Stage 1: Mogollon Road Race 94.1 miles (profile) – This stage is mostly flat or rolling until the Mogollon climb at 89.0 miles. The six mile climb from that point averages 4.8%. The climb comes in two pitches. The first is a climb to the mesa, which is near 8% for a mile. There is an additional mile or so across the flat, exposed mesa. It is important to stay with one of the first groups if possible as to limit losses across the mesa after the race splits up. Then the final portion of the climb averages 8.5% for 2.8 miles.
I had been getting my heart racing all week long thinking about how the race would go. Surprisingly, when race day finally came I was able to keep my nerves under control. The race rolled out neutral through the main drag in Silver City. I would call it “Main St”, but is it called Bullard St. The business on the east side of Bullard street used to back up to Main St, but it was washed away in 1896, leaving a 50 foot deep ditch, which is now called Big Ditch Park! You can thank Wikipedia, smart phones, and a 12 hour drive for that fun fact.
Anyway, after the neutral zone the attacks started going. Nothing was too vicious and I think the second two guys to roll off the front at an easy pace got in the first move. I knew a break of two would not satisfy the pack, and wasn’t surprised when more guys tried to get going to bridge up. Last year’s highest placed Cat 2, Fortunato Ferrara, was clearly interested in getting himself in the move. The pack (including myself) had done their research, and didn’t seem interested in letting him get away, and kept reeling in his moves. Undeterred, he eventually made his way into a chase group and into the break which eventually contained about seven.
Speaking of research, I mentioned I have a plan, and have researched riders and stage outcomes. I have the post written to dissect later. I was happy to see my research paying off when I saw a half dozen riders I recognized rolling up to the start line today. For those who were late getting their homework done, word spread through the peloton about the danger the break posed.
After an easy rolling descent for 20 miles, and an additional flat 10 miles, we reached the first feed zone and started an 11 mile rolling loop. The feed zone was quite long and the relatively small 60 rider Cat 2 peloton managed to navigate all the feeds without major incident. The moto referee was giving us time splits every 20 minutes or so, and I was happy to see the breakaway had not gotten more than a few minutes. Local Colorado team Lucky Pie had a man in the break, and as we finished the second and final loop they appeared to be riding false tempo and slowing the pace.
I took to the front up the last roller in the loop. The additional work riding up the hill with a tailwind was minimal on the front. When I came to the front I agitated the pack and a strong looking group turned it into an attack. When we hit the bottom of the hill to begin the 40 mile drag to the next feed zone, I did a little work to get a good rotation going.
It worked. We had a large group of about 20 guys rotating smoothly. I did do a small amount of work, but with such a large rotation I was comfortable with it. We reeled in the second break after about ten miles, and the rotation persisted nicely. We all had worked well together and the lead break was coming back as well.
Too well. The gap was down to about a minute. I got a little worried. If we actually caught them, I knew all hell would likely break loose as another (potentially more dangerous) break could be formed closer to the finish. I think the rest of the field had the same idea since the organization broke down at that point and the break’s lead went back out to almost three minutes.
A commenter a few days ago mentioned the Cat 2 race was ‘hectic’ with ‘attacks for no reason’. I saw some of this today, as attacks were launched with regularity over the course of the race. We were riding into a headwind most of the day, and there were as many attacks up hills as down. An attack downhill on a straight road into a headwind is almost always doomed.
We arrived at the turn onto the climb with the lead break a few minutes ahead, although it had dwindled to 2-4 riders as some had been dropped. Also ahead was the late break of about five. The final group ahead had gone up the road when a rider became very frustrated with the lack of an organized chase to reel back in the late break. He’d become visibly angry and eventually attacked, bringing a couple others with him.
Generally I would expect a hectic lead into the turn to the final climb, as riding near the front will save you a bit of energy, as you don’t have to pass anyone to be at the front up the climb. Everyone seemed content with where they were and we rode reasonably before and then hard and steady after the turn. I stayed at the front, dug deep, and crested the hill onto the mesa in fourth position.
We had a group of about five, but with a tailwind blowing, we were quickly caught by chasers bringing out group to about a dozen. In hindsight, I should have realized we would have a tailwind instead of the usual crosswind and I may have been able to ride easier up to the mesa. The race started to pedal hard up the bottom of the remainder of the climb.
As soon as I hit the gas, my right leg started to cramp. By leg, I mean the whole thing. Especially as my leg came over the top of the stroke, my hamstring seemed to tighten more each time around. I was afraid the race was about to come unraveled for me. I massaged it out as I watched the lead group from the peloton ride away. The cramp quickly faded and I set about riding my own pace up the relentless, narrow one lane road with rough pavement as it snaked up the mountain.
I was picking off quite a few riders. I passed a few stragglers from the peloton group, the ‘angry guy’, and quite a few others who had completely blown up and seemed to be hardly able to pedal. I finished 12th, 3:52 behind the winner, Fortunato. Tomorrow will be 78 miles with two early climbs, and one near the end. The climbing isn’t as steep, but it will be hotter and there will be a lot of tired legs in the group.