Seven AM is really early to start a bike race. Your body, or at the very least, my body, is not used to having to hit the gas at an hour when I am usually sipping the first of my many cups of coffee. But despite my protestations I found myself on the start line, under the shadow of the brutally steep Whiteface Mountain in New York’s Adirondacks, starring down the barrel of over 100k of mountain biking with more than 10,000ft of climbing and the possibility at the end, if I did well enough, that I might have punched my ticket to head to Colorado for the famed Leadville 100.
The race was quickly underway, but with just about seven miles of pavement before the start of the first dirt climb, my mood was pretty relaxed. I drifted around in the front 20 or so riders, trying to exercise my Jedi skills to see how little I could pedal, knowing that later in the day when we had made our way over the bulk of the out-and-back course, I would appreciate having not spent those few extra Kj’s as I muscled my way up the final climb of the Whiteface ski slope. Luckily, my friend Kevin had taken me for some course reconnaissance the day before, where we rode most of the key sections and drove the majority of the rest of the course save for the final climb. It was a huge mental advantage knowing how long the climbs were going to be, when the key sections would be coming up, and where I could use a descent to push an advantage or try and gain back some time. While most of the race was on fairly "non-technical" dirt roads and un-maintained double track, it was going to be far from easy with all the climbing and the ability to keep the gas on all day….and always in the back of my mind, the final climb up Whiteface.
A lead group quickly formed over the top of the first climb that contained about seven riders, followed by a chase group of a few more. As we made our way down some fairly smooth dirt roads I took a few pulls, but was pretty content to let others kill it in the headwinds along the river knowing that there was just an absolutely brutal pavement climb just up the road. If I had to guess it took about 10 minutes and must of averaged somewhere around 15% and just as might be expected, blew what there was of a lead group to pieces. Once over the top there were only five of us, and no one really in reasonable sight behind.
Despite this new-found lead, there was little time spent idling, as we motored our way through the feedzone and up the days second long dirt climb. As the road went from bad to worse at the top I once again used some prior knowledge of the course from the recon the day before, as well as the sure-footedness of my Redline Carbon D-680 to attack the twisty, loose and sketchy fire road descent. Things strung out behind me as I did some controlled drifting through the turns for what seemed like forever, simultaneously enjoying the speed and adrenaline rush while also knowing that unfortunately on an out-and-back course, I would also have to climb this beast. When we finally hit some flat road at the bottom, there were now only three of us, with one other forced to chase for the next 15 minutes to get back on, and one dropped for good. Not to shabby for a downhill attack!
To be honest, the return trip was a lot of pain so the details are fuzzier. I was with a group that had whittled itself down to some very strong riders and two of them had that "pure climber" style where they would stand up every minute or so on a climb and put in 20-30 hard pedal strokes in a rediculous surge. Not my jam…I’m a little more deisel engine style and actually found myslef a few times getting on the front and pounding out a wicked hard tempo just to keep those guys a little closer to the redline. It quickly became obvious that to try and attack each other too far from the finish would be pretty futile, as there were just too many fast roads where a group working together could motor faster than a rider alone. So it became the race up Whiteface. I figured that the only thing I could do was try and ride cleanly through the first of the climbs rediculously steep (like 25%) pitches, which in typical ski-slope access road fasion are loose and sandy and virtually unridable in spots. I guessed that if I could get a gap early on the climb, it was actually so steep that the stand up and climb-style of my chasers, would prove to be useless and I might be able to stay way over the top and on the bomber descent back down to the finish.
The plan got off to the right start as we immediatly strung out on the first kicks of the slope and I pulled ahead in the rough and loose stuff. This was going to be good…And it was, but what a crazy suffer-fest! I was pretty sure the climb would never end. It was almost 100% exposed to the raging md-day sun, and as I tried to keep the pedals ticking over in my easiest gear, trying not to fall over and slide back down the mountain, I was pretty sure I was losing brain cells at an alarming rate. Multiple times I thought I was at the top only to find that I had just rounded a switch back to see more climbing. I even had to ask the course marshal at the top "Please tell me this is the top?" I was in some pretty rough shape, but I held onto the bars down some pretty hairy water bar-type ski slope descending, and came in to the finish line with a pretty helathy magin of victory….And one punched ticket to the high altitude, endurance racing capital of the world, Leadville!