Next time, I will bring my fan. I think this while staring at my ceiling of the bunk above me in the Boy Scout lodge we’re staying in after having a disastrous day of flat tires. But really, I should start with the good stuff.
The day before I left I eagerly awaited the arrival of FedEx while I worked at the shop-waiting all day to hear the rumble of that diesel engine coming down the street. When it finally arrived, I tore open the box to behold my sweet new D680 carbon prototype….oooh, ahh. Luckily, Joe at Joe’s Garage could see through my composed exterior to the little kid within, chomping at the bit with enthusiasm to build up the sweet new rig. So while I was supposed to be working I was instead consumed with building up my new bike-which I have to say caused quite a few Q&A sessions with excited customers just in the few short hours at the end of the day. Now all I had to do was give it a test run. Unfortunately, it would have to be the next day after my 7.5 hour drive through the long, long…never ending length of Pennsylvania. But when I did, taking it out on the next day’s TT course: a twelve-mile loop of single track, gravel road and some pavement, I could tell right off that I was in love with a new bike. It fit light a glove and rode like a rocket ship. Now all I had to do was pedal it as fast as it warranted.
Fast forward to the TT- I’m climbing the long climb of the course, a brutally hard combination of double and single-track that is loose and, thanks to the rain yesterday, just a little bit greasy. The sun is cooking my brain and I temporarily become obsessed with the thought that I am roasting brain cells at an alarming rate. The good news though, is that I am rocketing past people. At thirty second intervals at that start, I must have caught at least 12 people already so I have the feeling that I am in for a good ride. Last year I was second here on this stage and I would love to come close to that again. As expected, towards the end of the stage Jeremiah Bishop comes ripping by me for two minutes. The consolation here is that last year he caught me for four minutes. I am surprised to see that while he has caught Barry Wicks, Wicks has nailed himself to chasing and I hop on the train as we fly through the woods. This is good, I just need to keep pace. I hang tight till the end of the stage and just loose sight of them in the last technical section, ultimately losing about 2.5 minutes to Bishop and 1.5 to Wicks. Third on the day, not too shabby. The new bike has proven its stuff, and I feel I did it justice on the rocky, muddy, rooty East Coast trails today.
For all of yesterday’s awesomeness, Monday was a comedy of errors. Things started well, making the lead split up the first climb and feeling pretty comfortable in the super-rugged PA woods, but then things started heading south when a large puncture to my rear wheel failed to seal itself on a rocky descent. After devoting one C02 to the hope that it might seal itself if given another chance, I was forced to abandon faith and put a tube in. If that was the end of the story, all might not have been lost, but sadly, that is really just the beginning. Shortly thereafter my front tire spontaneously and immediately went flat. No more tubes, no more C02’s, and about 8 miles to the next aid station where I had both items in my drop bag. So, I began the slow, arduous and often sketchy task of riding the next 8 miles on a flat front tire. On the plus side, it took about 7.5 miles for the bead to finally give out and fall off the rim so I was mastering my power-sliding without too much rim-to-rock damage. On the negative, it turns out it’s really hard to ride a flat front tire very fast. But I made it, and thanks to the Stan’s NoTubes guys quickly got a wheel instead of having to mount up my spare tire on my now beat up rim. I chased furiously for the remainder of the stage, but still fell from 3rd on GC to 7th, finishing 8th on the day. Insult to injury is it was about 90 degrees all night and I stuck to the sleeping bag dwelling on what might have been. Live to fight another day.
Today was certainly smoother. A fairly non-technical day that strongly featured a massive amount of dirt road and fire road climbing, the racing was fast and furious with more of an attacking style than often dominates these slugfest stages. I repeatedly had to respond to moves from Wicks, Tim Johnson and this kid from South Africa who goes uphill like some sort of possessed bottle rocket. But I had some light wheels and a light bike and I managed to hang on for 4th on the day while also taking a bit of time back from my GC rivals. I still lie in 7th over all, but 6th is now just over a minute out, and 5th still relatively attainable. With 4 more days of hard racing left to go, the name of the game is constancy and trying for a stage win, although with the Wicks/Bishop GC battle growing tighter and tighter each day, sneaking in a stage win is going to take some luck, some cunning, and the right opportunity. I’ll keep you posted, hopefully tonight the heat will break…and next year, I bring the fan.