Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tour of the Gila Wrap-Up

Ok, after 4 days of sitting on my ass doing next to nothing, I finally summoned the energy to type this:

Saturday's Stage 4 was a 40 lap crit (totaling a little over 43 miles) right through downtown Silver City. The course was a rectangle with long straightaways, a high-speed downhill corner, awful pavement on the back stretch, and enough wind to make it much easier in the draft. Except for a short, punchy hill, it was easy to sit in. I was nearly half an hour down in GC by this point, so when a breakaway formed (without me in it), and Bissell lined all eight of their guys up at the front, my focus shifted to conserving as much energy as possible for the final stage on Sunday – and what better way is there to conserve energy than to fall off the back and get pulled? None! So, I slid to the back of the field, and when a gap opened up in front of the Trek-Landis guy in front of me, I didn’t come around him to close it. It didn’t really occur to me that this guy was actually getting dropped – I was having such an easy time sitting in that I foolishly assumed he was trying to get pulled from the race too. So I sat on the poor guy for several laps while he chased in vain. At one point he nearly dragged me back to the field. I pulled up along side him and said “dude, what are you doing? I’m trying to get dropped here,” which naturally crushed his desire to keep chasing, and kindled the flames of hatred towards me that no doubt still burn in his heart. After 20 laps the race officials took mercy and pulled us from the race. I was given a pro-rated time of four minutes (not bad considering I missed out on the last 45 minutes of racing), and got to clean up, change, and eat before watching the exciting final few laps. I'm glad I wasn't out there -- the pace quickened a lot towards the end. Bissell brought the break back to within fifteen seconds on the final lap, and Chris Wherry delivered Henk Vogles to the last corner with enough of a gap to hold off all the chasers. Yee-haw.

Sunday’s stage is one of the hardest races I’ll do all year. The first 50 miles or so are pretty tame – the terrain is rolling, there isn’t a ton of wind, and the leading team usually lets a breakaway escape before reeling them back on the slopes of the first big climb. There are three big climbs in the last 50 miles of the race. The course profile resembles the lower jaw of some fearsome monster with massive teeth. First we go over a major mountain pass towards the Gila Wilderness visitor center, then we bomb down the CRAZY descent into the valley below, turn around in the visitor center parking lot, and climb right back where we came from. Over the top of the first climb, the some guys attacked, and I chose not to respond (although in retrospect, I should have – it wouldn’t have hurt me to be up the road, and there was a chance I would have made the lead group). On the insane descent, I was right behind the big crash of the day, and narrowly avoided going down myself. I caught up the “main group” of 20-30 guys, and sat in until the next climb, where I did everything I could to stay with them. I got gapped off 2 miles from the summit, but kept calm, and didn’t blow up. I went over the top perhaps 30-40 seconds behind the group. I caught the Tecos rider ahead of me, and before long, Tom Peterson caught up to us, and helped us chase back to the group. I was surprised to see Morgan Schmidt was up there, considering he had done a lot of work pulling the breakaway back – a great ride for the HB alum. The final 20 miles are a SLOG – almost all uphill, very slow and very tiring, especially since we were all cross-eyed after the previous two climbs. I hung in the group until the sprint, and didn’t have much when the finish line finally did come. Michael Grabinger took the sprint for 9th place (making that a total of 4 current or former HB riders finishing in the top 16). Last year I finished in the third group on the road, so it feels good to know I did better, and hung with a faster group this time around.

For now, I’m hanging out in Santa Fe, recharging my batteries for Mt. Hood. I’ll be here until Saturday when I’ll fly to Portland. I’m excited to see that my fitness is pretty good these days – I’ve clearly got the strength – I just need to put it together and actually get some results that turn some heads.

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