Holy crap, I'm tired. I feel like I have been wrung out like a wet rag. The Wheeler stage did not disappoint. It was, I would say, the hardest stage for me yet. But, it wasn't Wheeler itself that did me in- it was what came afterwards! Here's how it went down...
This morning, after 20 minutes in the Elevated Legs getting my circulation going and a good 30 minute warmup on the bike, we were off for the start of the Wheeler stage. The highlight of this stage was a long climb up Wheeler - including between 30-60 minutes of steep hike-a-bike. Because this stage funneled onto singletrack right away, we were let off in waves instead of one big mass start. The pro women's field went off fast, and into the dark wet woods we went.
Clouds threatened overhead already, and the forecast was for 50% chance of rain by 10 am. Because of all the hiking, I chose to race with a pack today, as it's difficult to get my bottles out of my jersey pockets while pushing my bike. I also packed a raincoat hoping it would keep the rain away.
Right from the start of the singletrack, Marlee dropped her chain and it got tangled in her derailleur. The rest of us flew by. I had no doubt she would catch up. The Burro Trail was technical, rooty and rocky, which seems to be the name of the game in Breckenridge. Laura and I rode together, hammering up the technical sections while many of the people around us were walking or putting a foot down. Fortunately most of them were nice and moved out of our way. Catherine was just ahead.
The trail turned to road- steep, loose, babyhead road. Also par for the course in this race. As we turned the corner, Marlee caught me. We rode together as far as we could until we were stopped by the ant line of hikers pushing their bikes up the steep mountainside. We joined them, and I settled into a strong hiking rhythm. The air was thin, even for me, and I felt like I was breathing out my eyeballs. I kept my head down, trying not to fall off the steep and narrow trail that was barely wide enough for both me and my bike.
I am not sure how long we hiked. I actually did not look at my Garmin except for once in this entire stage. When we were finally able to get back on and ride for awhile, my fatigue was showing. I was bumbling along the trail, pinballing off the steep sides of the rutted trail and the rocks. I was picking up speed and didn't like where I was going, so I bailed out and pitched over into the bushes on the uphill side of the trail. I got back on and tried again, only to do the same thing about twenty feet later. Oops. I walked a little longer until I felt like I could see straight, then got back on and pedaled a steady rhythm the rest of the way up Wheeler Pass, save one short hiking section. Finally, I hit the top. Marlee had gone over the other side a few minutes before. I grabbed some Skittles from Jon Davis's magic bag, and once again tasted the rainbow all the way down the Wheeler descent.
The Wheeler descent wasn't near as scary as I remembered it from the Breck 100. It wasn't sloppy wet this time, and I felt more confident in the grip of my tires as I flew down the initial part of the descent. I felt my mind come back into focus as I quickly lost elevation, and I focused on riding smoothly and enjoying the fast descent. I was right on a guy's wheel, and was again pinballing off rocks and roots, but this time in a controlled manner, jumping and playing on my bike. I was laughing like a maniac, and probably scared the poor dude in front of me. Eventually my body started to get tired, and I was ready for it to be over. Well, it wasn't over, and I held on for what felt like an eternity until the Wheeler trail ended in the paved trail at Copper. Whew, survived that one. Good.
Right at the end of the Wheeler descent I caught Catherine, who is sitting in 2nd in the GC. The two of us, plus one guy, worked together down the bike path. It is overall a descent, but flat enough that you are still pedaling hard. We took turns pulling and made good time on the pavement. Then, we turned onto the Miners Creek Road. I was feeling pretty fatigued at this point, so I let them go and settled into a bit of a slower pace. I had no idea what was in front of me...
Miners Creek Road is a loose, extremely steep, babyhead-ridden fire road that climbs...and climbs... and climbs. FOREVER. I kept thinking it would end, that I would round a corner and pop out onto the Peaks Trail singletrack. But it didn't. It just... kept... going... up. And I was alone for the entire climb. I'm not sure how long it took, but it felt like years. I kept pushing as hard as I could, refusing to walk even the steepest sections. At times it was so steep, and I was going so slowly, that I had to use momentum to shove my bike up and over rocks - pedaling wouldn't have worked. This road nearly cracked me. I blocked everything from my mind and repeated the mantra that has kept me going since day 1: "bike is light... bike is light... bike is light." FINALLY, the road ended and I turned off onto the Peaks Trail.
If I never ride the Peaks Trail again, that will be okay with me. Holy crap. I used to think that trail was fun. but today it was just a slap in the face after the Miners climb. It is technical, with rocks and roots everywhere, and it kept going up. More up. I was so sick of going up. My mental state started to deteriorate, and I finally looked down at my Garmin and realized I had still seven miles left to go. And I knew it was mostly all climbing. Aaaaahhhhhh! I screamed inside. No more! My mind wandered and I started thinking of all sorts of things, that I can't even remember now. Random stuff. Mostly that I was sick of being on my bike, and annoyed at the stupid roots. I had to stop myself and refocus. "Keep the wheels rolling. The bike is light. Stay present." The trail was really technical, and I couldn't screw up. Fortunately I was able to focus on the terrain and keep the pedals turning.
Then, it started to rain. Five miles to go, and I was on a fast twisty section with roots and stumps. The rain started to come down hard and it was cold. "I'm not f*%@%ing stopping!" I yelled out loud, and again put my head down and drove forward as hard as I could. "What are you made of?" I asked myself. I didn't think I had anything left in the tank. Somehow I kept moving, using the strength of my upper body to push my wheels forward over the huge roots and through the wet rocks. Finally, finally, I started to hear cheering, heard Larry on the microphone and knew the finish was close. I flew through the final corners and rolled across the line, shaking. I couldn't stop and started rolling into the gravel road, where Kelly Boniface put her arm out to stop me from riding right into a car. Oops. Thanks for saving my carcass, Kelly.
I got off my bike and sat down, completely exhausted. I was shaking and I couldn't move for quite awhile. Laura came in just under five minutes after I did. I had reclaimed 5th in the GC, with another 5th on the day, but just barely. She is such a strong rider - I am super impressed at how well she did at high altitude, being from California. I definitely had the altitude advantage today. Still, I was completely worked. And to my surprise, it wasn't even Wheeler that took it out of me. It was that damned Miners road.
I finally made it back to town, and went to the Elevated Legs tent to start my recovery. Just as I got there, the skies let loose. It POURED- for well over thirty minutes. The parking lot became a river. I felt bad for the many riders still out on course. I stayed in the recovery tent until the rain stopped, and then dragged my carcass back to Marlee's house where I have been stuffing my face with anything and everything I could find to put down the hole. It is unbelievable how much I am eating this week- and what strange cravings I am having. Well, I am definitely putting my body through the ringer - better give it what it wants, even if it is bacon and shrimp and green smoothie, and mint chocolate Newman-O's.
Tomorrow is the last stage. I'm not even thinking about being done yet. There are still 30 miles of racing left to go, with some significant climbs and also some wicked singletrack descents. It's going to be a hard day. I hope my body is up for it. I can't wait to line up next to all these incredible women and men that I've spent all week challenging myself with, one last time.