12 Hours of Mesa Verde 2011 Race Report

In our first venture down to Cortez for the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde, Nick and I come into the race with no major expectation for place, number of laps or even our lap times. We finished the day with a new respect for the speeds required for the "shorter" endurance relay races, a total of 8 laps and a 4th place finish against some really fast teams. The winning team - now three year defending champions - Team Holley of Kara and Chris Holley put down 9 laps, followed by Tokoy Joes/Cycles of Life with Gretchen Reeves and Cannon Shockley and U and I with Jenelle Kremer and Ryan Ashbridge - both doing 8 laps. Nick and I finished shortly after 7:00pm with 8 laps, with the Dunton Hot Springs/Team Red Dress of Bojo Post and Gusieppie Prinzivalli closly behind, also with 8 laps. The Ascent Cycling crew was also well represented with Lane, Tom and Jeremy racing solo, Amber and Scott also racin in Co-Ed Duo, David and John in Duo Men and Patrick, Isaac and Austin racing 3/4 Men. There was a little carnage, plenty of sunburns, a little heat exhaustion and good times in camp between laps.

The day started cool and clear – and early with a 5:00 wake up call. I got up, made coffee and a small breakfast, then headed to the racer’s meeting while Nick got ready to ride. After reviewing exchange procedures and the first lap, the race director sent us on our way. I relayed the info to Nick, then he headed for the starting line as I took his bike to the staging area. It was already utter chaos at bike staging, with bikes scattered everywhere. I could picture carnage – and I’m not talking riders here! A broken wheel seemed likely with the number of bikes just laying on the ground and the herd of runners waiting on the other side of the fair grounds. Then the gun and the insanity of the start. Nick was pretty high up in the crowd and was off into the dust for a lap around the car race track before heading for the single track on the other side of the tunnel. My plan was to get a few pictures at the tunnel under HW 160, then get ready for my first lap. I barely made it. The dust cloud of riders was moving faster then I had anticipated. I stayed to watch the rest of the Ascent riders – they were lucky and were high enough up in the field to avoid the back up at the tunnel.

I went to the barn (literally – the beef barn for the Montezuma County Fair Grounds) a little early to watch the first riders rolling through. The fastest lap was about a 1:08 – just smoking quick given that the first lap was a little longer then the standard lap. Then the first Co-ed Duo came in about 1:12 – dang, that was fast! The second Co-Ed Duo was just a few minutes later – holy smokes! I stopped really paying attention after the third team. I wasn’t expecting Nick until about 1:30, but wasn’t too worried. The race usually isn’t won or lost in the first lap. Nick came through right on schedule and I was off.

First thing I noticed was the heat. It was only 8:30 and it was already getting really warm. I’d chosen to wear the darker blue CTS kit for the first lap because the sun wouldn’t be as intense. I would switch to the lighter Ascent kit as the day progressed. The trail was already dusty after only one lap. I settled into a steady cadence up the first climb, avoiding the temptation to really hammer. The hardest part of the lap was between miles 10 and 13 – pushing too hard too soon would have consequences. I kept seeing riders all around me, but never catching half of them. It would take me a few laps to figure out the convolutions of the twisty course. I felt smooth and relaxed, spotting the sweeping corners through the pinons and the sage. Passing and being passed was pretty easy – everyone was cool. The trail alternated between meandering along the mesa’s edge, plunging descents and climbs, false flats and steady climbs and roller coaster whoops. The hardest part in the first half was the “The Elbow” a short, gradual climb in a rock garden followed by a quick drop and a tight, rocky “s” curve climb. I had run thru the Elbow a few times on the pre-ride and felt pretty confident. Apparently, the guy behind me was a little surprised I rode it – and then I had a tail for the rest of the lap. Into the rolling, false flat middle of the lap, finishing with the roller coaster of Vertebra. My strategy of conserving a little paid off as I was easily able to power through Tuffy Rim – two miles of rocky, technical trail right along the mesa. Then down another roller coaster of fun named Rib Cage, into the last long climb and short descent and I was under the tunnel and back at the barn.

Our plan had Nick riding about 1:20ish for the next three laps, so I didn’t have much time to get ready to ride again. I pedaled back to the camper, said hi to the gang and got busy. First up, cleaning my bike – the drive train was covered in dust. Then to refill my camelbak – I was using a 50oz bladder and had nearly drained it in the last lap. With the temperature climbing and nary a cloud in sight, electrolytes were really important. Very happy to have my Gu Brew Tabs in addition to my GU and Gu Brew! Then it was time to relax for a little. Shade was already a precious commodity. At an hour into Nick’s lap, I headed for the barn. The woman on one of the leading Co-Ed teams was heading out as I arrived, so the gap was growing. I shrugged, found a chair in the cool shade and waited. And waited. The estimated time came and went. Still no Nick. I was starting to get a little worried! Finally, in he came – he looked toasted, but waved me out without a word.

Once again, the first thing that struck me as I pedaled away from the barn was the heat and the sun baking the dusty trail. It was beyond any heat we’d faced in Colorado Springs this year. I had hoped to pick up the pace since things had spread out a little and the passing was easier. But as the sun seared the sky and I started up the first climb, I knew that wasn’t happening. Given a choice between a slower but steady and survivable pace to be as strong on the last lap as the first or cooking myself to try a get a few minutes on this one lap, well it wasn’t really a choice. A steady cadence took me to the top of Lemon Head, where a fun descent awaited. I kept my eyes on the trail, keeping to my resolve to ride hard, ride smart and have fun. Up and down, around the pinions, along the mesa edge, and thru the sage. There was an ebb and flow to passing, being passed and riding all alone. Past the Cortez Lookout, through the Maze, and up into the Elbow. Then I saw a familiar jersey ahead – the green and black with the MR on the back. I’d passed her on my first lap; our teams seemed to be yo-yoing. A quick hello and pass and I was on my way down and up Nozhoni and Vertebra. We were only 6 hours into the race and Tuffy Rim was starting to take it’s toll on the riders – people were getting sloppy tired in some of the harder sections. The drop on Stone Axe Hill was getting pretty sandy, so I switched to the easier right line for the rest of the race. Amazingly, there was one of the Townie riders, waiting at the top of the hill – they always seem to find the best places to watch for carnage! I found a faster line down Rib Cage, then through Osprey Alley and back to the barn. Nick was waiting for me – he still looked pretty tired and told me that he was going to slow down a little.

I found out why his second lap had been so slow. Nick had opted for a bottle on the first lap since he didn’t like riding with a camelbak. Even after the pre-ride, he felt comfortable that he would be able to drink enough. But he hadn’t counted on the chaos of that first lap and the sheer number of people on the course. As a result, he hadn’t been able to drink more then a few sips in that 1.5 hours. For the second lap, he’d gone with the camelbak, but had only filled the bladder half full. It was gone in less then 45 minutes. With the temperatures sky rocketing, there was no recovering from that hole and he was already fighting off cramps. And with the speeds of this race, there was no way I could back off to be able to do two laps and give him a chance to recover. And I was also starting to really feel the heat. This time, I dunked my F3 Designs bamboo hat into the ice water from the cooler. With water dripping down my neck and soaking into my hair, it was time to head back to the barn. There were several other co-ed teams waiting, including the lady I’d passed last lap. She had changed from the black and green to a white and green kit. Then riders started coming in – another co-ed team we’d been yo-yoing with and the now white and green team. I kept an eye on the time. When Nick came in, we’d actually closed the gap between us and the other teams.

It was time to ride and try to catch the other women again. But entering single track with a mind to chase can be dangerous so I made sure I kept my focus on the trail. I was on the climb to the first section along the cliff when I saw the green and white jersey come into view. I made the pass on the cliff trail and this time she remembered the white, red and black Ascent Cycling kit. A little slower through the Maze and I didn’t have a clean run at the Elbow. I got a chance to check out some riders starting Rib Cage at the SAR tent – they looked toasted. I found out why on the false flats and long gradual climbs leading to Vertebra. The wind had picked up and was sucking the moisture out of the already parched air. My speed down Moki enhanced the Plinko Chip effect as I bounced off rocks. I was getting tired and was not looking forward to muscling my way through Tuffy Rim again. I wasn’t the only one – I watched a single speeder miss a rock step on the Rim and slam his front tire into a rock. A “phist” and spray of stans emanated from the tire. But after the Rim, I was able to look forward to floating down Rib Cage. The last climb on the lap seemed endless – I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere and the wind wasn’t helping. Finally, back to the barn and handing off to Nick for his last lap.

I wasn’t the only one feeling toasted by the sun and wind, but I actually was toasted. A pink crescent had developed where the jersey didn’t quite meet the shorts. I hate bibs for obvious reasons, but think those might have been the better option this time around! Most of the Ascent crew was back on a short break, and after they got Jeremy cooled down a little, they were heading out for a last lap. The heat was the topic on everyone’s mind – the heat and the dust. I needed to start thinking about cooling off and getting ready for the last lap. Once again, I had the privilege of riding the last lap. I made sure to drink plenty and my hat was chilling in the ice chest. With a full camelbak and a clean bike, I chose to wait in the barn. There were lots of riders waiting to get out for that last lap. I got there early enough to watch a few teams exchange and see the soloists agonize about facing the course again. First Co-Ed was a lap up, and the race was really between 2-3-4. Nick and I were in 5th and it seemed pretty likely that we would stay there, barring a mechanical. 3rd place had the opposite rotation of the rest of the teams, with the guy riding the even laps. Only a few minutes back, the 4th place team’s woman was ready to head out. But in a last second change, the guy on the 4th place team ride again – he wanted to try and catch the 3rd team. There were other teams that were swapping riders at this point as well, so I didn’t pay much attention.

This time, Nick beat the green and white team in. It was now my turn to ride hard, ride smart and try not to get caught. Having had someone chasing me down before, it’s not something I like – that running scared feeling. But at the same time, I couldn’t just bolt from the barn. I knew how tired I was and how much energy that last half of the course required. So I paced myself on the first climbs, trying to get as much free speed as possible on the descents. I had a good clean run through the Elbow and made it easily. After the Elbow, I caught up with the Ascent riders out for their last laps, Lane, Tom, Jeremy and Patrick. Said hi, but didn’t hang out – had to keep moving. The middle section with the long climbs and false flats was hard. All I wanted to do was slow down and spin up the hills, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what was behind me. Down and up Moki and I could tell that it was my turn to start getting sloppy tired. I just had to survive Tuffy Rim intact. It was a bit of a struggle – I bobbled one section and was off and running. Then back on the bike and bouncing off rocks and dodging trees. Just past the SAR station, there was a chain lying the middle of the trail. Two thoughts – “man, bad day, breaking chain here,” then “Why wouldn’t you just stop and fix it?” Then back to riding and focusing on the trail. By now, the right line on Stone Ax was even getting sketchy dusty! The final time on the climb up to Rib Cage, then time for some fun on the roller coaster type trail. UP and down, using the berms, catching a (little, tiny) bit of air. Then, at the start of the last climb, I saw a guy walking his bike. It was the 4th placed co-ed rider. As I passed him, I realized why he was walking – there was no chain on his bike. As the realization clicked, I mentally thanked Nick for making sure I could do basic mechanical work on my bike. But there was not time to dwell, I had to keep riding as there was still the chance of being caught. I heard wheels behind me on that last drop and through the tunnel. On the road, I snuck a look – not someone I knew, but I wasn’t going to let him pass me now!

So after a hot, fun and technical 12 hours of riding, Nick and I had finished fourth. We waited for the rest of the Ascent crew to finish, swapped some war stories, and headed for the results. There were some big names racing this year, and they managed to put up pretty impressive lap counts. After the awards, it was back to camp and an early night! We are already looking forward t next year. The 12 hour format is quite a bit harder then I had anticipated, but the course was just a blast to ride. We made a few mistakes, things that can be easily corrected, but had a lot of fun riding and hanging out with the gang. The race organization the a great job with the event and the staging area was so nice. Having a cool, shady place to wait made the day much easier!


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