once you pop out on the double track above the tree line it’s a whole new form of torture. The pitches are steep, the rocks are softball size and loose and there’s two way traffic. Climbers are struggling to pedal and swerving all over while descenders bomb back down, drifting and sliding all while fighting for a single line. Madness. The descent is fast and jarring and I was glad to be down. My back was hurting and now’s the time when you start contemplating your decisions. Your friends are all at Twin Lakes. With a car. It would be so easy to call it a day.
By the time we hit the single track again I was 16th with one rider just up the road and another one slipping off my wheel. Not good. You need a group. I struggled to pipeline by myself in the wind. No one around. I hit the road section. Still not a rider in sight. Last year there were three of us pacelining this section but not this year. It cost about eight minutes and untold watts to get to Powerline alone. People make sure you have someone here. Stop and wait. Anything. Don’t be dumb like me and ride it alone!
I was cooked. Poweline never felt so long and steep. I just wanted to be done. And not crash or flat. Cautious. Maybe too cautions. The last twenty miles are always a blur. You fly and skid down Sugarloaf then face the brutal pavement climb back up to St Kevin’s. I alway have trouble here and again lost a few spots as riders spun effortless up and around me. Where did they come from? A mix of emotions occurs. Anger. You try to chase but they’re around the next turn already. Apathy. It will all be over soon. Just look for the red carpet.
Even with a fifth place this year Tahoe Trail 100 still feels like a disappointment. I thought I had talked multiple friends into coming along, only to end up driving and lodging by myself. Two weekends in a row of long road trips had me feeling a bit burned out. Since I already got a spot this year I figured I’d nab a Leadville coin for next year and not worry about the stress of trying to get in last minute, plus, Tahoe is beautiful and the course is good prep for Colorado in a few weeks.
I left early Friday morning and took the back way, hoping to avoid any rush hour traffic in Sacramento. The drive through the Eastern Sierras is beautiful, however, long sections of roadwork wreaked havoc on the drive time. When I rolled into Northstar around 4pm I was pretty burned out and just wanted to eat a pizza alone on the couch and watch TV. It was glorious.
Morning came quickly and a 7am start is not a pro time. There was a chill in the air but with the forecast calling for mid 80s it was an ideal temp. No call up this year, which is a bummer. Also, the event seemed to be under new management with Youphoria Productions. Interesting. Everything felt the same on the surface but I missed the gracious and enthusiastic Abby Long. I lined up next to Ted King and we chatted until the National Anthem kicked off.
The start was quick. Last year Eric and I were coming off Nationals at Mammoth the day before so the legs felt much better. Ted, Peter Stetina, Ryan Petry, and Jamey Watson-Yanik and I all made our way off the front pretty quickly for the first climb. We were hauling. It’s about 880 feet and we did it in about fifteen minutes, which was over a minute and a half faster than last year and good for a KOM over Levi Leipheimer (until Stetina came through on his second lap and crushed it with a 14:32). Wow.
The first lap was quick. Jamey went off the front with Peter chasing and Ted, Ryan and I followed in pursuit. We kept catching glimpses of Peter after the descents but he’d turn around on the climbs and put the hammer down. We lost sight of him toward the end of the first lap as he crept closer to Jamey, who was about 6 minutes ahead. Somewhere on the first lap I lost my spare bottle and had to get through thirty miles on about 18oz of water. It was terrible and I started to feel a bonk and dehydration creep in. I stopped at the start of the second lap to pickup the bottles I’d planted and Ted and Ryan slipped ahead. I caught back up for a bit but my legs were getting wobbly. Uh oh. This was going to be a long lap. They slipped farther out of view and by the top of the climb I was on my own, running out of steam, and hoping to hold my position.
The course seemed rougher this year. I think all the snow and rain tore up the trails a bit and the descents were littered with baseball size rocks and ruts. It got pretty sketchy at times, especially on the gravel roads, because you can easily hit 40-50mph only to have ruts hiding in the shadows waiting to swallow your wheel. I tried to hold it together for the last fifteen miles but I was dying out there. The heat was taking it’s tole. By the time I hit the last climb which is another 900 feet and about 20 minutes, I could barely hang on. I lost over three minutes off my previous lap’s time. An eternity. By the time I hit the top I didn’t see anyone behind me and I just eased off the gas and coasted the singletrack back to the finish, so grateful to be done. I grabbed some Gu recovery and then Ryan and I went and sat in the creek, it was glorious. Ice cold water flooded over my legs and numbed them back to life, pulling me out of my stupor. Imagine my surprise when I checked the results and I was listed as sixth. After some investigation and hand wringing it turns out that they didn’t have the first timing checkpoint set up when we rolled through so if someone DNF and went through the line, it clocked their first lap time as their finish time. Seriously? This messed up everyone’s results until I was able to convince them something went wrong.
Will I come back again? No. The awards sealed the deal. After waiting five hours in hopes of getting a Leadville spot, the coins for the pro field went two deep. Two deep! Sure there weren’t many in the Pro class but these were the overall leaders! Ted didn’t get a spot. They didn’t even separate the overall winners from the categories like they have in the past. The 30-39 field went 11 deep for coins, the same category I raced in Austin two years ago before they unveiled this whole new “pro” versus age group dynamic. I keep hearing how Leadville is trying to attract more pro racers and fill all the spots as the cache dwindles and other more fun races are springing up, however, they’re not doing much to entice them. Were there bottle hand offs? No. The aid stations were some of the least stocked and staffed I’ve ever experienced. This was especially apparent after coming from the Crusher last weekend where basically the entire population of Southern Utah showed up to cheer and hand out food, ice, bottles, beer, and encouragement. Tahoe Trail? Expensive lodging, lack of parking, and costly race fees? Yes. A Leadville coin? No. Last year finishing a minute slower and in fourth place there were plenty of coins to go around. Overall the corporate atmosphere of the series and qualifiers has won and the racers have lost. This will be my last year at the LT100. I’m not even really thrilled about going this year but all the pieces of the puzzle are in place. On to more fun races and adventures. Goodbye Lifetime.
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.