Steamboat Springs Stage Race – TT

OK, so I gave in and signed up for my very first stage race. And, of course, I had to pick one in the mountains! 

I’m staying in the tack room of a friend of Beth’s and mine, Liz, who lives in a barn. No, not a house that was once a barn. A barn, that is still for the most part…. a barn. She has a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen all ‘shot gun’ style along one side of the barn. The other side, as well as the far end, is mostly hay storage…with a 10×10 tack room at the front end across from Liz’s bedroom. It is a comfy space and I have my Bicycle Tour of Colorado air matress as my bed. I’m surrounded by tubs, duffle bags and assorted size cardboard boxes full of my cycling stuff, electronics and personal belongings.  What more could a cyclist want… or need.

There is a large open area where large farm equipment might be stored. In this barn, it is a rather informal living room — large, open space with a concrete floor! And, to top it all off, there is a swallow nest in the corner and the swallow parents fly in and out all day long caring for their young. It is so heartwarming.

But, as comfy as the accomodations are, this is a bike race trip — not a nature tour!

I arrived on Friday afternoon, quickly unpacked and then headed out to scout the time trial (TT) course. The route was easy to find — but it was raining so I decided to stay in my car and drive the route instead of getting all wet and cold the night before the first stage of the race. It was daunting. Right out of the gate there were a number of steep rollies — giant swells really, starting with a steep climb for 100 or so yards, then an immediate descent. Built the way I am, these look nasty!! After a few of those there is a steady incline as the road twists and turns up through cattle country. At a couple points, the road almost doubles back on itself — but it continues to rise. Then I came to the first cattle guard. As soon as I crossed over it the road took a noticable turn – UP! The climbing started in ernest now. For the next 1.5-2.0 miles the climbing was at 4-7% grade. Relentless. As I drove, I could feel my quads tighten in protest of what they would be asked to do tomorrow.

Finally, the summit. And, without even a hint of level terrain, the road plummeted at an even steeper grade back down the other side. At the bottom was another cattle guard that we had to cross before climbing up a short section to the turn around point. Someone thought it was a good idea to have the TT go out to this turn-around and then have the finish back at the top of the steep hill we just descended. Whoever that someone is — they are NUTS!

I pondered the route as I drove my Subaru back to the start line. By the time I got there, the rain had stopped and the roads were already partially dry. There was still some daylight left, so I parked, got Pogo out and we rode back up to the top of the first climb….actually we went part way down the far side, but only a short way before we’d decided that we’d seen (and felt) enough. The ride was challenging at a ‘conversational’ pace — I was nervous about repeating it at ‘race pace’.

I turned in early so my body would at least be rested for the race…. and, to my surprise, I slept well and go up at 7:00am ready to go! I went through my normal race-day preparations. Same oatmeal (“Rocket fuel”) breakfast, same one-hour pre-race warm-up. And, with about 20 minutes to start time, I made my way to the course. There were a couple dozen women in the area getting lined up in numerical order, starting with 250. With a last name of North, I was awarded 266 and there were only a handful of riders who would start after me in our group.  Riders were sent every 30 seconds and I was both nervous and anxious as I heard the offical count down ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ for me. It was uphill right from the gate. I got out of the saddle and powered up to a reasonable speed and then settled in for what would be close to 45 minutes of intense effort.

I’m not sure how to describe the ride — I was totally focused on going as fast as I could without blowing up. I could see the two or three gals who started ahead of me…. and I could feel the breath of those who started after me on the back of my neck. When racing, I don’t use my mirror — and I miss it! But, I didn’t have to wonder all that long. As we approached the first big climb the first gal passed me. I expected this to happen…. I just wondered if I would be dead last after it was all said and done. As I was pondering, a couple more speedy, petite riders went on past me. I swear they weren’t even breathing hard! 

My large, blocky build is NOT an asset for this type of a ride. It is a HUGE liability. Not only was I one of only three riders over 55 years old, I was probably one of the heaviest of the group. Of course, I knew that would be the case when I signed up….so, I told myself, just RIDE! And, that’s what I did. I kept those pedals turning and I kept my intensity as high as I could sustain.  Once I got to the steepest part of the first hill, I actually held my own. I did not lose very much to many of the gals, and I even gained on some of them!!  That summit could not come soon enough though. I was sucking air big-time by the time I got there.  I put in a couple strong pedal strokes to get over the top and then I got myself into a downhill crouch and rode that hill all the way to the bottom. My peak speed was close to 50 mph. I flew over the cattle guard and half way up the next rise before I could put any resistance against my pedals again. That was nice!

I was not thrilled with this extra hill and turn-around though. I dreaded going back up that hill I had just flown down. If I could come down it as fast as I did — it was going to be hell to get back up again! UGH! But, that’s what had to be done, so I just kept pedaling. There was a short downhill back to the cattle guard before the last big hill.  There were at least 6-7 gals on the hill ahead of me. They all looked miserable! I was about to join them.  I knew I could get up the hill, and I knew that I still had some power in my legs.  I bore down and focused on keeping my cadence as high as I could and let the rest of it take care of itself.  I started gaining on a couple of the gals. I passed two of them on my way to the finish line! That felt good. Of course, many more had passed me than I had passed, but I’ll take my small victories when I can get them. The last 30-40 yards to the finish were painful.  When I finally crossed the finish line at the summit, I didn’t bother to stop to try to get my time, I just kept right on goingl. Over the top and started my recovery ride as I descended back to town. I caught up with some of the other riders returning as well and we shared war stories. No one thought it was easy, and no one was relishing the fact that tomorrow’s road race started with this route…and then added on another 43 miles of “fun”.

When the scores were finally posted, I was 20 out of 25 riders. The winning time was 34 minutes (and change), my time was just under 42 minutes.  That put me in second place for the SW55+ category. Ruth Alexander was in first, 2:45 ahead of me. There was one gal behind me in the category, Jan Leatherman. I was 1 minute ahead of her!  I’d take it!!!! 

Now I can start worrying about the road race!