Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hellhole Gravel Gravel Grind Stage Two

Stage Two was more of the same as Stage One with the addition of about 7 miles of single track.  I was 30 seconds off the podium for GC at the start of the day.  My only hope to gain time today was if at least one of the three riders in front of me was more fatigued than me.  My plan was to get in the lead group and stay there safely conserving energy until about 5 miles to go and then drilling it.  Of course, if an opportunity presented itself to bridge to an attacking group, I was open to that, too.  I didn't have anything to lose if my strategy didn't pan out.  And it didn't.

Without yesterday's One-day racers and with the fatigue from yesterday, the pace started out a little easier.  I was able to hang on from the start with no fear of being dropped.  The single track section came early.  I was in pretty good position entering the trail.  It wasn't really what I was used to as far as MTB trails go.  The surrounding terrain dictated that it would be flat.  So no climbs to suffer on and no descents to bomb.  Just a lot of pine needles and some tree roots.  On a CX bike the pace seemed to be limited more by the beating one is willing to take than by skills or fitness.

Normally this would not have been a problem, but already having sore spots, I resolved to just suffer through the best I could.  When we reached the end, I was happy to be through with all the air in my tires and to be safely in the peloton that quickly reformed when we hit the open road.

From here it was more gravel road and double track.  The roads were mostly smoother today then yesterday (or maybe I'm just used to it by now?).  There are about 5 of us pace lining with about 5-8 more skipping their turns to lead-out.  We dropped a few riders, but the pace didn't feel very hard.  I want to up the pace, but there is nothing to gain by doing so yet.  So I wait in the group, taking my turn pulling at the front.

Somewhere after mile 30, nobody really wants to work anymore.  The pace slows and I know it's just a matter of time before someone takes off.  I stay attentive.

And then it happens, the leader in my class, who is also my coach, puts in a big dig to get off the front.  No one wants to chase.  I do, but I'm not sure if I should.  I don't really want to do all the work just to bring the pack back together.  I know I can't beat him, and maybe can't  even catch him.  I decide the best plan is to let him get a gap and then to try to solo across.

So, I waited a few moments and then hit the gas.  But I didn't have enough gas to get away.  I pulled hard and was closing the gap.  But, when I looked back, all my main competitors were right there with me.  Although, it did look like they were struggling.  I decide to fall in line and see if they kept the pace up.  They didn't, and now we were on some double track with tall grass on either side and in the center, making it difficult to see the potholes, rocks and branches in the road.

I was having a hard time riding behind the rider in front of me, so I switch sides of the double track to follow a  rider I had followed so successfully yesterday.  Unfortunately, right after I did, he bunny hopped a pothole that I didn't see, resulting in me hitting it full force and flatting my front tire.

I pulled off to the side to fix the flat while the group pace-lined off into the distance.  It was hard to get the motivation up to change it in a hurry, knowing all GC podium hopes were now gone.  Still, the repair went well, and pretty soon I was back on my bike.  Common sense said there was no need to go hard at this point.  It would be better to wait for another group.  Common Sense said it would be better to save my legs for another day.

I didn't listen.

I used my power meter to gauge my effort.  I rode at the watts that I was pulling when I was taking my turn leading the paceline - hoping they would back off the pace like they had done previously.  I keep looking ahead, looking for a rider to catch.  And then, in the distance, I see the white jersey of a rider that I had been reeling in with the group before I flatted.  Perhaps he was holding on to the rear of the group, I hoped.  But as I closed in, it was apparent he was still solo.

It was probably 10 miles from where I flatted before I caught him, and when I did he didn't want to (or couldn't) help with the pace.  So I tow him along.  For miles.  Eventually we catch and drop another rider, then finally we catch a 3rd rider.  This one hangs on, but he didn't want to (or couldn't) help with the pace either.  So now I am leading 2 other riders to the finish.

At 6 miles to go I gradually up the pace.  By now my passengers are struggling to keep up.  At 5.5 miles I lift the pace again.  I don't look back.  At about 5 miles to go I am on the road that leads back to the finish line and I hit the gas as hard as I can, not sure if I can maintain it to the end, but darn sure going to try.  When I get to the section of road that was marked from Friday nights ITT, I know that I have 1.8 miles to the finish.  I know I can make it from here.  I keep up my hard, steady pace to the finish.  My legs ache but they manage to keep the pace to the finish line.

I would come in at about 3:31 for the 66 mile day today.  Fifth place in 40+.  About 3 minutes behind the group I was with when I flatted.  Not too bad for a 31 mile solo effort - but it didn't gain me any positions.

I wouldn't have ridden it any other way.

See you on the trails!

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