STAGE 5 – The Wheeler Stage.
The spirit of Wheeler was feeling quite ornery on Thursday, or maybe that was just my body after 4 straight days of solid efforts and steep climbs. The start was slightly altered from last year, and I was thankful to skip about a mile going straight up the side of the ski slope. We still had an uphill start on the road, but it wasn’t as steep.
It ended up not mattering – you could have stuck a fork in me Thursday. My legs were done. I knew it was only a matter of time before I had a “bad” day on the bike. From the start, my legs felt locked up and sore. Instead of allowing myself to slow down, I pushed harder and flogged myself all the way to the top of the Wheeler trail. The hike-a-bike was the least painful section of the day. The jeep road to the Wheeler entrance was relentless. Selene appeared to be having a strong day on the bike as well, so the masochistic flogging continued with her hot on my heels.
I could not let up for a second. I had opened the gap to 5 minutes at the top of Wheeler. I remembered to look around briefly, but didn’t allow myself any hesitation to motor forward.
I had been dreading the Wheeler descent all week. I consider myself to be a skilled descender, but Wheeler is always a mental block for me. Being nervous on the descent never helps because it makes me tense up. The first crash was inconsequential. I didn’t like my speed and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop so I laid down the bike and bailed. I got back on and kept going. The trail was in bad condition after all the weather up there this year. I came into an overgrown section of trail and I couldn’t see what was in front of my tires. I somehow lost my front wheel and went over the bars, slamming my knee into a rock and getting the wind knocked out of me. That time, I didn’t get right back up. I stood on the side of the trail with my hands on my knees waiting to get over the shock of the blow. I had assumed this position in the Bailey Hundo in June as well (haha) Colby Pearce was behind me(riding and enjoying the day) and waited to make sure I was ok. Finally, I got back on my bike and rode very cautiously to the bottom. There was white knuckle death grip, there was cyclocross style running down the trail for more than I’d like to admit. With my overall lead in the GC, I didn’t want to risk a mechanical or another crash. Losing time on the descent was a bummer, but the fact was I had a 36 minute overall lead. A few extra minutes of caution were necessary.
The 6 mile downward decline on the bike path to the Peaks Trail should have been easy, but it wasn’t. There was a headwind and I found myself alone trying to spin a big gear to maintain a “fast” speed. I kept looking at the mileage count on my Garmin and despite the faster pavement speed, the miles ticked by slowly and I grimaced from the pain. The tourists on the bike path probably thought I was weird.
I had no idea what my gap was getting onto the Peaks Trail and later found out it was a mere 3 minutes. I assumed I couldn’t lollygag and attempted to keep the speed at full gas. The only problem was I was OUT of gas and was not able to ride to the top of the rollers on the trail. I’d poop out 5-10 yards before the top of each climb, run, and get moving again.
The short dirt road climb to the finish twisted the knife in my quads. I felt completely drained, but happy to take the stage win. About 3 minutes later, Selene crossed the line looking strong! JJ was working at the finish every day and he told me at the party after the race that he could tell how my day went based on what I ate. “Oranges. You eat a lot of them at the finishes where you struggle.” I did eat a lot of oranges that day.
After the stage, I got back to the condo and had to lay down, chamois and all. After all the other finishes, I energetically burst into the room telling Yuki and Jeff about the excitement of the day. Fortunately, there was only one day to go.
At the Stage 6 meeting the night before, Selene said, “Parade lap tomorrow?” meaning that we would all ride together at a more leisurely pace. I said, “Are you sure?” She said, “I won’t be able to make up the 40 minutes you have on me unless you rip off your derailleur or break your bike, and I wouldn’t want to win that way anyway. I want to look around and enjoy the ride tomorrow. Are you cool with that?” Hell yeah I was! We also checked the gaps between the other racers and asked if that was cool. Everyone agreed, so the stage was essentially neutralized for us.
Katie, Wendy, Selene, and I spent Stage 6 riding and chatting. We lined up somewhere in the middle of the pack, and while we did not ride slow, we were not grimacing, drooling shebeasts either. Selene and I even sang a few words to some songs at the top of our lungs. I was very thankful for the parade lap after how painful Stage 5 ended up being. We skipped the PBR feed (my reasoning was that I would rather drink it at the finish and I didn’t eat much in the 3 hours we were out) We all crossed the final finish line of the race and were greeted with a shower of champagne with my boyfriend behind the bottle. I took a swig of the remnants in the bottle and cracked open a cold PBR. It tasted like carbonated water – very refreshing!
I was so glad Katie Lindquist raced last week!
Peter put my socks to shame.
I went bobbing for a real beer in the cooler and enjoyed the Tim Johnson, hold the Johnson sandwich. (Peanut butter, Nutella, potato chips, marshmallow cream but I left out the banana). I got to see my friend Cynthia finish the Breck Epic (and win her category). She was so nervous about finishing the race during the months of training leading up to it that her finish was just as special as my own.
Everyone was congratulating and hugging each other for our accomplishments as the sun shined down on our faces.
I couldn’t believe it. I had won the Breck Epic.