Monday, May 28, 2012

Two flats. One tube. GC hopes dwindling.

Lots of over night rain made for some slippery conditions for stage 2 today.  The riders assembled at the scout camp for a 9:30am mass start.  The 40 mile day began with a brief climb up the road then a fast double track descent.  Soon we get to a sharp single track climb which is mostly ride-able.  But as the grade increases, the moss covering increases and more and more riders become hikers.  The trail keeps bordering between ride-able and not-so-ride-able.  In the end, I decide to stick to hiking for a while to avoid all the on and off bike scrambling.  The hiking trail soon becomes a riding trail again and the trail is really pretty sweet and flowy.

Next up is the most challenging part of the trail for me today.  A very long rocky section where the rocks seem to want to keep pointing your front wheel off the trail.  I keep making mistakes - clipping pedals and bouncing off the trail.  Eventually I settle into a rhythm, work the bike, and remember to be smooth.  It's still tough going, but it's tough for everybody.  I patiently bounce through the rocks.

I arrive at the mile 11 aid station feeling OK about my placing and looking forward to making up some time on the rest of the trail.  We keep climbing up a gravel road and then onto some trail with more pleasantly spaced rocks.  The speeds are pretty high, putting caution at a premium - knowing that somewhere on the trail is a rock with your name on it.  My rock finally finds me on a fast descent and I hear the familiar hiss-hiss-hiss as sealant and air spew out as the wheel goes round and round.  No problem.  I find room to pull off the trail to do the repairs.  After being instantly covered in ants, I move a little farther down the trail.  The repairs don't go really well.  The tube installs fine but the CO2 inflator head is kinda screwed up causing most of the CO2 to end up the atmosphere and precious little to fill the tire.  Out of CO2 cartridges, I cautiously head out on the trail with precariously low pressure.  I keep my weight forward and make it out onto the open road.  Which happens to be downhill and I can't bring myself to slow down, so when the inevitable pinch flat happens I become a hiker.

Thus begins a 30 minute dialog with various riders which mostly goes like this:

Passing rider: "You OK?  Need anything?"
Me: "A 26 inch tube and some air."
Passing rider: "Sorry, 29'er"

Eventually, a kind rider of a 26" bike offers his only tube and inflation kit and continues on.  I install the tube and ready the inflator.  Unfortunately, the valve stem is too short to activate the inflator.  So now I have a flat tire that will at least hold air.

And then another very kind rider stops with a minipump that has enough thread engagement to be able to inflate the tire.  So I pump and pump and pump (there's a reason they call them minipumps) and eventually get to a safe air pressure.  I thank the rider and I'm back on the bike.  Joy!

So now I get to decide if I should just ride in at an easy pace, abandoning all hopes of GC placement, but saving energy that could help win a stage, or to hammer to the finish trying to regain as much lost time as possible.  I didn't really have to think about it too long.  The trail is pretty sweet here and begs to be ridden fast.  With the pressure off for a top finish today it becomes easy to be relaxed and flow with the trail. 

When I finally get to the mile 28 aid station my wife has wheels waiting for me, having heard that I had a mechanical.  I decide to stick it out with what I had and continue on.  The worst part of the singletrack was yet to come...

What would've been rocky, rooty and technical becomes rocky, rooty, technical, muddy and treacherous with the recent water added.  The mud tries to slide you off the rocks and also conceals the rocks hidden below.  Sometimes you sink in the mud and continue thru, sometimes you sink in the mud, hit a rock and the bike stops.  Sometimes the rider stops, sometimes the rider gets back up and hops back on the bike to go again.  After a while it becomes nearly a fun game of chance.  I got so good at going over the bars that occasionally I could go over the bars and land on my feet, unscathed.  Occasionally.

But this section comes to an end and it's 8 miles of gravel road back to the scout camp.  This goes pretty well, as I'm aided by Charlotte local, Luke Sagur, who missed a corner and added about 10 miles to his day (and I thought I had a bad day).  We draft back and forth for a while.  Sometimes we  paceline with riders we catch.  And then it's under the Rte. 322 bridge, up the paved road climb and back down to the scout camp for a trip around the pond, over the bridge and thru the Red Bull arch.  Not a pretty day, but mission accomplished.

After some time spent recovering, we get the bikes ready for tomorrow's stage.  Close the trailer and head to the hotel to eat and relax.  We'll be back at the scout camp for the daily awards and the stage 3 preview.

See you on the trails!

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