The aptly named Everest Challenge Stage Race includes 29,035’ of climbing, matching the summit elevation of Mt. Everest. This lofty number is achieved in two days of racing. Each day consists of 3 climbs in the spectacular Eastern Sierra Nevada, near Bishop, CA, undoubtedly one of the most scenic areas in the world and a personal favorite place for me; perhaps that’s why I keep coming back for the punishment.
I won the first day’s race in an epic battle, then finished second on day two, unfortunately losing enough time to relegate myself to second in the G.C. and losing my chance of taking home a State Championship jersey. Here’s how it went down.
(ed. note: Andy Scott’s E3 race report follows)
After a week of bike touring in the Sierra, I arrive in Bishop on Friday afternoon… well acclimated but with tired legs after the 5-day 450 mile tour with 50,000′ of climbing. Would have been great prep if I had a week to taper and rest, but so be it.
We roll out of the start with about 25 riders in my group and about 20 women. They seed us Masters with the entire women’s field. I have no objection. After the 8 mile neutral roll out, the racing begins. It’s not hard at all, but the group splits in half. A bit later, one of the Pro 1,2 women, Katie, rolls off the front and the pace picks up a bit. Soon it’s 4 of us Masters guys, and Ruth Clemence, riding together with Katie off the front. Everyone else is dropped.
We crest the first 6,000′ climb with Katie about 2 minutes ahead. I hatch a plan to use my descending skills to reel her in and work with her on the next climb. I flip it at the top of the climb and punch it on the descent, leaving the other riders behind, attacking the first narrow section with a lot of speed and taking a few risks, bunny hopping the bad pavement and railing the turns. I catch Katie, the leader, after just a mile or so, she’s descending carefully. So much for my plan of working with her. I blow by her and I’m on my own.
At the bottom of the Rock Creek descent, one rider, Dennis Phillips, catches me as I slow for the stop sign and he rolls it at 30 mph. I catch up and we work together on the next section, which includes a 4 minute climb. At the top I look back and no-one is coming. We’ve descended to a 4 minute lead!
On the second climb to Pine Creek, Dennis lays down a brutal pace. I have to let him go, realizing I cannot keep up the pace and survive the third climb. At the top I am dismayed to see the chase group coming, including the two Pro women, Katie and Ruth Clemence, and last year’s Masters State Champion, Bill Tibbits. They catch me at the top but I repeat my daredevil descent and gap them by couple of minutes on the long descent. I solo the long flat section back past the start area and their group of 3 works together to catch me. I stop at my parked car to grab fresh bottles as they forge ahead.
On the third and last climb, a 6,000′ monster up to South Lake at 10,000′, I slowly bring back Tibbits after 10 miles of steady climbing. I start to think I won’t need to settle for third place if I can hold him off. I pass him convincingly and create a gap. But I underestimate his toughness. He fights back and closes the gap with 10K to go to the finish. Damn. We exchange leads a few times, and on one steeper grade I decide to push it and he falls back. I continue to suffer and push and create a gap that will be hard to close. As I near the finish with 2K to go, I see Dennis Phillips, the leader.
He does a double take, a quick glance back to see if anyone is coming, then a second, longer look when he realizes it’s me. He’s suffering badly, and I seize the opportunity. With just 1K to go after nearly 7 hours of racing, I slip by and bury myself up the 15% finishing grades to take the win on Stage 1. I’m elated, but also realize that my two adversaries can easily beat me on another day.
I eat, recover, sleep, and prep the bike as best I can on Sat. evening, enjoying a nice dinner with Kevin, Leslie, Steve, Rick, and teammate Andy Scott.
In the morning we roll out of the start as I ponder my strategy. I’m the leader on the road with just 50 seconds over Phillips and about double that over Tibbits. Everyone else is a half hour or more behind. The State Champion will come from these three riders for sure.
First climb is a sensible pace with about 20 riders making it to the top together. It occurs to me to attack but there is a headwind on the climb, so I dismiss the thought. At the turnaround at the top, I attack again. I’m off solo, in the lead, descending at 56 mph with a good gap. At the bottom rollout, I’m caught by two riders, Dennis Phillips, and a 6’2″ female Touchstone Climbing rider, Cara Gillis, with amazing descending skills. The three of us work together to create a gap with Gillis doing the strongest pulls. Dennis and I share a look of disbelief and gratitude for her ability.
On the second climb Phillips and I drop Gillis, (she earlier quipped, “I can’t climb, I outweigh those other girls by 40 lbs!), while Tibbits chases and slowly closes the gap. Phillips wicks it up to keep Tibbits from catching, and in the process drops me too. I have no answer to his brutal pace. I hold Tibbits off and at the top begin my solo descent with Tibbits close behind. At the bottom I stop at my car for bottles and food and Tibbits passes me. I chase him up the lower slopes of the final climb, a 6,200′ monster up to the Bristlecone Forest.
A few miles later, I close the gap on Tibbits, and pass him. I keep the heat on and slowly increase my lead to the point where I feel I can finish second. But my legs are not cooperating. I want to catch Phillips, who is 4 minutes or so up the road, but realize that unless he cracks, I won’t reel him in.
I suffer on the long, steep approach up to the Bristlecones, and bottom line is that I’m not gaining on Phillips, nor am I in danger of being caught by Tibbits.
In the end I’m several minutes down on Dennis Phillips, who put in a Championship performance on this day, riding stronger than me, and is well deserving of the Title.
I heard several riders comment, “I’ll never do this again.” Me? I’ll be back next year to fight another day. It hurts to miss a State Championship by a few minutes after 12+ hours of racing, but I gave it my best and was beaten by a worthy adversary. So I can proudly accept being the “first loser” in this case.
Andy Scott’s E3 Report
The stars aligned for me to do this race and even though I’m not really a climber I figured I might have some ‘long endurance fuel’ built ski mountaineering in these same mountains, and I live on a hill in truckee so who knows . . . and besides worst case I could just stare at the mountains — I love the high sierra and racing my bike in them would be a unique opportunity. Four of the climbs actually end at trailheads I’ve used in winter/spring to launch climbing/skiing missions, cool.
Friday reg/pre race dinner and meeting was cool … lot of skinny/fit/hard-ass looking folks rolling around and typical light/nice bikes. Good organization. I get the sense of ‘community’ built around this race — hell the mayor of Bishop gave us a speech and the city council/chamber of commerce cooked and served our dinner.
Friday night Ben showed up about 10pm and we squeezed into my slightly over-skimped motel . . . it was clean, but just barely.
Saturday morning Ben left a little before me to make sure he was checked in/etc. I got in my car at 6:40 to drive 15 minutes to race and roll out at 7:20. Fed, clothed, etc. 8 mile neutral start. No warm up needed. I was focused on driving, parking, getting on my bike, starting. The motel parking lot is a “u” shape. One end of the “u” was blocked by a couple cars backing out/monkeying around leaving. Rather than wait I figured no problem I’ll exit off the other side of the “u”. Oops the other side of the “u” had the classic ‘motel covered check in parking spot’ and I sheered my bike right off my car. I watched it bounce on the ground in my rear-view mirror. Almost vomited/started shaking. Tried to pull it together. Got my bike expecting it to be in 29 pieces. Quick inspection didn’t reveal any obvious fractures so I just put back on roof and drove to race figured I’d see what was up there. At race, 20 minutes to start. Put bike together. Guys who witnessed what happened were parked right there. The offered inspection help — particularly on top tube which has potential ‘crack’ . . . but tests seem to indicate structural integrity is there and crack not in carbon but in ‘clear coat finish’ or something. Hoods/cables all messed up. Trying to fix. Trying to test ride. Called to start line. Go start. Realize on neutral roll out my d hanger is bent inwards — and I can’t ride my easiest gear (28t courtesy of conrad 11-28 loaner) because the d is hitting the spokes. Oh well, it’s not like I have to go climb 15.5k feet or something w/out my easiest gear. Besides I figure the bike will probably break before that is an issue anyway so what the hell see how far I go and sort it out later . . . can’t believe I’m even on the bike in the race figured my all time idiot move was going to ruin my entire weekend and had already imagined the most miserable drive in the world back to Truckee.
The race: All the intel was “save something for the last climb” (thank you paul and nate). This made sense, and I thought might even suit me relative to other guys if I could resist burning all my matches early on . . . Had already mentally prepared myself to drop off the pack on the first climb even if I wasn’t going full gas. E3 had field of 36 roll out . . . mandatory neutral for 8 miles — then we self-neutral for 3 more miles everyone crazy chatty, social pee stops, etc. Hit first climb right about as a less social 35+ field starts to pass us . . . and it is game on. Climb first 3k feet at 10 bpm higher than I was planning, of course, to stay w/ front group (mixed E3/35+) . . . the whole time I’m like I can’t climb 6k feet at this HR and expect to execute my strategy (strong on last climb vs. bonked/quitting/whatever) . . . finally I let the front 10-15 guys go and back off 5 bpm (critical 5 bpm taking me from above LT threshold to below, I think) settle in w/ 1-3 other dudes from my group and we hit the top, descend pretty well (mostly on wheel of Dustin from Reno who bombs the thing) and we ride to base of second climb . . . I have to get bottles but am unlucky on hand-ups and have to stop . . . dustin and other guy just dangle in front of me as I decide I am riding by number and fix my HR/my pace and start climbing . . . dustin opens the gap on me and the other guy explodes . . . I pull over and pee . . . I top out and descend then ride the ~10 miles over flats to the base of the final climb. Figure I’m between 10th and 15th, but don’t actually care. I’m at ~5 hours at this point. The last climb is 6k feet. I settle in for what I hope will be no more than 2 hours. I am in uncharted territory on the bike. The first 2k feet are hot/dessert . . . trying to eat/drink but know the pain is coming. Have the HR fixed on what I expect I can hold for the climb. Ride alone. T-storms are building. I know these mountains and roads for better or worse. Look, there’s Tom, Basin, Humphrey’s, Locke, 13,112, Emerson . . . holy shit the N cooolie on Humphrey’s still goes! Wait is someone on my wheel? No, still alone. Keep thinking someone is on my wheel. Then keep thinking I have a flat tire, or am going backwards. Hope i don’t have to ride alone much longer. Stare at the mountains for company. After what seems like forever, but I guess was just like 45 minutes, I come up on a guy from my group. We ride together for 30 minutes. He thinks only 6 or 7 guys are ahead of us. His wife is supporting him. Then he drops off w/ 7 miles to go. Well, I just moved up one place. If I don’t totally blow maybe I get top 10. I come up on another guy from my group, guy in black. I ride past him. I figure he’ll grab my wheel for sure and blow me away, but he has cracked and has nothing. I come up on another guy from my group ‘the spokesman’ and pass him. I look back and he’s had to stop in the road w/ cramps. I come up on another guy from my group. I know him kind of (Dustin’s teammate Shawn, race at challenge and some other races this year w/ him) . . . we are mile or so from finish and I am pretty much done . . . it’s getting steep . . . I laugh at thought of trying to gap him no way . .. I start to pay for not having that 28t available on the back . . . I keep looking down at it I can see it but I can’t use it to do so risks blowing all to hell rear d catches spokes or something . . . fighting cramps I guess everyone is . . . literally barely am able to ride the bike up the steep ramps at the finish — shawn puts a minute into me in the last k on the steep ramps! Guy at finish tries to take my bike but I can’t get off it/stop spinning for fear of massive leg seizures . . . fighting urge to vomit . . . takes twenty minutes but able to put some food down and start to feel better — especially after Shawn learns he is 3rd so I am fourth . . . and after a while ride down w/ shawn and dustin — great ride down despite some wet roads/t-storm activity. Get in car and realize I have to get my bike fixed . . . call Paul . . . go to his motel and he expertly grasps my rear d assemble and bends my hanger to something resembling straight. We also notice my rear wheel isn’t really seated ‘straight’ in the drop outs . . . we try to fix this . . . wheel is kind of out of true already and things are kind of funky — but I am over the moon at having a 28t available!! I want to drink 10 beers to celebrate, but hold off. Damn stage race. Have dinner w/ Paul and some of his friends and get encyclopedic education on euro bike touring. Awesome cuz I can’t talk anyway. Focus on hydration and recovery that evening, watch usc/ohio state second half in AC motel room, am thankful for my result and figure no matter what I’m kind of already ahead on weekend vs. driving home Saturday with a shattered bike, which is kinda what I deserved for my carelessness. Talk to wife, pass out.
Sunday morning, avoid whacking bike off car, good start. Body kind of spazzing on me as I load my car like literally focusing on not tweaking a muscle as I pick up heavy/bottle laden bike bag and stuff. Not good sign, but whatever. Sign in and see times . . . 1st and 2nd (jeff and alfonso) are ten minutes ahead of shawn and I am a minute from shawn and guy in black minute back of me and spokesman a few minutes behind him. Thirty of the 36 in our cat start . . . I don’t really have a plan, except for again as advised, have something at the end. First climb is 4k feet up to glacier lodge . . . I love this area (this is how you access the famous palisades) . . . again I know these mountains there is alice and birch and the thumb and kid . . . and we are too close to see the palisades group but I know they are back there . . . group rides a steady tempo I feel ok — not great but not as bad as I imagined — struggle w/ some attacks over the last 1k but am able to bridge gaps w/out going into red (which I had decided to avoid at all costs) . . . we descend holy crap wow what a descent — actually scared on a road bike at sheer speed on a straight road . . . descent not technical — except for the part about keeping it together at 60mph in turbulence . . . I actually think I can’t keep hitting brakes or I’ll overheat my rims blow a tire and sail into the yawning chasm of glacier creek . . . so the lesser of two evils is let ’em run. The second climb is my favorite, so flat! That is my kind of climbing. 5% average grade. All day. Still group whittles to maybe 10. We hit the base of the third climb ~3 hours in . . . we pass a 4k foot elevation sign it is 90 degrees and someone says “only 6k to go”. I can’t actually believe I’m about to climb 6k feet. Settle in. group whittles to 7. Shawn, in 3rd, pops off. Six left Brief vision of podium in my head. But, I know guy in black and spokesman — who blew the prior day — are probably stronger than me they just rode too hard/too early to try and hang w/ the guys who were 1st/2nd — who were clearly the class of the field. So it is me and wife supported guy and four stronger guys — at least when it comes to climbing the remaining 3k — and today has been more civil/steady than day one so . . . The road starts to ramp and undulate and get steep ramps . . . this is not good for me I need steady . . . I start to feel pretty bad I still have a hard hour to go . . . four ride away . . . I keep them in sight for quite a while but am not focusing on bridging just surviving the last 4 miles . . . longest 4 miles I’ve ever ridden . . . I don’t know if there was an actual ‘cracking’ . . . its just like nothing was left and I had to survive — I’m not sure I’d have finished w/out the 28t (so special thanks to conrad and paul). Finally like all things, it ended. I was at the finish, 5th on the stage. 75% sure 5th on gc. Guy in black solo’d in for the stage W and definitely jumped over me. I think spokesman did too. But I jumped shawn I think. So some chance 4th on GC, some chance 6th on GC. Had to leave before cat iii results were in. saw paul get his podium, cool. Amazing spot up there. Good food. Rode down w/ paul, and was glad for the company. This descent actually took work, and was close to 50 minutes (including a few short climbs and a ripping headwind on the lower half). Drove back to truckee in a bit of a fog. Happy fog, I’m pretty sure the 1st and 2nd hardest days on the bike for me ever, although I haven’t decided yet in which order.
Everyone should do this race at least once. I don’t know about 7 times, you’ll have to ask Paul about that!
ed note: This is my 6th, not 7th, Everest as Andy suggests, but I’m not sure that makes me any more sane!