Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ghosts of My Past: Part 1

During the winter months, as the temperature plummets, thoughts often turn to warmer times and of races gone by. Today, I find myself in just such a retrospective mood, where thoughts have turned to races in my past.

I've never won a race. Placed top 10 lots of times. Placed top 20 even more. Even stood on the podium once. But I've never been first across the finish line. Not sure whether it's a physical or mental thing, but my suspicion lies with the latter. My point is, the races I recount are the ones that stand out in my mind. Maybe they stand out because they were epic, or very difficult, or maybe I did something really well or made a dumb mistake. Either way, this won't be a brag-fest or a bloated recount of my palmares.

The Race:
Estes Park Challenge Stage Race
Date: June 23 and 24, 2001

My first (and only) stage race. It was also my first race involving an overnight stay at a hotel. I was just coming off of a nice top 10 finish at the Andy Finch Memorial race so I knew my form was coming around, besides, I had been training like it was my job (much to the chagrin of my wife and my actual employer).

Being nestled in the Rocky Mountains, this race promised some REAL climbing. My climbing was above average so I thought good results were in my future. The goal I set for myself was a top 20 overall, my secret goal: top 10 with a podium spot on one stage.

Checking into the hotel was a very cool experience. Racers everywhere, multi-thousand dollar bikes laying against the front desk, lining the halls, it was crazy. I felt like a PRO, even though I was racing Cat 4. The "PRO" experience continued in a large conference hall where registration took place. We all gathered to receive a pre-race briefing, complete with course maps and racer schwag bags then it was dinner and off to bed. Tomorrow bright and early, the first stage awaits...

Slept like crap. Got up early, made some crappy coffee in the hotel coffee pot, then made some crappy oatmeal in the same pot. Did a quick check of the bike and my wheels, pinned on my numbers and suited up. The morning was cool and foggy, calling for arm warmers and knee warmers. I wanted to get in a practice lap and scope out the course before the race start.

The course was an 8 mile loop with a couple of decent climbs, unfortunately for me, both climbs were followed by blistering descents. The first one, I topped out at 49 mph, according to my computer. I'm a terrible descender, there wouldn't be any lasting breakaways for me. I will get ahead on the climbs and just try and stick with the group on the the way down. Back to the Start/Finish and it's almost starting time. Racers are out warming up, doing quick little bursts to and fro, like spandex clad hummingbirds. I find my buddy John amid all the chaos and exchange some nervous pleasantries. We talk strategy for a bit. He's talking about how we can get in a break and he'll work for me, but I know that once we start, I won't see him until the finish. John can climb and descend like crazy, but his starts are horrible and it takes his engine a long time to warm up.

Loudspeaker crackles on - "Cat 4 men - 5 minutes to start." Quick trip to the Porta-John and it's line up time. WOW... There must be over 100 racers lining up (actually it was 93). John and I nestle into the middle of the group. Loudspeaker again, telling us about the rolling enclosure, the yellow line rule, neutral support, etc.

"Racers get ready..."
Crack! The pistol fires and the peloton slowly rolls forward. I clip my foot in and the race has begun.

To be continued....

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