As I was riding home from work today, through a nice spring downpour where the sky looks like death/9pm even though it’s midafternoon, all I could think was, If I don’t ride in the rain again for 10 years, I will be perfectly happy. Why was I thinking this?
Let me tell you about last weekend.
The Maverick Classic—called so because Tom Cruise flies an F-14 overhead at the start of the race, in Maverick character!—happened across the divide in Grand Junction/Fruita last weekend. I’d wanted to camp for a while after a long campingless winter, and this was a perfect excuse. We’d stay at Colorado National Monument (site of Stage 1), and enjoy some scenery, some beers, and some cramped tent sleeping, oh yeah!
Day 1: Magnificent hill climbing
An hour-long hill climb up the east side of the Monument was on tap for the first stage of the omnium. Not entirely sure you could find a more scenic place to hold a bike race. Not many riders lined up, which is mind-boggling because who wouldn’t want to do 4 stages in 3 days across gorgeous terrain? As it was, only 14 or maybe 15 of us started Friday afternoon. As I began the race, Whit took the car and drove up behind the race to secure a site at the campground. Hilariously, we would arrive at almost the same time to pretty much the last available site.
I sat at the back most of the time, which you’ll be able to see in the photos (look for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle colors and you’ll see me in my new, awesome, highly-visible WIDC Racing kit).
Take a look at Dejan Smaic’s photography here. The guy takes some awesome shots, and rides his own moto on course.
Riders were getting spit out the back one by one as we climbed ever higher. By the time we were down to just eight dudes, a group of three guys slowly rolled off the front.
I was not in this group of three. I didn’t think anything of it, because I wasn’t hurting all that much. Turns out I should have been paying more attention. I waited too long, The gap from our group of 5 to their group of 3 was growing steadily, and I was missing the move. I’d hoped my group was just feigning fatigue, and we’d start riding a faster tempo and reel the lead group in, but that wasn’t the case. So I had to set out alone. I attacked my group, no one came with me, and I bridged up to that group of 3. It hurt a little bit. But not as much as it should have? I’m in strangely good climbing shape. Once I was up there, it was 4 in our group and 4 behind, so I was almost certain I was in for at least a top 4. I sat out a few pulls to catch my breath, and pretty quickly got into the rotation. I just had to waste too much energy getting up to them, so later when we were at less than 1K to go and one of the guys attacked, I had to mark Cullen Easter, a Safeway-Airgas pro, to let him close the gap to the two guys who were now maybe 500 meters from winning the race. He wasn’t going to do it, but perhaps neither was I, so I waited a bit longer before I struck out on my own. At that point, I gapped him, but I didn’t have enough to make it up to 1st and 2nd place. I watched the two of them sprint it out for the win as I stole a few glances back to make sure I would hold 3rd place, which I did. I was upset because I knew I could have won, but top 3 on day 1 was good for me. Besides, I was here to camp.
I rode down the west side of the park to meet up with Whitney, we enjoyed a few Shiner beers and a delicious bratwurst, tomato, avocado, beans, and onions goulash dinner as the sun set on an incredible landscape of pinyon pines and gin-scented junipers, ragged red cliffs, scrub jays squawking, and fellow frontcountry campers being generally loud and annoying. The weather? Fantastic. But that would change.
It rained during the night, just a little bit, but we stayed dry and warm in our tent. I slept like a champ. But as we left for the early-morning time trial in Fruita, the weather was a mess. Cold, rainy off-and-on, and generally gray.
I warmed up under a canopy after learning of my start time (no Internet at the campsite) and getting my TT bike ready, but realistically didn’t give myself enough time for an appropriate warm-up, considering the effort would be just 25 minutes or so. Clothing choices, glove options, run the Zipp front wheel or not? Why is it so early? Not textbook pre-racing here, folks.
But, 9:06:30 (after Joe Martin Cat 3 fiasco years ago, I will never again forget my start time) came and I took off out of the starting gate. I rode through the cold rain as fast as I could, averaged something lame like 330 watts because I don’t ever ride my TT bike, and was pleased enough at the finish. Thought I had another top 3, but there were some fast guys, and my time was only good enough for 5th. But still, good start to the first two stages of the weekend. At least I didn’t mistakenly turn around on course like the aforementioned Cullen Easter did. Whoops! He thought he missed the turn, I guess. That confused me, but I trusted my gut and the volunteers marshaling the course to steer me in the right direction.
Day 2, continued: Dinosaurs
There’s a dinosaur museum, and it was cold and rainy and many hours before the 7pm downtown Grand Junction crit, so we went in. I learned some cool things, and had actually just read an article in Discover about a guy who looked at fossils from Gateway, Colorado, in what’s called the Chinle formation, in an effort to better put a timeline together of when various species of dinosaur existed and when. Silly guy doesn’t realize the earth is a mere 6000 years old, and we lived with the dinos! Just kidding, I’m intelligent. So we toured a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs, made some footprints in sand, experienced a 5.2 earthquake, and saw a small child fall off the stage and onto his face during a short movie screening. (We both saw it coming a mile away.)
Day 2, continued: Wet crit in the rain
I told myself I was going to dominate, especially with some brand new Vittoria Open Corsa tires on my bike, but I wimped out. It was pure mental breakdown, within the first 1.5 laps. Boom, you lose, you can’t take a turn in the rain, you’re 31 and thinking too hard about other people crashing you out, you’re a Sally, you just lost your place in the weekend’s omnium.
Those were the thoughts in my head as I spent the next 55 minutes riding by myself, getting cheered/jeered on by the spectators, and hating life and myself. I even wore my shockingly clashing pink Mad Alchemy socks in some sort of fashion statement meant to reflect my awesomeness at bicycle racing. There were some points during my “race” that I thought about just turning as sharply as possible while traveling over one of the several manhole covers on course, but thought better of it. Wouldn’t be fun to sleep in the tent with a side full of road rash. I licked my metaphorical wounds on the drive back to the campsite. It rained the whole time.
As we slept, with visions of 85 miles’ worth of road race dancing through my head, it continued to rain. Never let up.
Day 3: We should get a jumpstart on traffic and just drive home now
I sat in the parking lot as rain poured down on the car. I changed, awkwardly avoiding the steering wheel, while Whitney pinned two numbers onto my vest. I readied my food, grabbed my thin gloves (whoops), filled my bottles up, and wished Whitney well, expecting to see her in a couple laps in the feed zone. She would not be in the feed zone. We were supposed to do 5 laps of the course, for 85 or so miles. We would only do 3 laps.
I think 12 of us started. I know a couple of guys who raced the crit didn’t even show up. That may have been the smart move.
“What?” Whitney said as I stared off into space in the car, with maybe 8 minutes to go before our scheduled departure time.
“I don’t want to race. Let’s just go home,” I told her, in my best dejected, woe-is-me voice.
“No, you’re racing! We did not drive all the way out here for you to not race!” She reminded me that we drove a long way to race bikes, and even drove a bunch in the morning and broke camp in the pouring rain at 6:45am in order to hit the 8am start time for the road race that was 30 minutes away from the Monument.
Fiiiiine, I’ll race.
At some point she said “Are you even going to finish?” She’d been to two road races previously, and both times I Did Not Finish. I laughed, but thought maybe she was just good DNF luck. No way I was going to finish this god-forsaken pile-of-shit race. Jesus, I hadn’t even started it yet.
We took off, and immediately the consensus in the 12-man peloton was “this fucking sucks.” I may have heard multiple people say that through some laughter, or perhaps it’s the only thing I was thinking about so I’m projecting it on other people, but either way, it was 36 degrees (according to my bike computer) and raining the entire time. I told Spencer Martin, the winner of the previous day’s crit, “All I’m telling myself today is, You’re getting paid to do this! You’re getting paid to do this!” The joke is that I pay money to do this, so I’m actually doing the exact opposite of that. I thought maybe some reverse psychology jokes would work to get everyone else to pull out. My hands worked at the start of the race. Three laps later, I couldn’t shift my bike and my pinky finger dangled off the bottom of my hand like it was disconnected from the rest of my body. Something about ganglia and neurons and there being an icewall between, the two. Despite my best efforts to smack my hands against my body, sit on my hands to get them warm, and breath into them through the soaked thin gloves, I still couldn’t feel them.
After lap 1, I think five guys pulled out of the race. So, we were seven. I quickly got it through my lame, 31-year-old brain that this race was just going to be about perseverance. I committed, then and there after lap 1, to finish the race. Hell, I was going to win this stupid thing and then get warm and dry and eat food and go home and never ride bikes again.
After lap 2, on which three of us drilled it up the finishing climb, four more dudes pulled out. Do the math. We were literally the last 3 people on the course. And still had to race laps 3, 4, and 5. The moto ref came up alongside us, and I immediately clarified: “Wait, we’re the 3 leaders or we’re the only three people on the course?” Motoman wasn’t entirely sure, but he thought we were the only three racing. In which case, we sure as shit did NOT want to do all 5 laps. There was some talking to the ref, to each other, and we ultimately came to an agreement: if there were any other riders still racing behind us, we couldn’t end the race at the end of that lap (lap 3) and have it be fair. So we may have to finish the current lap, get the bell for 1 to go, and then do another 17 miles. But if there were no other people out there, there’s no reason we can’t finish it after lap 3.
“I’m just as cold as you guys are!” Motorcycle Mike told us. I didn’t believe him. The competitor in me wanted to devise some objective way of determining who—of us three riders and one moto ref—was actually coldest. Surely I’d win.
The three of us continued at a pace that was fast enough to keep us somewhat warm, while we all talked super slowly through numbing mouths to each other about our frozen hands and inability to shirt gears. It was comical, and weird, and I even joked “Nobody get a flat tire now, all right?” hoping the three of us could at least duke it out for the win.
Take a wild guess what happened to omnium leader and Stage 1 hill climb winner Thomas? Hint: fssstt fssst fssst fsst fssssssssssst. We all stopped (never done that in a race before) to discuss what we could do. Cullen had a pump and a spare tube, but he was super close to me on the overall, so didn’t want to give Thomas his spare.
“I don’t even know if I’d be able to fix a flat right now,” Thomas giggled, while secretly wondering if his hands were going to go permanently numb. Least that’s what I was thinking.
So, it was decided that Thomas would wait for a sag vehicle, and Cullen and I would ride on to the finish line. That may not be the finish if we have to do a 4th lap. Eesh. We talked about our lives, anything to take our minds off how goddamned cold we were. He’s a nursing student at Colorado Mesa (their mascot is the Maverick, the real reason for the race’s name), we talked about balancing life and girlfriends and bike racing, and we flexed biceps at each other to prove our manliness. Maybe I was delusional at that point and I didn’t actually flex my nonexistent biceps. But I should have.
Eventually our moto ref even left us, because a woman we passed seemed in a bad place, and his reffing became more about ensuring the safety of a random, off-the-back racer in another field than watching two P/1/2 racers try to stay warm while getting to the finish line as fast as possible.
The plan was that Cullen and I would sprint to the finish like it was the end, but then if we heard the bell and were told that we had to do another lap, we’d regroup and do the final lap (please, sweet Lord, do not make there be another lap).
I attacked him on the final climb, and he was in no shape to even contest it. I had a huge gap, and could only think about a warm car, and food, and dry clothes, and whether I was about to “win” this bike race or do another lap.
As I approached the finish line, Cullen 100 meters behind me, I held up a hand to the group of officials assembled across the road.
“One lap to go? Or zero?”
The chief referee made the hand–across-the-throat motion and yelled “You’re done!”
“So I win?” I literally vocalized as I posted up for half a second and continued on to the car, where I would change into warm, dry clothes and a puffy coat, with the seat-heater on full-blast, eating fig bars that I’d had in my jersey all race but was too cold to actually take out and consume.
My road race “win” meant I was 3rd on the overall, by just a single point. Cullen was 2nd, and Thomas was head and shoulders above us in 1st. Kudos to those two dudes for just finishing that insanity of a bike race.
But if John Tesh had been there as I climbed into my team car, and asked me for a CBS Sports special if I would come back to this shitty, cold, windy, rainy, god-awful race next year? I’d have to reply: “Sure!”