In the previous installment of the 2013 LOTOJA Race Report, I was just about to crest Salt River Pass and put most of the difficult climbs for the race behind me. If you are just joining us, I suggest you start at the beginning and read the 2013 LOTOJA Race Report Prologue.
Summit of Salt River Pass to Afton Wyoming (17 miles, big downhill and rollers into town) — Once you reach the summit of Salt River Pass, there is a neutral feedzone. In the past I have stopped and let my heart rate come back down to earth, but knowing my strategy, I grabbed a hand-up of a bottle of water from a volunteer, drank the entire bottle in a couple of seconds, and started downhill. Because I was riding a compact, my descent from Salt River Pass this year was not as fast as it could have been. But truthfully, every time I went up a hill with a pitch higher than 6%, I was grateful for that compact. As I mentioned, Todd caught me on this descent and we began working together again. Beginning at the summit of Salt River Pass, there is a 49 mile section that is know as Star Valley. The thing about Star Valley is it has its own weather systems. On race day, there was a decent wind coming out of the north, smacking us right in the face. Todd and I had plenty of people we caught on the downhill who wanted to suck out wheels into Afton, but very few of them wanted to get out on the front. Are you sensing a theme in this report? It was driving me crazy that so few people wanted to work. What Todd and I needed was a group of about five other people who wanted to work. Sadly, we wouldn’t find them for a while. This section took 39:00 and we averaged 24.3 mph with only 126 watts. I had the same time in 2013 as I did in 2012 on this section. Meh.
Afton to Alpine (32 miles, mostly rollers) — Once you get into Afton, you reach the second feedzone where your SAG will be. I was feeling a little dehydrated because I had drank my two Infinit nutrition bottles as I hit the base of the Salt River Pass and I had pounded the neutral hand-up I had gotten up at the top. The good news is Bruce was waiting for me in Afton with two new Infinit nutrition bottles and a throwaway bottle of water. I put my foot down at the station, we went through our little routine, and I was off again. Man we had it dialed in.
I told you that we had a headwind out of the north just pounding us. The wind was steady and right in our face, which was actually nice for paceline riding. I hate winds that come at you from the side when riding in the paceline. It seems most of the crashes I see in the wind come from a gust picking you up and moving you over so you touch a wheel. Todd Handy and I were riding this section together and it seemed that every time we would pass another group, they would jump onto our wheels. In this group there were a handful of racers who were willing to work with us, but they seemed to be going a little slower than Todd and I both wanted. He suggested early that we should go so we could hit our time goals. The decision was do we go at it alone into the wind or do we add a couple of minutes to our time and sit with the group? My buddy Brent Williams, who I respect immensely and has taught me a ton about bike racing would demand that I went off the front. But I told Todd we should sit in and save our energy for the 47 miles we had left once we hit Alpine. That decision cost us some time, like about 10 minutes in my estimation. We covered the distance in 1:28 for an average of 22.1 mph with only 133 watts. I was 7:00 slower in this section compared to 2012. If Todd and I would have gone off the front, I think we could have finished this section in 1:18, so lesson learned.
Alpine to King’s Wave Feedzone (21 miles, mostly rollers but climbing up a canyon) — Alpine features the last feedzone where you will see your SAG team. In 2012 I missed Bruce because he got caught in traffic, so we decided he would not go to Alpine. Fortunately for me, my friend Juston Puchar’s wife was running SAG for him and was willing to hand me up what I needed there. She was waiting for me when I rolled into Alpine with my two bottles of half Red Bull and half water. I may have mentioned to her that I was starting to suffer and I may have used some very colorful language in doing so. I hope I made her laugh. Living with Juston, I am sure she has been exposed to a wide vocabulary already, so I don’t think I taught her anything she didn’t know. I put my foot down, took my bottles, and I was off.
These 21 miles are not easy. The rollers in this section are real rollers — there are some decent little climbs that are short and somewhat steep. Todd and I reconnected about one minute outside of the feedzone and we decided I would pull on the uphills and he would pull on the downhills. There really are no flats to speak of, so we both settled into our specialty.
At about five miles up the canyon, a really quick group of racers in Todd’s wave caught us. As we picked up the pace to stay with this group, my legs really started to hurt. In the back of my mind I knew someone from this group was going off the front during a climb. I had a decision to make: Would I stay with the main group or go with the insane rider who went off the front? I swear not two minutes later someone started to accelerate and I started to go with him. I turned and looked at Todd and he told me to go, he would be fine with the group. I really felt bad for leaving him with the group, but appreciated his support of my decision. It wasn’t the last time I would have a discussion with him.
As I went with the man foaming at the mouth, I found out my legs hurt. Like really hurt. It would have been so easy to drift back to the main group, but I made a decision that I wouldn’t lose this wheel. A faster group went to pass us and we both pushed to hold the wheel of the last rider. Luckily I was able to dig deep and find the strength to stay on some fast wheels up the canyon. At some point we finally passed someone in the C Flight, so I knew I was probably in the top 20. I am really proud to say that my time on this section was a 1:01 and we averaged about 21.9 mph on 173 watts. I was 6:00 faster on this section than the previous year.
King’s Wave Feed Zone to Finish (29 miles, more rollers) — The King’s Wave feedzone is another neutral spot and I had spent a lot of time here in the previous two years. By the time you reach King’s Wave, you know you are going to finish and you are absolutely gassed. The group I was with was working well together and everyone was taking their turn at the front. The problem was that the main core of five guys who were on the same team decided they needed to pee so they pulled over. Knowing I didn’t want to wait, I took a hand-up of a bottle of water, slammed it, and tossed the bottle in the drop zone.
I don’t normally drink Red Bull or any type of energy drink. But during a race, I absolutely love them. The Red Bull has to be diluted, so I will dump a 12 oz. can into a water bottle and fill the rest with water. That concoction is amazing and yes, Red Bull will give you wings. At this point I had pounded one bottle and I was starting to get hungry, which is a great sign. I had food with me still, but I decided to chance it and tossed my food at the drop zone. It turned out to be a good decision, but looking back I should have just kept the food with me just in case I bonked. I bonked really hard during the first leg of the Rockwell Relay this year, which you can read about here.
Since I wasn’t riding with a group anymore, I decided to push it out of King’s Wave instead of soft pedaling and waiting. I was cruising at a good clip when a faster group of about 8 riders caught me. They weren’t that much faster than I was so it wasn’t hard to jump onto their wheels. As cooperative and friendly as the previous group had been, this group was the opposite. There were two teams in this group and they were fighting. A lot. I was the odd man out and the only person not on either of the teams, so I was spared most of what was going on. But there was one incident.
One team was pulling most of the way and they were very verbal about how mad it made them that the other team would not come to the front. As the fifth wheel I felt like I needed to take two turns on the front, so I spent a lot of time pulling the group. I always made sure I increased the speed a little so nobody would complain about me being slow, but not too much so they would complain about me being too fast. One racer in particular (I know his race number and name and no, I will not be calling him out here) took a one minute pull, which was about what everyone was doing. As he pulled off and motioned for me to come to the front, he said to me, “I’m not pulling for you anymore”. I am not sure if he thought I was with the other team, but he was out of line with that comment. I made sure he knew it too. I told him to no uncertain terms how displeased I was with his comment. My Mom would not have been proud. He got the message loud and clear and steered clear for the remaining time we rode together.
As we continued to rotate through the paceline, we started to pass a lot of people. Once we were about 10 miles from the finish line in Teton Village outside of Jackson Wyoming, the race tactics began. Keep in mind all of these guys were in the fun riders division, but they thought they were in the Tour de France. I like to race, but I will never put anyone in danger. These two teams started to interrupt pacelines, cut each other off, and yell at each other. At one point one rider was trying to split up a couple of team members, cut one off and touched wheels with the other. One of the riders came really close to going down. Once that happened, I decided I had enough and went off the front with about two miles to go. That was the worst group I have ever ridden with and I hope they are all so mad about the race that they never sign up again. This section took 1:06, which means we averaged about 21.8 mph on 169 watts. Oddly enough, I finished this section in the same time as 2012.
This is an odd place to stop this installment, but I have to keep you coming back don’t I? The next entry will be the final chapter of this saga, and I will share some insights into what I have learned about nutrition, race strategy, and other racers. Make sure you come back — I promise it will be worth your time.