As shitty as yesterday was, today was equally as awesome. It was the Queen Stage - the Circumnavigation of Mt. Guyot. There were three significant climbs, long and steep, and the first major hike-a-bike of the race.
I spent a ton of time on recovery yesterday after the awful body breakdown I had in the stage 2. Jon Davis from 92Fifty Cyclery is at the race with his Elevated Legs, and they are nothing short of amazing. It's basically a combination of compression, lymphatic drainage and recovery massage, and I spent probably an hour in them yesterday in two different episodes. Afterwards, my legs still felt tired, but noticeably better.
I also spent most of the evening making some portables so that I could have some real food instead of just energy chews. My stomach is happier that way - and therefore, so are my legs, since I actually can get fuel down the pipe.
This morning, after a 20 minute session in the Legs and a 20 minute warm up to get the heart rate going, I rolled down to the start line at 8:05. I was STILL barely able to squeak in the side of the staging area near the front! But I did, and then I stood there for nearly 25 minutes. Holy crap, that was unpleasant. But it was better than starting way in the back. This time, I wasn't off the back from the gun. I settled into a comfortable but fast pace in the top 30 or so riders, and the race was on. I told myself I wasn't going to be pulled into a faster pace by my competition, and just ride my own race. I really didn't want to blow up again.
I knew that the first four pro women racers were well ahead (Marlee, Kate A, Kelly, and Catherine), but I didn't see Laura or Kate Z, and I wasn't sure of their position. I kept telling myself it didn't matter. I finally saw Laura chasing me up the first singletrack climbs, and she was coming fast. I stayed consistent. It was an awesome trail with huge berms, and I kept wondering why the heck we were going up that trail instead of down! (To my delight, we actually did come down it as well- close to the very end. Wheeee!)
I stopped at Aid 1 to do a quick bottle swap, and Laura came through with a strong attack. I was able to get back on the bike quickly and stayed with her for a couple of minutes, but it was clear she was putting out an effort that I didn't feel comfortable matching. I backed off and let her go. She was ten minutes up on me in the GC, it didn't make sense for me to blow up trying to chase her.
Soon, the French Pass climb came into view. It was the first long hike-a-bike section of the race. We climbed well above treeline, and the air was thin. I tried to look around a little, but the trail was faint, narrow, steep, and rough, and losing focus would mean putting a foot down which would mean walking. I didn't want to walk until I absolutely had to. I was pleased to feel that my climbing legs were back, and I plugged along. I felt like I was going so slowly, but one by one all the riders in front of me got off and walked, including Laura. We cheered each other on as I went by - both breathless. This is what I love about bike racing. We are trying to beat each other, but we can still recognize and appreciate each other's efforts. It's pretty cool. I chugged on by at my snail's pace- but I was still on my bike.
I was the last person in my vicinity to get off and hike, and when I did, I nearly ran. I was moving quickly, and I was thankful for the even brief times that I have spent fast hiking, trying to keep up with Donny, and trail running with Cody over the last few weeks. I could feel a difference from the Breck 100 hike a bike. I kept repeating my mantra, "bike is light. bike is light. bike is light-" in time with my steps as I moved upwards as quickly and consistently as I could, just a tiny ant in the line of hikers snaking upwards towards the horizon.
The funniest thing about this section was that there were a few guys right behind me, two or three at least, who were chatting the entire time in rapid Spanish. I couldn't believe they were actually carrying on a conversation. I don't think I could have told anyone my name, much less talked in complete sentences. Usually I get annoyed if people are talking around me a lot in a race, but for some reason I found it amusing and somewhat comforting. If these Spanish-speaking dudes were up there yakking away like it was happy hour, this couldn't be all that bad.
At the very top of the pass, Jon Davis and some other guys were up there handing out bacon, beer, and skittles. I don't usually take weird handups, but I plunged my hand in the colorful bag and tasted the rainbow all the way down the descent off the pass. And what a descent it was! Holy crap. I have not had that much fun on a bike in... well, okay, I guess it hasn't been that long. But it was SO much fun! It reminded me of Crested Butte riding, or Monarch Pass - fast, steep, technical high alpine singletrack. I was in my element and completely comfortable, charging through rocks and airing off lips, being cautious to ride lightly. I couldn't risk a flat here. It reminded me of chasing Donny and Chris down Spring Creek trail off Monarch Pass just a few weeks ago. I was flying and I'm pretty sure I let out some hoots. It was long, and when I flew in to Aid 2 I yelled "that was SO fun!" A quick change of bottles and it was off to climb Georgia Pass.
Georgia Pass was a road climb and the miles went pretty quickly. I was climbing into a headwind, and I was alone. Dang me. I looked around but there was no one in sight. Not ideal, but I didn't want to let up, because I didn't know how close Laura was (I know, I told myself I wouldn't think about position - but I had to, just a little). Eventually a couple of guys caught me, and we worked together until it became too steep, and then I put the game face on and finished it out.
The next descent on the Colorado Trail, again, was world class. This time in the woods - rooty, rocky, and more and more technical as I lost elevation. The huge chunky rock sections became really tricky- those rocks weren't going anywhere, and I had to maintain momentum as well as quickly find the best line through. Again, I didn't want to risk flats. It was sort of like Nederland/Ward area riding; reminded me a lot of the chunky South St. Vrain descent which is my favorite on the Front Range. It makes my mind work as much as my body and I enjoy the challenge. I was so glad that I was still feeling strong and able to keep my body loose and yet ride aggressively enough to pilot my bike through the rocks and roots. I can't imagine riding that with arm pump or leg cramps like I had yesterday. I also can't imagine riding that with a fully loaded bike like all those Colorado Trail Racers out there! I managed to ride the entire thing cleanly and breathed a huge sigh of relief at the bottom.
And then... up again! The final climb, American Gulch, cracks a lot of people. It is steep, and gets steeper, and just when you think it must be over, it gets steeper yet. Again, I was still feeling strong, and happy for it. I hammered all the way up, sometimes very slowly but still moving consistently, passing quite a few people on the way. Some of them were really hurting and I sent them any extra energy that I had - which wasn't much. The road finally flattened out and, knowing I couldn't let up while I was still feeling good, I put as much power to the pedals as I could and finished it out.
The last long descent, the new "moto descent," was also very rooty and technical, though less rocky. There were a lot of fast steep corners and it required a lot of focus. About halfway down I heard a sound that sounded vaguely like a cow mooing. It took me a minute to realize that there were probably not cows out in the middle of the woods on the side of the mountain. I heard it again and realized I wasn't hearing things - I'm pretty sure it was some sort of large mammal. Moose? Elk? I didn't know, and I was going too fast to really look around. Besides, what was I going to do out there? I was still completely by myself, no one around within earshot. I kept going, and I didn't see anything, but I'm sure it saw me. I was thankful it let me pass.
There were a few more rolling climbs and descents to go, and they went quickly. I pedaled as fast as I could, and pumped through the rollers and berms, stealing as much free speed as possible. My riding today was the complete opposite of yesterday. I felt confident on my bike and in my body again, and it felt good. I ripped down the final descent to the finish and right into the bathroom. I had to pee SO BADLY, but I wasn't about to lose whatever precious minutes I had gained in the GC because I went pee. Haha.
As it turned out, I put four minutes into Laura's lead and about twelve into Kate's time, as we were neck and neck after yesterday. I was 5th on the day, and now 6th in the overall. I have about seven minutes to make up to tie with Laura, and we'll see what happens. Both those women are incredibly strong riders, both capable of having another really great day like they did yesterday, and I know this race is far from over. It's fun having the competition this close! The top 4 are really close as well, and I am fighting hard for that 5th spot. The rest of the top 10 aren't far behind either - one crappy day or major mechanical from any of us, and the lineup could easily change. Like always - anything can happen. That's what makes it so exciting.
Tomorrow's stage, the Aqueduct, is going to be tough. It is the longest, and the most climbing. I'm guessing it will take me somewhere around 4:45. It's over a lot of the same terrain that cracked me yesterday. I think I'm a little better prepared this time, so we'll see how my body responds to day 4 in a row of hard racing. Stay tuned!