Since I was already writing a blog post for the Panther website, I figured I could post it one here too. And you though this old thing was dead...
As the 6 of us sat together in the pre-race meeting, some of us in folding chairs, some leaning on the bumper of the car and the others resting on the top tubes of our trusty Orca's, we poured over the details of the course, the important climbs and different strategies for taking on feeds. After a few minutes, one common theme hit us all like a cobble-stone to the head: Be at the front. Be at the front to put someone in the break. Be at the front for the climbs. Be at the front for the gravel sections. Be at the front for the narrow covered bridges. Be. At. The. Front! We could practically hear the other 160 or so riders saying the same thing in their meetings. I knew that if we were going to be at the front, we were going to have to earn it.
We rolled out for 1 mile of neutral, and then it was just 4 miles of wide open four lane road leading to the potential bottle necking covered bridge that took us onto the first dirt section and subsequent climbs. During these 4 miles, I was part of the most nervous pleloton I've ever seen. Legs raged and elbows flew as we nervously, but rapidly, hurdled towards the first decisive moments of the race. From this point on, things get got bit blurry, as trying to take care and position myself took all of my mental resources. Every inch was critical.
My sweat dripped from my chin down onto my top tube where I had written the mileages of the important points of the race, turning the notes into useless ink swirls. Guess what, I guess you just have to "Be At The Front", I thought to myself. I didn't bother looking around to see what type of damage had been done to the peloton around me until we collectively, briefly exhaled as we exited the most difficult part of the course from miles 40-50 of the first lap. It seemed we'd already lost 100 or more riders, leaving roughly 40 of us.
Back to business we went. A long exposed cross wind section lead us into the lap's final climb, Stage Road, at mile 55. I was hanging on for dear life and feeling the burn before we even hit the climb. I made it 2/3 of the way up the climb before coming off the back and promptly vomiting on my left arm, left leg, and left everything. Although it didn't feel like it at the time, this was probably the single moment that saved my race. Prior to Puke-Gate, I was having some serious issues getting any food down, but afterwards I felt like a new man. Someone had hit the reset button and I was ready to go. I fought my way over the rest of the climb and made my way through the caravan of cars and was able to reconnect with the dwindling front group by mile 62 at the Start/Finish line. At this point I took stock during a lull in the action and tried to smile for the cameras as we went through town. I found that Chris and I were the 2 Panther riders left in the front group, but then again, most of the pro teams only had 2 or 3 riders as well.
As we headed back out onto the wide open 4 lane road that lead us to Bottle-Neck Bridge for the second time, the racing got spicey. Chris and I we're chewing on our stems as we tried to go with all the waves of attacks. Just before we turned onto the bridge, the decisive move of the race went up the road, never to be seen again. It's hard to see the move going like that and not be able to go with it, but we we're both pretty well red-lined at the time.
With the break established, the field took a little siesta and we took a moment to eat, drink and be as merry as one can be in the throes of a 200 kilometer dirt road race. I was taking on fluids and emptying my pockets of all their food, knowing that an unprecedented bonk was still very possible given the fact that I'd take all of my nutrients and ejected them to the roadside 30 miles earlier. The most selective section of the lap came around again at mile 100 and our siesta was a distant memory as we aggressively tackeld the last few dirt sections as if there were no tomorrow. Chris and I floated near the front and out of trouble, a much easier task with 35 or so riders, rather than 160. We both made it over Stage Road for the final time and tucked into the group for the fast, slightly downhill run into Cambridge for the finish. With so few teams with more than 2 riders, the sprint was very chaotic and uncontrolled. We did our best to milk our legs of their last watts and "sprinted" the last few hundred meters off the two hundred thousand meters we had done on the day. We both came across is the middle of our small group, finishing 34th and 40th on the day.
It's tough to be satisfied with a result when it's a 34th place, but on such a difficult day I think Chris and I were both happy to have survived and learned something in the process about suffering and fighting.
And finally, a little video from pre-riding Stage Road on Saturday.