This would be my third trip to Laramie, Wyoming for the Dead Dog Classic Stage Race. I’ve had good results here in the past, but I was on the fence about leaving the family this time. I somehow managed to talk my wife to coming up with our toddler for a weekend getaway. One of the conditions of the agreement was that I couldn’t spend all day racing and all night blogging; which is why you’ve had to wait a touch longer for this race report.
The course for the opening day road race is fantastic. It features beautiful vistas of plains, forests, high peaks, snowfields, and high alpine lakes. There are crosswinds and heat in the plains, and high altitude climbing. The course is 84 miles in length, the longest on the local calendar. Obviously, it is always a very hard race. This year would feature stronger than normal winds, and higher than normal temperatures for an additional challenge.
I decided I really wanted to race this year when I saw the start list. I saw the names and thought I had a good chance to compete for the overall, as I’ve been nipping at the heels of the top guys and can ride a pretty good TT. The time gaps are huge in the road race, and there is usually a small lead group that finishes a few minutes ahead of everyone else.
The wind almost always blows from the west. This makes the first 10 miles of the course downhill with a cross-tail wind. Usually an easy ride in the peloton and a good time to establish the early break. This year was no exception and we soft pedaled as Ben Blaugrund (Juwi Solar) and Brett Peters (CU Cycling) rolled off the front. This was a good move for Ben’s teammate, LeRoy Popowski. LeRoy has been climbing exceptionally (as always) and was a major threat to win the race.
As we turned into the wind towards Centennial, the pace slowed and the break was out of sight. The wind was strong and we spent a lot of this section in the gutter. I think the wind was strong enough to blow the race apart but nobody was willing to risk wasting effort while staring down the base of a nine mile climb.
LeRoy likes to go early. On this course, the break usually goes at the halfway point at the turn-around. The first half of the race usually into a headwind, and attacking on the first ascent of the pass is risky. There is a lot of rolling terrain along the top, and a headwind descent to the turnaround. There is a chance that a chasing group might be able to chase down anyone that had been riding into the wind in a smaller group. Not surprisingly, LeRoy didn’t seem to care for conventional wisdom, and started turning the screws as soon as the road tilted uphill.
The first climb outside the town of Centennial (Population 100) puts the sting in the legs. The group was instantly whittled down to about 10 riders. Five or so more would catch back on the brief respite before the true start of the climb. Once again LeRoy pushed the pace and eventually only two riders could match him: Rory Kelly and Fortunato Ferrara.
Behind, I was struggling to survive. I was hoping to ride my own pace and latch on to the main chase group of a handful of riders, but was loosing ground. I eventually found a wheel I could follow and let him drag me up the climb. Toward the top we were caught by a motivated chase group of a half dozen. Our group was now probably 6-12th place on the road. I wasn’t in a terrible spot, but not where I expected to be at this point in the race.
We did our best to roll smoothly, but a few guys were messing up the rotation by not coming through, and a few others were pulling too hard. Luckily we had size on our side and still made time on the strong group of three ahead of us. I did my best to eat on the descent, but I think I should have been eating more.
Approaching the turnaround, you get to see the situation on the road going up the opposite direction. Ben was now leading solo, with the strong group of three favorites close behind. The group of three we had been chasing was only a few seconds away from us. I hit the gas after the turnaround, hoping to bridge.
My legs felt quite good and I dropped my entire chase group. I rode just to within reach of the guys ahead and then BOOM! The lights went out. I was dead. I didn’t even see it coming. I’ve had this happen before where just prior to running completely out of gas I have five minutes of invincibility. Either way, my goose was cooked and I knew it. Most of my former chase group passed me one by one and I crested the summit alone.
I started to work on eating and drinking everything that I had, and got two more bottles at the feed zone. My goal was to conserve as much energy as possible and survive to the finish. The last 10 miles of the race would be into a brutal headwind and I knew I would suffer.
And suffer I did. This was easily the worst I’ve felt in a race this season. The last 10 miles were only slightly uphill (0.6% grade), but I struggled to average 202w and 14.2 mph. At the finish line, a volunteer offered me some water. She followed it up with a very serious sounding question, “Are you OK?”
Looking at my power data, I was having an off day even before I bonked. My 30 minute peak average was only 307 watts (4.3 w/kg) while I was being dropped on the first climb, only an hour into the race. My current threshold is about 330w, and I should be able to ride at or just above this for 30 minutes in the early part of a race. I bonked after 2.5 hours and after burning ‘only’ 2000 kJ. This is still a fair amount of work, but my pre-race nutrition was good, and my race nutrition should have been adequate. So what happened?
My explanation is that I was ‘blocked’ as cyclists say. This is when you’re over-rested and they body isn’t ready for hard efforts. I thought I would have enough training load from back-to-back racing last weekend and a hard hour race on Wednesday. Another factor may be that I worked a 48 hour shift, leaving work only 3.5 hours before the start of the road race. Unfortunately fitness can be unpredictable when training with an unstructured plan like I did last week, and I paid the price in this race.