Steamboat Springs – Road Race

It was long, it was hard and it hurt like hell. That’s it in a nutshell.

I’m writing this a couple months after the race, so only the highlights remain in my memory. That means that it has probably been long enough that I’ve forgotten just how hard it was and just how much it hurt and I’m  probably stupid enough to sign up to race it again!

Thinking back, I remember starting my race preparation immediately after the time trial. I headed back to Liz’s  barn and my private suite in the tack room where I put my feet up and enjoyed my recovery drink. Most of the afternoon was spent stretching, resting and fueling for the race. Late in the day, I drove the road race route. It went on forever and it was hilly. To say I was nervous would be a gross understatement. After an early, light dinner I turned in. This was just as Liz was heading out to meet some friends for an evening of pool. It cooled off nicely and I slept well, waking occassionally to the sound of heavy rain.

It was dry when I woke up. Chilly but dry. My morning routine was identical to that of the day before. I ate my oatmeal in the tack room as I got dressed and packed up my stuff for the race. It was difficult to figure out what to wear. I knew it would warm up, but as I ate my breakfast I felt like putting on a down jacket and fuzzy boots! So, I put it ALL in the car. I could decide closer to race time.

The whole cast of characters was at the parking lot at the cross country ski center which was the registration and results office for the race. Ruth Alexander was there and looked fresh as did Jan Leatherman, the other two competitors in the SW55+ category. We were all racing in SW4 with all the youngsters as there really were no age categories for the race. However, the Colorado Bicycle Racing Association did award points based on age categories – so I viewed these gals as my competition.   I started warming up on my trainer setup next to the back hatch of my Subaru. It was a great location. I watched racers going past on their way to registration and then back out again as they headed to the start line.  I thought about wearing my extra GoLite base layer, but at the last minute decided not to. I’d be cold at the start, but I was betting I’d warm up quickly as soon as we started climbing and it would also get warmer as the day wore on.

About 15 minutes before the SW4 start, I headed out to the start location where the time trial was held yesterday. Much to my horror, no one was there when I got there! Someone on a bike rode by and could see my obvious confusion. He pointed back towards the ski center and told me that today’s start was there…. not here. Needless to say, I shot off in the direction of the ski center. Now I was concerned that the race would start without me. As I exited the bike path next to the ski center, I could see the women lining up a couple blocks farther down the road. I got there, my heart still racing, with less than a minute to spare.  Luckily, it was a slow roll-out start. We followed a motorcycle along the river road for about a half mile. Then we crossed over the bridge and passed the start location from yesterday where I had been a mere 15 minutes earlier.

Now the race was on. I dreaded this first part. My plan was to do what I could not to get totally dropped. Riding the entire 55 mile route alone would be miserable. No, it would be worse than that. It would be hell. Right from the start many of the younger, lighter riders rode away from me. Some were gone in the blink of an eye, others took just a little longer before they disappeared up the hill and out of sight. By this time I was glad that I hadn’t put on an extra layer. It was warming up, and the climbing was generating plenty of heat!  I was amazed that there were actually some other gals who appeared to be more my own ability. I was in a small group of 4-5 women as we climbed the steep section before the first descent. I pushed myself hard and got close to ‘red lining’ as we reached the summit. I knew that if I could stay within striking distance at the top, I could catch back up on the downhill and hopefully get in with a couple other riders and work together.  That’s exactly what I did.

After crossing the cattle grate at the bottom of the hill and climbing another couple of miles I was still in good position and sizing up the riders to see who I might be able to team up with. It was important that I find one or more riders whose pace was within a mile or two per hour of my own. I would not be able to sustain anything much faster than that and I didn’t want someone slower than me, if I could help it. I wanted to find a couple riders who could help me improve my performance.

I grabbed Kathy Judson’s wheel at the crest of a small hill just before the course took a sharp right. I yelled to Jennifer Muto who was just behind my wheel  to stay with us. I’d met Jennifer riding back from the time trial and we’d swapped stories and gotten to know each other just a bit. So, she recognized me and responded.  So, that would be my group. Just three of us but I was optimistic that this might work out OK. Kathy was a little younger than me, but closer to my age than to the younger riders. She was riding in the SW45+ category. She was loud and energetic. I must say that she came across as a bit eccentric, maybe a bit of a nut! But, she was a strong rider and had her sights on catching all the riders in front of us.  Jennifer and I were a bit more reserved – but more than willing to follow Kathy. I spent most of my spare cycles sizing things up and trying to figure out how I could just finish the darn race! She led on us up the first few hills. I got into a tight tuck and pulled them both back down the other side of the hills at break neck speed. I had to slow up a couple times as I was going too fast for them to hang on. Jennifer took a few turns at the front but Kathy was faster and impatient, so she tended to move to the front whenever possible. We rode like this for 10-15 miles before we were joined by a gal we overtook named Kristen Alder. Kristen is a local rider and this is about the only race she does each year. My jaw dropped when I heard that. If you’re gonna pick one race, might as well make it as difficult as you can, right? Anyway, she had been riding solo and looked exhausted. She tucked in to our little pace line and mostly used us. She didn’t give much back – and, in hind sight, that was a big mistake. We should’ve made her contribute more. We rode along as a foursome out to the turn-around point and then a couple miles back the other way. By this time, I’m starting to fatigue as is Jennifer. Kathy is still looking hungry and Kristen has her second wind now.  I told Jennifer that I was going to let Kathy and Kristen go and that I was going to back it off just a tad and see if I couldn’t recover a little myself. She decided to stay and ride with me. Over the next couple of miles, we watched Kathy and Kristen ride off. Jennifer and I swapped leads and kept a steady pace. We could barely see Kathy and Kristen but slowly but surely they came back into view with about a dozen miles to go. We stayed our course and kept inching closer and closer to them. We also saw a few other women who had started to fall back. By the time we got to that nasty hill where the time trial finished yesterday, I managed to pass Amanda Bye.  Jennifer had trouble on that climb and lost quite a bit of ground to me. I thought of waiting up and finishing the race together, but I could see Kathy and Kristen up ahead so I turned on the after burners instead. Once we got up over that steep climb it was all down hill (well, mostly).  I was exhausted but heading for the barn and focused on reeling in Kathy and Kristen. When I got within about a half mile of them, they started turning around and checking on me. They checked often and they found that I was getting ever closer. I got to within about 50 yards of them as we entered the big rollers near the start of the time trial course. They had more energy left than I did. I lost time to them on every uphill side of a roller. The 50 yards quickly turned into 100 yards. There was less than a mile of racing left. I did everything I could to overtake them. It just wasn’t meant to be. I finished 15 seconds behind Kathy, who was nipped out by Kirsten in a photo finish.

That was one race where I left it ALL out there. I’ve never pushed that hard for so long.  I finished 17th out of 24 in 3:21:02, 23:12 behind the winner. Ruth Alexander finished 5 minutes ahead of me and I finished 3:30 ahead of Jan Leatherman.  It felt great to know that the road race was behind me now. Only one more event to go — and, relatively speaking it would be flat.