This is it. the final stage. A 9 mile loop of hilly hell that we would have to traverse 5 grueling times. After the road race and time trial from yesterday, my legs are a bit fatigued. Maybe gelatinous would be a better description. I tried to scope out the course by car last night but ended up getting lost on some crazy canyon road in the dark. Oh well, sometimes I feel like the less I'm prepared, the better I do. Less pressure.
I get a short warm up in and it's time to line up. A few riders exchange nervous banter while waiting for the start. Why is it that people can't just sit in silence. Is it nerves? The gun interrupts my pondering and were off.
The peloton moves along with a comfortable ease, legs a bit fatigued from the previous day. The first 2 and a half to 3 laps continue at this pace, feeling almost too easy. I'm up near the front to keep out of trouble (and to keep an eye on the overall leader), riding along, maybe even getting a bit lax... When, bam! an attack goes clear. The leader isn't in it so nobody responds. I sit, watching the group of 5 or 6 riders pull away. I could catch them still, if I really put the hammer down but another minute and it will be a different story.
I go. This is a hands in the drops, head low, big ring pain fest, but I know I can bridge the gap. Inching closer, I notice a shadow on my left side. A glance back and I realize that I've towed the entire peloton up to the lead group. Good for me...
One big happy family again. Everyone plays nice until the first hill on lap 4. It's a steepish number, not particularly long but a leg burner just the same. Who decides to attack? The leader himself. Stockburger. No one chases... What the hell?? Do I have to do everything? So I go. I get right on his wheel and sit in. That wasn't too tough. I look behind me and we've put some distance between us and the peloton. This is crazy. I'm on a possible winning break with the overall leader of the Estes Park Challenge.
I take a turn or two up front until we get to the false-flat downhill that precedes the start/finish. Then Stockburger hides behind my ample draft and lets me pull him all the way to the next hill. We cross the start/finish line, 1 lap to go....
I'm feeling good but getting nervous. I can't panic but the gravity of my situation is setting in. I'm in second place and there is the slim possibility that I could win (if I don't do something stupid). I glance behind me as we start the climb, the peloton is back there but I don't think we'll have to worry about them catching up.
That's me in the dark blue looking a little haggard, sitting in second place in stage three of the Estes Park Challenge.
All the sudden Stockburger stands up and he's gone. Damn... I go WAY in the red just to match his acceleration and proceed to blow up... Damn. Next thing I know, the peloton is passing me and there's nothing I can do about it. I'm now with the stragglers that the peloton dropped. I get in with a small group of 5 or 6 and we take turns up front on the final downhill before the finish.
I've got nothing left for the finish. That last hill is going to eat me for breakfast and it seems everyone in the group knows it. They all attack in unison and I put forth everything I've got to pull even with the last guy in the group as we cross the line.
21st place. Stockburger won (not that I was surprised). Race over. That was my first and only stage race.
What did I learn from all this? Well, it was something another rider said to me that I've held onto over the years. A Vitamin Cottage rider came up to me after the race and told me that I rode really aggressively, and that he thought that if I had played my cards better, I could have beaten Stockburger. He said I worked too much at the front and chased down too many breaks over the course of the race. I needed to conserve more energy and not to expend it unwisely. And most of all, to be patient. It's funny, at the time, I was probably a little taken aback by what he said. But as I've aged, I realized he was absolutely right.
Final overall: 17th place.