Stage 1 Report
Nate, Nate’s girlfriend Allie and I left Truckee around 9am on Monday morning for our 20 hour drive to Silver City, New Mexico. We would have been able to leave 3 hours earlier, except we didn’t anticipate the
brain-buster of trying to fit 5 bikes, 12 spare wheels, bags of clothing, food and 3 people into our borrowed Ford Excursion. At the last minute we had to source a hitch-mounted bike rack and a cargo box
for the roof to fit all of our crap. Getting the hitch rack installed required waking up a neighbor to plasma cut off the lock on our hitch. It was a miracle we were able to leave as early as we did and we couldn’t have done it without help from neighbors Ross, Errol and my Dad.
Along the way to New Mexico we stopped on an empty highway north of Vegas to motorpace behind the Excursion. It was Allies first time driving as a motorpacer, but after a few confusing minutes with her driving a mile ahead without any cyclist in tow, she figured it out and did a great job.
We acquired last minute host housing in Silver City, and were placed in a pre-furnished, for-sale house – with no residents! So we got all the benefits of host housing without the hassle of actual hosts. Aside from
the smell of rank cat piss and sticker thorns all over the carpet, the place was pretty nice.
Silver City to Mogollon Road Race – 73.1 miles, 5700’ climbing
This race was a point to point, with rolling flats ending atop a final 6.7 mile, 2100’ climb. All I did the entire race prior to final climb was sit-in, eat and drink. My heart-rate averaged around 130 bpm for
the first 60 miles of the race. I wanted to be as fresh as possible for the climb, as that is where all the time gaps would happen. This also gave me the opportunity to size-up the rest of the field, as we racing against all new faces from Colorado and Arizona.
Allie was our race support for the week, so she stationed herself at each feedzone for bottle and food handups. There was some confusion at the first feedzone as I was yelling “BOTTLE BOTTLE!” but had a mussette bag aimed at me instead. I desperately tried to reach in farther for the bottle in her lower hand, but I ended up missing the grab of either. But at the slow pace the field was rolling, I was fine until the next feedzone.
As the final climb started I moved to the front and hung with the leaders with about 3 miles to go. With my heartrate maxed, my legs slowly started to fade and I had to drop off their pace. I never felt
like I blew up or was crawling, I just wasn’t able to hold their speed and rolled in 20th for the day. 2:30 behind the leader. Nate finished 16th, 2:00 off.
We were both extremely optimistic about our results and were certain we could makeup time throughout the rest of the race.
Stage 2 Report
I woke up this morning determined to do well. I knew today would be the hardest stage of the whole race, and I wanted to make sure everyone felt it too. No more fucking around hanging out in the middle of pack
getting a free ride, if I wanted to move up on the GC – I needed to take the race into my own hand. My legs still felt fresh from the previous day’s effort, and the constant up and down profile of today’s stage fit
my riding style. Nate and I discussed going on the attack the entire day to shake a larger breakaway group loose and create some time gaps to move us up on the GC. What we didn’t factor in were the constant 30 –
50 mph head winds for the last 30 miles of the race.
Fort Bayard Inner Loop Road Race – 77.9 miles, 5800’ climbing
Warming up on the trainer before the race I amped myself up with music and thoughts of putting some hurt into my competitors. By the time I reached the start line I had already committed myself to attacking for an all-day breakaway.
The pace was high right from the gun as our race headed up the first big climb of the day. It was roughly 15 miles of uphill which concluded with an extremely dangerous 3 mile descent – so dangerous it had its own
section in the race bible. With a mile or two to go on the first climb, a rider launched out and I went after him. I had to chase for the rest of the climb, but when I finally caught him we had a large gap and one more breakaway companion. I knew we could pickup loads of time on the descent, as 3 guys are a lot quicker around hairy corners than the entire peleton.
I slowed down briefly, looked at both of my breakaway companions and said, “I have a deathwish going downhill, STAY ON MY WHEEL.” And with that I took off hoping they would keep up. And because I meant what I
said, I went down the descent without any regard for life or limb. Braking at the last possible second and then sticking like glue through the 180 degree turns only to fire out like a rocket at the other side. On the worst corner of the descent the race directors had an ambulance and several EMTs setup assuming that someone would go down. As I flew towards them, they were screaming at me to slow down and an EMT ran out in the middle of the road to try and stop me – but I railed by them unscathed and devoid of my breakaway partners.
At the bottom of the descent I waited around for several minutes soft pedaling while my break companions caught up. We then made introductions; I was with Chris and Brett – 7th and 8th on the GC
respectively. Our goal was to stay away and gain time, and to do this we would have to work together for the next 50 miles. We had a great rhythm going and it seemed like the perfect move, something that would
stay away until the finish. But fast forward to a few miles later and they dropped me on a steep climb. I was yelling out “WAIT UP” – but apparently they thought they didn’t need me – because they didn’t WAIT UP.
So now I was in no-man’s land. I had a 5 minute gap on the peleton, my break partners rode away from me, and I was all by myself in the wind. I didn’t know what to do. Should I stop and wait for the pack, or keep
going? My decision was to keep going, hoping another break would have formed (hopefully with Nate in it) and would catch me. 10 miles later and I was still alone, still no peleton, no other breakaways and no race
referee to give me time gap updates. This was the weirdest time I’ve ever had in a race, I’ve never just sat out, not-chasing and not-charging for so long. I started to think I made a wrong turn and
was off the race course. At this point my legs started to give out, and I was slowly burying myself. I had about 5 miles of gradual climbing to go before a long downhill and I was afraid that if the pack caught me
during the climbing, that I would get dropped. In the final two miles of climbing through the Gila forest, I finally saw the pack creeping up behind me. I had to put in a huge effort in those last two miles so I
didn’t get caught out on the climb. Just as I reached the Continental Divide sign and the downhill – the pack grabbed me and was able to sit in a draft for the first time in 25 miles.
By this time my legs were shot, Nate found me in the group and I was so tired that I had trouble talking to him. Over the next 15 miles I slowly drifted farther back in the pack until I was hanging on by the
very last wheel. We hit the beginnings of the 30 – 50 mph cross and headwinds and I blown off the back. With 20 miles to go in the race, the majority of it uphill and into the wind – once again I was all by myself. This was the setup for the worst time I’ve ever had on my bike.
Turning a corner into the final climb of the day, with 17 miles to go the finish, the wind poured into me at a constant 30+ mph. A half-mile into the climb was the feedzone, and Allie was waiting to hand me a
bottle. Since I was bringing up the rear of the field she was able to practically drive alongside me the entire climb. It was great to have someone with me, even if they weren’t on a bike – but there wasn’t
anything she could do to make it any easier. (and all I wanted to eat were Little Debbie Zebra Cakes, which she didn’t have…) It was a gradual uphill, 4-6% grades the entire way, but I was crawling along in
my drops, head down at 6 mph, grinding my 39×26. The course remained like this with no respite from the wind or gradient for the next 12 miles. I just wanted to fall off my bike and quit. I knew I was loosing huge amounts of time and that my breakaway escapades had destroyed any chances I had for the GC.
At some point into the climb with my nose on my stem, I noticed a rubbing sound. As it turns out my front brake was “on.” As soon as I loosened it felt like I had a new set of legs. I have no idea how long my front brake was slowing me down, but I suspect it had something to do with my royal blowout out the back of the pack. Was it a factor in me doing so badly in the race? Had it been sucking my power out all day long? I don’t know for sure and it certainly didn’t matter now. All I had to do was finish so I could stay in the race.
I finally crawled into the finish line 20 minutes down on the winner, in 50th place for the day and I was moved down to 50th overall on the GC. I was completely destroyed and just about fell off my bike at the line. Nate finished 27th and moved up to 14th on the GC. The breakaway I was in was caught with about 5 miles to go; I bet we would have made it with a third person to take pulls.
Now that I am completely out of contention for the overall, I can change my focus to winning stages, winning money and helping Nate preserve his GC placing. The time trial is tomorrow, and since my GC hopes are long
gone – I get to ride it for fun and use it as an extra rest day. I think I’ll ride it with my aero helmet on backwards just to fuck with people.
Stage 3 Report
With my GC hopes in the toilet, sitting in 50th place overall and 25
minutes down on the leader, today’s stage presented itself as a pseudo
rest-day. It was an individual time trial, 16.14 miles in length with
1600’ of climbing. It would be impossible in 16 miles to bring back 25
minutes, or even 5 minutes so I decided to just go out and cruise the
course to save my legs.
Since Nate was 14th on the GC, I let him use my time trial bike while I
used my road bike with aero bars clipped on. I managed to sneak my ipod
into my skinsuit (they are illegal in these races) and rolled out to the
start line after a weak 15 minute warmup. As I was being held at the
line ready to go, an official demanded that I take out my headphones.
So I unplugged the cord from the back and had to “promise” not to plug
it back in.
I made an agreement before I started to keep my heart rate under 160
bpm, about 20 bpm below my lactic threshold. The course started with a
4.4 mile climb, and I was able to settle into a comfortable rhythm –
still maintaining a low heart rate. 2 miles into the ascent I had
passed the rider who started 30 seconds ahead of me. And then by the
top of the climb I had passed my 1 minute man and was on the tail of the
guy who started 90 seconds earlier. By the time I hit the turnaround I
had passed 10 riders, and yet I still wasn’t working hard and was
keeping my heart rate low.
At this point I realized I had super legs and super form today. I
picked up the pace a little bit on the way back because I was having
lots of fun riding fast and passing more riders. I hammered it up the
final steep climb before the 4.4 mile downhill with a smile on my face.
This was the first time I’ve ever enjoyed myself during a time trial.
Usually it’s a nonstop suffer-fest, with snot, spit and sweat splayed
all over my face. Typically I can’t walk when I’m done and often have
trouble just getting off my bike from the effort.
I finished with a time of 42:26, good enough for 17th place. I wasn’t
even short-of breath when I crossed the finish line. My average heart
rate was 158 bpm, my normal TT average is 178 – 185 bpm. As I spun my
legs out afterwards I started to kick myself for not actually trying. I
could have easily knocked 2+ minutes off my time and finished on the
podium had I actual ridden at my limit.
Nate started 15 minutes behind me and rolled in with a time of 42:15 for
Stage 4 Report
For as much as I train, eat and race as skinny climber – deep down
inside I may bear the soul of a fat, angry crit sprinter. I know that
when the shit-hits-the-fan, I can surprise other racers (myself
included) with a blazing sprint. When I saw the layout of the Stage 4’s
Downtown criterium, I knew I could do well. It featured about 80 feet
of climbing per lap with four 90 degree corners and a high speed
downhill. Sitting at 48th on the GC, I had absolutely nothing to lose
and was determined to go balls-to-the-wall all day.
So of course I woke up this morning feeling more tired than I have all
week. I did not want to get out of bed today, my legs hurt, my stomach
hurt and I was suddenly unmotivated to do anything. But I got up
anyway, hoping I would feel better as the morning went on.
We arrived at the course in downtown Silver City with about an hour to
warmup. After setting up our trainers and suiting up, Nate discovered
that his bike wouldn’t shift – at all. His derailleur was fixed in his
53×11, and the shifter was doing nothing but creating slack in the
cable. We went into panic-mode as we frantically tried to fix his bike.
We both needed to warmup, but getting Nate into the crit on a working
bike to preserve his GC placing was more important.
It has taken me years of racing to be able do my entire pre-race
preparation with complete calm and relaxation. The more stressful you
make your pre-race warmup, including suiting up, filling water bottles,
lubing chain, pumping tires etc – the more energy you will drain from
your body prior to the race. I have a specific order in which I do
everything from putting my shoes on, to oiling my legs, even always
putting my helmet in a specific place near my trainer. So when
something unexpectedly catastrophic happens, like a bike breaking – I go
After checking shifters, derailleur and cables we figured out that
something in the derailleur was seized. We sprayed the entire body down
with lube, wrenched on it a bunch of times and finally it started to
move freely. After another cable adjustment it was shifting like new
again. We now had about 20 minutes to warmup, normally I need about 40
before a hard crit. With Allie pinning our numbers we did our half-ass
warmup and flew off to the course.
On lap 2 I tore off the front to chase down a $40 prime, and allowed
another rider to out sprint me. I was afraid that if I did a full-bore
sprint I would blow myself up and get left behind by the pack. A few
laps later I went off the front again with the same rider, and once
again let him take the prime. This continued for the next 12 laps as I
kept leaping off the front into breakaways with other riders.
Unfortunately nothing stuck and no primes were won, but all that
attacking allowed me to get a good feel for how fast and for how long I
could hold solo speed on the circuit.
For the last 4 laps I sat in and found Nate at the front of the pack. I
asked him to lead me out on the final lap. I sat right on his wheel for
the next 3 laps. On the final lap someone tried to take his wheel from
me and I had to shove the guy off and yell, “That’s my fucking wheel!”
He was forced to go around Nate and take a pull at the front of the
peleton, which took us all the way up the hill into the 3rd corner. At
that point a huge crash occurred right behind us and I screamed out to
Nate, “Go, Fucking Go Now!” And he did! Nate charged super hard
through corners 3 and 4. Lining the final straightaway into the finish
line were reflective shop windows and I could use those to see we had a
10 foot gap on the group. I was screaming at Nate like a drill sergeant
to keep going. 200 meters from the line, I saw the rider behind us
through the shop windows start his sprint. So I got out of the saddle
and wound it up around Nate to roll in for the win, with Nate coming in
right behind me for second.
“Nick Schaffner from Truckee California – 1st place,” screamed the
announcer over the loudspeaker.
It couldn’t have been a more perfect win, combined with Nate coming in
second. We do nothing but train for stage racing, climbing and time
trialing all year long, and our biggest results of the season come out
of a criterium.
Stage 5 Report
The final day of the Gila featured a reverse route of Stage 2. It was
73 miles of a few rollers, followed by a final decisive climb, fast
descent and a final gentle uphill to the finish in Pinos Altos. The
major climb near the end decided the entire stage, either you had your
climbing legs or you didn’t. Nate and I decided the best strategy was
to sit in all day, eating and drinking and hope that we had the juice
for the final uphill showdown.
One thing you must absolutely do at all times during a stage race is to
be eating or drinking. It’s so easy to create a calorie deficit
throughout multiple days of racing that you really need to keep on top
of your food intake to maximize your daily recovery. But day after day
of the same flavor of bars, gels and salty Gatorade, I grew pretty tired
of the stuff. I’m sure some variety would have helped, yet you don’t
have a choice but to eat portable food. Eventually it all starts to
taste like sawdust in your mouth. Nate had bought some Little Debbie
Zebra Cakes for the trip, and for the final stage I had Allie hand me a
pack of them at the feed zone. I sucked down both cakes in one bite and
it was pure sugary bliss. If they weren’t prone to melting in my jersey
pockets, I would probably switch my race nutrition to 100% Little Debbie
product. Furthermore, if they weren’t prone to making me fat, I’d
probably switch my entire diet to Little Debbie product.
After sitting comfortably all day in the pack we approached the final
climb and the race exploded. I went straight into the red zone and just
couldn’t hang on with the leaders. I was riding at maximum, and half
the peleton rode away from me. Nate passed me along the way up the
climb, and gave his obligatory words of encouragement and all I could do
was grunt in response. The brief interaction of Nate passing me on a
decisive climb with encouraging speak, followed by my mumbled and
labored response seems to have happened in almost every race this
season. It’s like some twisted planned joke every race, and I can
always feel it coming when I get popped on climb.
With 10 miles left to go in the race, I went into survival mode to try
and preserve some sort of placing. I was able to keep the pack within
my sights the entire climb, but I knew as soon as they hit the downhill
I would never be able to catch up. As I dug deeper and deeper I started
to feel better. By the time I crested the climb I was flying, albeit
solo, but I kept turning a huge gear. Finally I started passing other
dropped riders and I somehow thought in the back of mind that I could
catch the pack, so I charged even harder.
Everyday Nate and I would write down the top 15 GC numbers on a small
piece of paper and tape it to our top tube. The top 15 GC didn’t really
matter to me, but it was crucial to keep track of these riders to
preserve Nate’s placing. About 5 miles from the finish I caught a rider
and noticed on my top tube that he was ahead of Nate on the GC. This
rider sat on my wheel as I passed him hoping I would pull him to the
line. Since I wanted this guy to lose as much time as possible with the
idea that Nate could move farther up the GC, I started to attack him so
he couldn’t benefit from my draft. I did this several times and after
every attack he would slowly crawl back to my wheel. Finally he pleaded
out to me, “What are you doing!? Stop attacking me!” All in the most
pathetic begging tone. At this point, 2 miles from the finish, I was
pissed about my placing but still riding strong. I then got even more
pissed that such a petty douche was ahead of me on the GC. His remarks
tipped the pissed off meter into all-out-anger and I turned back at him
to yell, “Stop crying you whiny little bitch, I’m gonna do it again!”
And with that I fired another bullet into my pedals, shot up the road
and didn’t see him the rest of the race.
I finished in 32th place, 4 minutes down on the winner. I wasn’t even tired at the finish, just angry.
And with that the Tour of the Gila was over, 43rd overall, but I walked
away with a stage win. At the end I still felt fresh and strong, like I
could keep racing day after day. Hopefully that is sign of proper
training, and that I may have not yet hit my peak in New Mexico.
On the 21 hour drive home we vowed to eat nothing but fast food, and
managed pretty well with a stop at Sonic, In-and-Out and Quiznos. Next
major stop is the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic on May 15th, a 4 day stage
race feature nothing but hills and mountains.