I was dreading this stage as it covered a lot of the same terrain that cracked me on Stage 2. Fortunately it passed quite uneventfully. I didn't ride my best, it wasn't as strong and smooth as yesterday's ride- but it was good enough.
I again got to the staging early and stood there for over 20 minutes so I could start near the front. It's worth it. I took advantage of the time by doing some stretching and mobility exercises- I'm sure I looked pretty funny. Oh well.
The stage went off quickly to a familiar climb, and I settled into a good rhythm. My upper body was a little tired from all the hammering on the technical descents yesterday, and on the first fire road descent with loose babyheads everywhere I was a little tentative. Laura flew past me near the end of the first descent, riding confidently and gaining time. I kept her in sight until Aid 1, where I stopped to switch out bottles and she kept going. Trying not to burn any matches, I let her go.
The next descent was not my favorite and certainly not my forte - loose, sandy, gravelly, slippery. It was awkward for me and I had to try not to get frustrated. When we came out of the woods we were above a town - I think it was Keystone. It was pretty awesome to be looking down on the entire town. I tried not to get too distracted and fall off the steep trail. The switchbacks got to me and I was riding stiffly again, and had to unclip for a couple of them. D'oh.
Finally we were at the bottom and started climbing again. Vomit Hill was steep, loose, and rutted. There was a bottleneck, and everyone was hiking. I ran part of it and got back on as quickly as I could, as I know these steep climbing sections are really the only place where I can have an advantage. I finally passed Laura near the top, and dug deep to get ahead. The descent after Vomit Hill was fun and rooty, and I started riding more smoothly and letting the bike flow with the trail underneath me. It was over much too quickly and up we went again, and then on to a fast flowy flume trail. It was a climb, but a fast big gear hammering climb. I grabbed a dude's wheel and hung on as we shot out onto another long road climb that would take us up the ridge to the Colorado Trail.
When I looked at the map yesterday, I knew this stage would be a road race. Not in the sense that it is all road, but there was a lot of road and I knew that it would be important to ride it like a road racer. I played it well and was able to jump on and work with various people, until the pace would slow down and I would get antsy, and then I would bridge the gap up to the next riders. I jumped riders this way up the whole road climb, and it seemed to work. I was feeling good as the road made a sharp turn and got steep again. I was riding near a guy named Ryan from Canada for most of the road section, and we seemed to be going a similar pace. He would lead on the faster sections, and I would jump ahead on the steeper climbs. It was nice to have someone to consistently work with and made the long road miles pass more quickly.
I was drinking a ton of Skratch on this stage - I actually found it hard to eat much today, I threw as much food down the hole as I could, but I nearly ran out of Skratch between each aid station. It was hot, and I guess my body wanted liquid! It's nice because I am finally dialing in the amount of Skratch I need to stay well hydrated and not have to pee all the time. Haha. I have a tiny bladder, and when I'm drinking close to 30 ounces per hour, it's really important to get my concentration of Skratch to water dialed so that I don't have to stop. When the times are as close as they are now, stopping is not an option!
Finally (finally! holy crap!) the steep road climbing ceased. It seemed to go on FOREVER, it just kept throwing punches. But finally it let up and we powered into the last section of singletrack. We still had about six miles to go and I threw down as hard as I could, still sucking down Skratch like it was my job. By the end of the stage, again, I was glad to see the finish line. My body cooperated today, and I felt pretty strong, but I am definitely starting to get tired. This is a long, hard race.
Tomorrow is the Wheeler stage. It will be about an hour of hike-a-bike to the top of Wheeler Pass. I don't really have a great advantage there because my legs are so short, but I will do the best that I can. I'm really hoping all the high altitude hiking and trail running I've been doing will pay off again like it did on French Pass- only this one will be much longer. Then the gnarly descent off of Wheeler that will be familiar from the Breck 100, roadie racing down the bike path to Frisco and the Peaks trail, and hammering it out back to town. It's a shorter stage, but will certainly be tough.
I came in 5th again today, with Laura hot on my heels only a few minutes back. I am now only three minutes back from 5th in the GC. It's definitely a tight race. Marlee won again, followed by Catherine, Kate Aardal, and Kelly. I've been a lot closer to Kelly the last two days, and I wonder where I'd be at had I not detonated on Stage 2? Ah well - no use in wondering. Maybe next time. ;)
Up into the sky tomorrow. More to come.