Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Iron Horse Classic Race report

I'll start with what was really good, maybe even perfect:

  • Durango, CO - you've heard me rave about Suncrest as a home for the mountain type folks that like to live and play there - it's a pretty great neighborhood. Well, Durango is an entire town made up of that exact demographic. I mean really, I grew up in Moab which is a bit of an outdoor mecca in it's own right, but Durango takes it to another level. We've been there a few times, and like it more and more every time. It may be the perfect town.

  • Iron Horse Classic race organizers - 1,100 racers and 1,400 touring riders and I didn't see a single problem or hiccup, nor talk to a single person not having a fantastic time. The guys/gals putting this one on are pros - and so is the community - suppose that's why the race has been around for a while.

  • Race routes - all 3 were fantastic.

  • Scenery - consider Durango and the surrounding area to be some of the prettiest country I've ever seen.
Onto the racing:

We'll start with the strongest performances in the family...

The girls:

Chesney lit up the crowd lined streets of Durango with her little permagrin and matching giggles that lasted her entire race.
Mom upgraded Kylie a few categories from her 5 yr old age group and she threw down with the 7 year olds. Held her own just fine and was happy to show off her medal.

The kids raced down town on a portion of the crit course. The organizers and encouraging crowds lining the street made the kids feel like rock stars. They loved it!

My races:

Road Race:

This was the major event of the weekend. 47 miles from Durango to Silverton up and over a few mountain passes with a few big descents, including the finish from the highest point of the race - Molas Pass at just under 11,000 ft. down into Silverton.

I'd gotten some good beta on the route and typical race flow from Steve with the Porcupine club, so had a game plan going in. Had also driven the route Friday night so had seen it first hand when we left the start line at 7:30 Saturday morning. I found Steve's input to be dead on as the race unfolded. We had a decent sized cat 4/5 pack, 105 finished, not sure how many started. The first 12 miles are pretty flat with a few rollers. This was the first large (more than 20 or 30 riders) pack/pelaton I've ridden in aside from the crits, so it was a new and pretty thrilling experience to be clipping along at a good pace, on the open road, in a group that size. There were a few dynamics - i.e. someone punctured a tire a few riders ahead of where I was positioned and just the sound of it triggered the groups immediately scattering wide right and left away from the noise. But for the most part, it was a fun and eventless ride out to Shalona Hill at mile 12.

The two mountain passes get most of the attention in regards to the routes fame as an elite stateside climbers race. But the climb up Shalona Hill, which is the initial ascent/approach to Purgatory and the higher mountain passes is a critical point in the race. Steve had given me a heads up that the first and usually winning selection of the race would be made here, and so I'd gotten into the front 15-20 riders and went with the initial group when we hit Shalona Hill. It wasn't a violent attack by anyone in particular, but it was an immediate and definate acceleration that broke about 30 of us off the front. And so, for the next 5 or 6 miles, I would ride with and feel like a part of the lead break and winning selection in my first road race. This was painful, but really cool, and had only one problem - my 5 or 6 mile redline effort climb to stay with the fast guys came on a hill that was 10 miles long. I didn't blow up, but had to fall off the pace a bit to prevent one. I rode the next 5 miles alone up the hill, which was fine. Kept the lead group in sight and the 2nd group behind me. Once we crested Shalona Hill we had a short break from climbing with some flat road and a few little downhill sections that weren't quite steep enough that you could stop pedaling down them. It was here, between Shalona and the start of the Coal Bank Pass climb that I had my only mechanical mishap of the weekend. I dropped my chain going into a little roller - leaned right, took a few more pedal strokes hoping I could get it to catch without having to get off, and then had to get off. Chain fix took 5 seconds thanks to plenty of practice during cyclocross season - but here's the stupid one - my helmet strap had somehow come unthreaded from the buckle, so I started a quick fix on that, wasted some time fumbling with it with my gloves on, then a little more time stripping the gloves off and doing it bare handed. Estimate it took between 2 to 3 minutes which was really minimal impact in regards to final loss of time/placing, but it allowed the 2nd group to ride by and seemed to be even more of a negative in regards to my being able to settle back into a good place where I could suffer happily and find a sustainable rythym.

Coal Bank Pass climb: It was at the bottom of this beast that I started yo yoing between going too hard to a level the body wouldn't hold, and backing off too much to a level where I knew some effort was being left on the table. Took about 20 minutes into the climb before I finally settled in and got the brain and the body in the same ballpark. This was a hard climb, felt similar to North Suncrest but longer and without the brief breaks - although there were a few short sections where the incline was less severe that would lend themselves to a brief recovery if needed. It was on the Coal Bank climb that a guy who was 59 years old and apparently pretty well known locally rode by the group I was with at a pretty impressive pace - several in the group hollared at him to go hard, and I listened to a few exchanges between gasps for air about how the guy is a local favorite (no, it wasn't Overend - he was way up ahead laying wood to the young cats - finishing 15 in the pro division). It was pretty inspiring to watch this guy climb that mountain like that at his age. It was also on this climb that we encounted the dude dressed like a devil waving his pitchfork, it was a fun distraction from suffering. I just sat in my rythym and worked my way to the top. It was here I learned I'd made another error. I took one bottle to the start of the race, assuming I could swap it out at one of the aid stations. The weather was nice and cool and that first bottle lasted me until the Coal Bank summit, which was the last aid station (was told by a few people later that you should increase fluid intake when racing at elevation? Don't know that I felt any difference). The bad news was they didn't have replacement bottles, just cups - so I grabbed one and took in my last water for the day at mile 35, with Molas Pass yet to come. The happy ending to this error is that I seemed to get away with it - didn't feel low on fluid the rest of the way in. Only other food I took in during the ride was a First Endurance EFS liquid shot, which will for the most part, replace gels, blocks and beans as my on course food intake - it worked well for me. Probably undershot the calorie intake by a bit, but the race was short enough that it was over before I paid for it. I need to work on this prior to Leadville as I have a strong tendency to not pay attention to this aspect of longer distance riding/racing - would be a critical screw up to do it at Leadville.

Coal Bank Pass descent: Fast, white knuckled, tested the hell out of the glue job on the tubulars, and pretty intense. Descending in a road race is like descending on a road ride in most ways, but different in a few - such as more risk taking on the sweeping corners - where I'm pretty sure that I wasn't the only one that was past the point of confidence that the tires would keep sticking and was hanging it all on hope. Makes a guy feel alive in ways not a lot of other things can. It was some pretty hardcore fun - once I was down safely.

Molas Pass: Steve's input here was that if you had much juice left in the tank, Molas Pass would feel easier than Coal Bank, if you are out of juice, it's going to suck. I got a mixed bag - I got into a good rythym right from the base, invigorated a bit knowing that this was going to be the last big dig of the day. But about half way up I started to slow pretty dramatically and spent the last mile on the verge of cracking hard. Would like to say I'd ridden myself all out to the verge of cracking, but have to be honest and say it was more the mountain beating me down to the verge of cracking. Suppose your at the same point either way, but there's some glory in aggresively riding yourself to that point, and not so much when you've been beat down to that point. It was at the point of near cracking that we came around the corner to the bikini girls. It must have been mid 40's temp up there, yet there they were, in a lot of skin and a little fabric, giving the guys one heck of a sideshow. All the grimaces turned to smiles for a few seconds, and then it was one last dig to the top. Although the race wasn't over, it was a pretty great experience coming up over that summit - even moreso than crossing the finish line for me. How's this for a race emotion - I almost felt like crying as I saw more steep asphalt finally give way to a view of the Silverton Valley open up below - there was still some work at hand to get down - but coming over that crest was where the satisfaction from the days effort hit, and I felt like I'd left nothing out there in those mountains. My lower back and legs were absolutely cooked, and I'd been breathing through a straw for a couple of hours.

Molas Pass Descent: What a great way to finish a race - it's a big descent, 6 miles or so, fast, but not so steep you can just tuck and go, it allows for and requires some hard pedaling if your pushing it, and the roads in rough shape in places. Needed the whole road on several of the corners. The beta here was that if your a good sprinter, get on a wheel after the switchback at the bottom of the descent which leaves about a mile to the finish, if your not confident you can win in a sprint - that's the spot you want to try and make your get away. I had one guy ahead of me by about 50 yards that I began to reel in here, got up to his wheel and saw he was not in my class, and sat up and enjoyed the ride up the crowd lined street of Silverton through the finish line. It was an awesome race and an awesome experience!


The criterium was exciting - barriers are brought in and downtown Durango is transformed into a race course for the entire day. I would not have the legs on this day, but it was fun nonetheless. Of all the weekends races, the criterium is the only one I was not making a debut in, having done a few out at RMR here in Salt Lake. I was pretty sore that morning from the road race the previous day, but got things loosened up and feeling fine by the time my race started - thought I was going to be ok. That thought lasted about two laps at which point I had to ask my legs to take their first deep dig to match an acceleration - and they said hell no. Hadn't given much thought prior to that morning, but I've done nothing to try and condition myself for hard efforts on back to back days, and you can guess the outcome - I wasn't conditioned for it. A big gap opened between the lead group and my group, and as my group came around the last corner, there he was - laying limp on the right lane of the course. Didn't see it happen, but heard the violence with which he went over the bars had people thinking it was a wheel brush with a possible foot/pedal into his front wheel from another bike, or a hard grab on the front brake that tossed him. They were just getting to him the first time we rode by. The second time around they were working on him, he was still limp, and there was a pool of blood forming - we went into neutral laps. The third time around it was more of the same, only the pool of blood was now fairly large. Fourth time around they had him on the backboard and were loading him up. Scary stuff - it shook Annie up a bit, not sure she's real cool with me doing crits after seeing that. After they had him off the course and cleaned up the blood, they stopped us back at the start/finish line. I was thinking that they would tell us we had 10 minutes+3 laps to go, which would have been favorable for me, the guy with no legs. It didn't happen - they informed us we were starting over, a fresh 35 minute clock + 3 laps. There are a few differences between RMR crits and the Iron Horse Crit. 1 - The Iron Horse is run really well and RMR is pretty hokey. 2 - The Iron Horse had two moto's on course - one that stayed ahead of the lead group/rider, and one that rode sweep, pulling people off who were close to being lapped or deemed out of contention - similar to a short track race in the mountain bike world. I spent the first 10 minutes of the second start racing other cyclists, spent the next ten minutes racing the sweep moto whom my legs were cheering for, and around minute 23 was pulled. To be candid - he probably let me ride a lap or two more than he had to, I was out of contention - not lap meat yet, but would have been as the group I just couldn't latch onto ended up being lapped a few minutes later. The results show me in the DFL spot, but there were several who exited the race prior to me - not sure if they quit and therefore didn't get an official finish, or if there's some magic point of time you need to hang in the race in order to get the finish. Either way, I was the DFL of the official results, but not of all the starters. Not that it matters - but seems to enough that I'm trying to explain it away, smile. Quote of the day comes from Kylie - who sees me coming around the corner no longer at race pace after being pulled, who yells out "come on Dad, you can go faster than that", much to the delight and laughter of all within earshot, including me.

Time Trial:

This post is way too much already - readers digest version of the TT. It was a 40 minute wrestling match between my brain trying to ride the body deeper into the pain cave than it wanted to go. Managed it well for my first go round and felt ok about my time which was middle of the pack. Legs felt dramatically better for this stage.

Brock and Annie on the Animas which has some prime kayak sections right in town. Awesome weekend, awesome race, and awesome town...


Ski Bike Junkie said...

You did the road race and the crit on the same day? Ouch.

Jason said...

mark - no, they were seperate days. But from the way my legs acted, they may as well have lined us up for the crit right after finishing the mountain climbs. It was wierd, I had nothing.

Anonymous said...

Nice report dude. Congrats about your daughters win too.
That crash on the crit sounds really bad, any news on what happened or if that guy is ok?
Im still quite a bit shy of racing after my incident. Seems like it doesnt take hardly any thing to have a big crash and mess up your body pretty good.
But on the plus side I did put in about an hour on the bike yesterday, the downside is that it was on my 29er on the road.
Do you have a goal for leadville or is it just one of those "please let me finish" rides?https://www.blogger.com/captcha?type=IMAGE&captchaKey=1xp16c27ua9dp

evilbanks said...

Nice work finishing that beast!

Jason said...

Pat - 9 hours is still the Mark for Leadville. The crit dude was reportedly conscious later at the hospital - that's a positive. Severe concussion and some breaks were what I'd heard, not sure what all the bleeding was from.

Banks - thanks man, toughest miles I've had on the road.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I cannot believe you die hard guys just read the novel Jason posted. love from the wife