"I could win." The thought alone weighs 50 tons, with all the extra pressure that it carries. More pressure, that's the last thing I need, as I approach the first turn on the final descent of this stage. The peloton has split and a gap has opened between the lead group of 10 to 15 riders and the rest. I'm sitting in 5th position and I'm holding my spot. The adrenaline is really flowing and it seems to have calmed my nerves a bit, allowing me to hang with these more skilled descenders.
I could win.
Last couple of nasty turns coming up, my back tire nearly washes out as I negotiate the first part of a "S" turn and a couple riders pass me on the left. Damn, was that some gravel? No. Something's wrong. I bounce my butt on the saddle slightly and feel that terrible harshness of metal rim bottoming out and striking the pavement. I've got a flat. Judging by the lack of firmness in my rear tire, the air is almost completely gone. I have to make a decision. The neutral support car (actually, it's an old pickup with everyone's wheels in the flat bed) isn't too far back but it will cost me about 20 places to wait for it or I could risk riding on the flat to the finish. I decide to wait, the last part of this descent is just too scary to ride with a flat. I feather my brakes and take the last part of the "S" turn, making my way over to the shoulder. As I coast to a stop, 8-10 more riders go by giving me a wide berth. My hand goes up to signal for support. Now to wait. I see the truck coming, but it's behind a group of 10-15 racers. They pass me in a whir of cadence and freewheel and the truck pulls up behind me. I remove my back wheel. The driver puts the truck in park, grabs a random wheel and jogs up to me. He practically throws the wheel into my frame and it slides right into the drop outs (he's obviously done this before...) As he closes the quick release, I throw my leg over the top tube and click in. A quick push and I'm off again.
That's me in front in the blue/black/yellow kit. Notice the different color rear rim and tire...
The majority of the peloton is strung out ahead of me and I have a good chance of catching them before the finish. I make that my new goal since the group I was with pre-flat are probably within spitting distance of the finish. I pedal as hard as I can, lungs and legs protesting, but I bridge the gap. As we round the final right hand bend, and begin the gradual climb to the finish, I stand up and start to sprint. I pass two more riders before the line and I am totally spent. I coast across the finish, it's all I can muster. Stage one is over.
I find my wife among the spectators and she listens to me cuss and complain for a good 5 minutes. OK, good to get that out of my system. We find the support truck and I exchange my rear wheel for my wheel with the flat and grab my spare wheelset. Back to the hotel to check results and get a quick nap and bite to eat. I've got a 10K time trial this afternoon...
My finish: 33rd on Stage 1 of the Estes Park Challenge
That's the first stage, the other two to come later