Today’s stage was a 94 mile point to point from Silver City to Mogolion. The course profile for today is the easiest on paper mostly flat with a final category 2500 ft climb. After seeing the wind absolutely howl yesterday the entire field was well aware that a flat race with 40 mph winds will be anything but easy.
We started with a climb up to the continental divide which was just enough to remind me that I definitely live at sea level. From here we descended and the road was mostly flat and the wind was still. Riders shed their warm clothes and pulled to the side for nature breaks. The 185 man field would occasionally get strung out into a one mile colorful line. There was a perpetual breakaway which would get caught, shuffled and go again. None of the big teams seemed worried. At mile 60 the race finally got interesting. We crested a climb to be greeted by a blistering cross wind from the left. The peloton immediately shattered into echelons. I was in the second echelon with a hundred meters up to the first group. Before I could even worry about potentially being relegated to the second group a Trek/Livestrong and Jamis rider touches weels and fell in front of me. The Jamis rider rolled right in front of my wheel so I grabed sone brake and swerved. I probably got within inches of crushing his fingers but luckily he pulled them away just in time. Although I avoided crashing I was now I a smaller third group and needed to work with the other riders to stay in contention.
We got close to the back of the field which turned our somewhat organized group into a every man for himself as we dodged out way through the follow caravan. Luckily this is one of the skills I’d gotten pretty good at racing in Spain. Hang in a car’s draft, sprint to the next one, rest the. Do it again until you’re back in. In all the excitement a couple riders had gone off the front, a Garmin and a Kelly Benefit.
The climbing started and I found myself within spitting distance of the leaders pealing pretty easily. As we turned onto the road that would take us up to 7500 feet I was feeling good and hanging tough. Then…. on a steep stretch… chain falls as I’m shifting into the small chainring. I try to push it back on with the shifter but I’m going to have to get off and fix it by hand. I stop. Unclip. Put the chain back on. Get on and ride. The field has already gone up the road, I’m with the stragglers. I decide to limit my losses and climb at my own pace. I’m completely out of water at this point so I figured I’m better off getting up this mountain sooner than later. I managed to pass quite a few people and got to the top without having to take out a loan on my body. Bad luck in a stage race is something you have to deal with, there is another road race tomorrow so I’m better off saving it for that rather than worrying about a small mechanical. Tomorrow is 85 hilly (and windy I hear) miles. I guess there is also a pretty hairy descent.
Sometimes it actually occurs to me how racing at this level really rides the line between being insane and incredibly focused. Not only does’t require the fitness to ride a bike up mountains but also the acrobatics to master the hairpin turns on the way back down throw in an unhealthy level of fearlessness to ride so close to other riders that you can hear them breathe down hills at 60 miles or hour in your underwear and you’ve almost got all the pieces to be a racing cyclist.
Today went better.
The first two hours of the race today were probably the hardest hours I’ve raced a bike. It saw us traverse the continental divide at 7500 feet and rip downhill on a one lane road through alpine pine trees. I was able to stay with the leaders up the climbs and hold position down the hill although I probably would have had an easier time if I hadn’t read the race description which called the descent ‘very dangerous’. I mainly struggled with the short surges at the field accordianed in and out of the turns. Altitude makes it very hard to recover from maximal efforts. Down in the basin the race was a little more calm as RealCyclist.com (the leader’s team) kept the pace consistent. I did notice that the peloton was considerably smaller at this point. Through the basin a break with all the main teams represented drifted away and the rest of the riders were content to get water bottles from their team cars and conserve their energy. At mile 65 we began climbing again. One of the defining difficulties in cycling is the face that a lot of the time you’re forced to ride another rider’s pace. When I found a rhythm I held the leaders fine but I knew that not getting feeds or water meant that my body was a ticking bomb. Over the divide again and over the large rollers back towards our start town we descended a large freeway at what had to be 60. It was at this point that the Jamis team and RealCyclist decided to reel I the break and set the race up for their sprinters. The speed for the last 2 miles was incredible. The remainders of the peloton stretched in a line going so fast you could not tell we had already ridden 78 miles and climbed mountains. I finished just behind the sprint, totally wrecked but happy that I made all the crucial selections.
I’ve talked to a couple experienced riders who say that having done this race before and knowing the courses pays huge dividends. I’m riding with a vague idea of what’s coming and basically trying to stay with riders who I think are a little better than me – in order to improve. Tomorrow is a short time trial then a downtown criterium before the 106 mile alpine monster of a race sunday. Taking it one day at a time.