Wow, what a different scene to be lining up at a road race again! We forgot how much more serious this crowd is...and also how they don't go from the gun like a 'cross race! Carl's Race:
My category (45-54yr old, Cat 1-4) had over 150 riders, and since it was everyone but beginners (and maybe even some of those!), I knew it would be important to line up at the front. So, I staged early and made sure to jostle around enough that I could hold my spot. I ended up on the front row, which was good, because 20 feet from the start, the course took a right turn and pinched down a bit. I'm sure guys got squeezed there. Sure enough, after a somewhat slow roll out, the teams with multiple riders started pushing the pace to trim the field down. I settled in around 30th wheel, right where the group widened out to three riders across, staying in the middle so I would be most sheltered from the wind. It's been years since I rode in a peloton, so it was interesting getting used to squirrelly riders and random braking again! Nonetheless, we rolled out of town at 25-30mph, probably shedding about 1/3 the field in the process.
Iron Horse consists of 3 main climbs, the first starts 16 miles in and goes from the valley to the ski area. It is 9 miles long, and gains 2000', the second comes about 5 miles later, climbing almost 1900' in 5.5 miles, and the final pass is a mere 3.5 miles and 1000'. The sting in the tail is the mile long uphill drag to the finish line in Silverton, CO at 9400' of elevation.
I was able to sit with the group, staying with the leaders until about halfway up the first climb, when they slowly started to pull away. I jumped on with various groups of 2-3 riders to try to get back up, trading pulls and digging deep. Kristal had started 9 minutes ahead of me, and as I approached the second climb, I saw her up ahead. I yelled out encouragement, then put my head down, trying to catch her. I closed to around 20' after about 2 miles of climbing, but then went flat, paying for my hard efforts earlier. I struggled the rest of the way up the climb, watching her slowly increase the gap on me. I would see her from time to time through the rest of the race, but never got back to her. After descending to the start of the final climb, I was feeling better, but the wind started really kicking up. It was gusting to 45-50mph, making the descents a little spooky and the climbs even harder. I was able to follow wheels at times on the final climb, but was often alone as well and it was a battle to top out.
Knowing I was near the end, I bombed the descent into Silverton, passing numerous riders. As I neared the town, I looked back and saw a rider from my category catching me. I buried myself, doing a 1 mile TT to the finish, ending up 14 seconds ahead of him, gasping for air and nearly collapsing on Kristal, who was patiently waiting for me in the finish area looking calm, cool, and collected.
In the end, I finished 54th overall, almost 6 minutes slower than last time I rode it, 6 years ago. I'm satisfied with the effort, though, knowing I couldn't have pushed any harder, and knowing that 6 years ago it was an 'A' race for which we peaked, whereas this year, we're hardly even training yet!
Thanks for reading.
Hill Climbs are not my strong event but it's good training for cross AND I really love this event. Beautiful scenery and closed roads! My category (Cat 3) was mixed in with the Pro 1/2 Category so I was expecting a fast start, but nope, we had a VERY leisurely rollout to the first climb. I was feeling good but after the first climbing mile, I dropped off the pace so I settled into a nice rhythm and a good pace.
I feel that I rode well up the hills and descended very well. As Carl mentioned, the wind made some of the descents a little spooky at times. My personal goal for this race was to beat 3 hours, my second goal was to make it to Silverton BEFORE Carl. I didn't achieve the first (3:02:45) but did manage to stay ahead of Carl. A little friendly competition between spouses!
Overall I was pretty happy with my result and was really happy to be back in the racing saddle!
Next up: Sunshine Hill Climb