As a final tuneup race for Tour of the Gila in 9 days, we loaded our team into the van (less Scott, who was getting dirty at Sea Otter) and headed for the USAFA. The race would have a few thousand feet of climbing in just under 70 miles, with one good climb of about 15 minutes and a few punchy rollers to soften you up even more.
Our plan for the day was to get me and Ian onto the podium, and to see how well I can climb at altitude (the race is in the 7000' range) with the big boys. Back home, a collegiate race that also had non-collegiate categories would have a pathetic attendance. Here, the Pro/1/2 field had at least 50 starters with 15+ solid pro's.
Drew jumped into the move that went from the gun, a group of five with 4 really strong pro's. He would represent us at the front throughout the race so that the rest of us had a free ride. The winds were incredibly strong (strong enough to blow over a bike rack with multiple bikes hanging from it), and teamwork would be important in the crosswinds again. Unfortunately, the officials were soft and the centerline was not enforced for the first half-lap--I and a select few others would have been the only ones left had the officials been true to their word.
My race went without incident for the first 4 laps. I followed moves by some big players that looked promising, but everyone seemed to know it would really hit the fan on the final lap. The break had 6 minutes at one point, but the winds had surely taken their toll and the strongest were still fresh back in the field. After the fast descent to start the final lap 5 minutes down on the break, we hit a hard punchy climb with a strong crosswind. A couple attacks went on the way up, but nothing got away. At the top, though, Zirbel floored it and I was too far up to see him coming. Thankfully, Ian could see it and screamed at me to go. From the urgency in his voice, I didn't even need to see what was coming and started sprinting just in time to jump on the train. I checked back and knew that we would never see the field again: we had Zirbel, me, Frank Pipp of Bissell, and Chris Baldwin of Juwi Solar. We had passed Drew, whose efforts in the break all day had zapped him out of the break.
For me, the hardest part was the tailwind flat section after the descent. Trying to pull through at 43mph and 130+rpm is tough work! Finally, we reached the climb and I was more in my element. Baldwin decided to tow us the whole way up, the beast, and we knocked it out in 13 minutes. The break was still up the road, so we kept the pace up. At an intersection on the descent, a car was stopped just past the apex of the turn, blocking the good line from us. I entered the turn at nearly 40mph with Zirbel on my outside, and halfway through I knew he wasn't going to make it. He made a quick decision to jump the curb and was a good 30 feet from the road at one point. Finally, he made it back to the pavement and we got going again. Zirbel and Baldwin led out the sprint, and I jumped too early in the uphill sprint. Pipp edged by as I faded in the last 50 meters. I got 6th on the day, and would later learn that we were only 30 seconds behind the leaders.
In all, the race was encouraging going into Gila and Joe Martin, and I'm definitely looking forward to this season! Full race results when they're published....