Jul 27, 2001
Jul 28, 2001
The race started at 8:30 am and as would be expected on such a hard ride, the pace was very slow at the start--about 15-16 miles an hour on the lower slopes of about 2-3% grade. We had a crash in the first minute and two near-misses when the entire peloton of 105 riders locked up their brakes. I have no idea what they were doing so I dropped back a little to avoid crashing. At 15 miles an hour you don't get much of a draft anyway, I was nervous about crashing, and it was most important that I finished this ride--I'd wanted to complete this climb for well over ten years. I wanted to do well, but most of all, to finish, so I rode cautiously. Unfortunately, the reconnaissance ride I'd done the day before had spooked me into being very scared. As I later found out, it's less frightening to do this mountain on a bicycle than in a car--go figure! Bicycles don't generally explode into flames after careening off a cliff.
I came off the back of the pack very early. I hadn't been feeling well or climbing well this year. My jersey was too tight with the extra bottle of energy drink in the back pocket so I unzipped it all the way to get air. Here are the opening miles.
...and it got steeper...
...and then a little steeper...
I hung in there hoping to stop at Echo Lake (halfway point) to catch my breath. I never did think I would make it all the way without stopping but I kept pushing as far as I could. To put this into perspective, the highest altitude I'd ever ridden at was just over 7400 feet
(Skaggit Pass, Nevada, 1990)
and although I'd occasionally ride the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia which would go briefly above 3000 feet, I did 99% of my training at sea level. My motel in Georgetown, Colorado was at 8500 feet, the race start at around 7000 feet, and finish at 14,130...altitude was a huge factor here. At 14,000 feet you only have 40% of the oxygen you have at sea level.
As time went on I kept thinking I was going to crack but then I'd say this prayer,"Lord, be my strength" and every time a strong tailwind hit me. I'd pick up speed, regain my momentum, and feel I could do this. I also felt I could've really used a lower gear! Twelve years earlier, this climb would not have been a problem. But now, 20 pounds heavier, more heavily muscled (I had Spiderman muscles when I was young) and living in a flat area, climbing became a struggle. In my mind and heart, I belonged in the hills and was still a good climber, but my body often vetoed the other two.
I had Power Bars wrapped in wax paper which didn't work. I dropped one and could barely eat the other two (I was doing this while riding, by the way). I ate more wax paper than Power Bar. Not good...I'd had trouble with keeping fed on hard rides this year. Riders were dropping left and right when we got above the timberline (12,000 feet). At this point, though getting weaker, I knew I'd make it but I wanted to do it without stopping.
Photo courtesy of airphotona.com (http://www.airphotona.com/database/stock/images/01722.jpg)
Photo courtesy of airphotona.com (http://www.airphotona.com/database/stock/images/01737.jpg)
Towards the last three miles I was getting light-headed and felt a tingling in my legs but kept praying. Faster riders would fly by and I'd upshift, sprint, catch them for 100 meters and then a hand wrapped around my neck and said,"Stop breathing!".
I saw the 1 kilometer-to-go sign and was able to upshift two gears and sprint for about 200 meters against the guy next to me. We dueled until I had about 20 feet on him and then I died. The sign was a little pre-mature. We definitely had more than 1 kilometer. Those pigs. I hate when they do that. Then the 200-meter sign showed up and I went again at full sprint (a full sprint on this mountain is only 16 miles an hour) to the final turn, and suddenly, the 14130 foot summit...VICTORY!!!