Fighting the wind at PV Cycle Derby

Nick and I - wearing the leaders jerseys
before the race
photo Carol Lyndell
The last race of the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series found us at the Peaceful Valley Scout Camp just outside Elbert, CO. With the series leader's jersey packed safely in my bag, I was hoping to have a smart race and hold onto the Series win. But first I had to finish the PV Cycle Derby. Having never ridden out there, I didn't know what to expect. I found a fun course, the usual great volunteers and some really challenging conditions. Truly one of the most enjoyable races of the series, with plenty of single track, wide open roads and a nice mix of technical and easy riding. But it wasn't easy at all - one of the longest races in the series. I was so close to breaking six hours, taking the win and setting a new course record in 6:04:03. Congratulations to Natalie Ryan for taking second in 6:26:20 and Pam Seidler for finishing third in the woman's race in 6:39:02. With the win, I also held onto my Marathon Women's Pro Series lead, keeping the green leader's jersey. Nick also had a solid race, finishing third in the men's singlespeed half marathon race to wrap up the Half Marathon Singlespeed Series win.

I lined up with the rest of the women's field, unsure of what to expect in the first 14 miles. Nick and I had pre-ridden the last 8 miles of the race and had a great time. Fun trails with enough road and double track to allow for good passing. I was hoping for more of the same, but knew there was more road in the first half. I also knew that wind could be a huge factor with those open meadows. Cristienne Beam - one of the other woman to do all of the races in the RMES, had said the wind and the cows had gotten to her last year. While it hadn't been windy on Saturday - a perfect day for racing and riding, when I woke up Sunday, the trees were already swaying. Perfect - welcome to Peaceful Valley!

Women's Pro/SS start
Photo - Nick Thelen

Off into the woods for 66 miles of fun!
Photo Nick Thelen
At the start, I tried to escape right away. With the wide open roads and wind, I was worried about Natalie. She's really strong under those conditions, with more power for that style of riding. She also had come down for the scheduled pre-rides the weekend before and had more knowledge of the course. I did get a small gap on the first section of single track, but as soon as we hit road, I heard gears shifting behind me. No luck escaping. Now time for a decision - so early in the race, with terrain that suited Natalie, how much was I willing to dig to try another attack? Not much. I knew I wouldn't be able to pull away right then. Just as I made that choice and started riding my own steady tempo, the trail tipped downhill. Into rock strewn single track we went. My kind of terrain! But without a pre-ride, I didn't know where I was going and couldn't afford to take chances. So I rode carefully, well aware of Natalie on my wheel. One salaom like descent caught me off-guard and I bailed to hug a tree. Warned Natalie about the deep dust, and got back on my bike only to find my chain had jumped off when I attempted shifting. I tried shifting to the little ring to get it back on, but no luck - it was wedged against something. With singlespeed monster Cameron Chambers breathing down my neck, I had to stop to fix it. Like any good bike racer, Natalie took that opportunity. Her pre-ride had given her enough advantage to know when the trail opened up again. And if I wasn't right with her when she hit the road, I was going to have a fight to catch back up.

For the first time in the series, I found myself chasing Natalie as we started the next road section. Without knowing how long until we hit the next single track, I was worried. On the tight, steep switchbacked climb, I made up some ground, but she pulled away again as the trail leveled out and turned into the wind. We continued that pattern for a few miles - I would close the gap down on the the climbs and she would pull it back out on the flats. Once we hit the wide open road just after the aid station, Natalie was nearly impossible to catch - it was all I could do to keep her from extending her lead. And I didn't want to dig that deep so early in the race, but I needed to close that gap.

Luck was on my side. Natalie faltered on a short, steep rocky climb and I was able to get on her wheel. Whew. And since Natalie had pre-riden and knew where the trail was going, I decided to stay there. It didn't make sense to try and get around when I had no clue what was around the next bend - more rocks or more road. The wind wasn't too bad yet, but still strong. I stayed a little back from her, not really wanting to draft that closely and to allow some of the single speeders to get around. Not passing her right away proved smart - there was plenty of road left after that short, rocky section. It was still fun - double track that twisted and turned through the meadows and singletrack flowing under the pine trees. I stayed behind Natalie, content to follow. Then, just as we turned into the windiest sections, she got tired of me following and pretty much made me pass her. My turn to lead - and we entered another technical section shortly after the pass. Perfect timing for Natalie - she followed my line through the tight turn, rooty and rocky descents and switchbacks. We also got caught by a horde of guys - of course, right in the middle of the techy, fun section. But we made it through without too many issues.

Into the last eight miles, and finally a section of trail I knew. But it would turn into a yo-yo between me and Natalie. I would pull ahead, get some distance on the narrow and twisting trail tracing the edge of Bobcat Gulch, then Natalie would reel me back in when the trail opened up into double track. This happened several times through the last eight miles. On every technical section I would get a small gap, only to feel her right behind me again on the roads. She pulled ahead for a bit on the second to last road section, but I re-passed her just before the rocky climb. I ran the rock slap I knew I couldn't ride and made the next rock step up easily. But as we dropped back down to the lake, still no space. I could hear her shifting as we approached the final climb up to the finish line. After 22 miles and two hours of riding, only a few seconds separated us as we finished the first lap.

Kyle B's dad, Rocky was helping us out at the pit zone. I slowed to take the cold water bottle and my potato from him. The Yeti Beti tent was further up the row and Natalie rode past me. And stopped. Off the trail, off the bike, digging in the cooler under the Yeti Beti tent. I realized she would be off the bike for a minute or two and saw an opening. I hit the gas and bolted into the trees. That might be my only chance to make an escape and get the gap I needed. I knew the road and the wind favored Natalie and as long as she was behind me on the technical sections, I wouldn't be able to pull away. I wanted that gap and I wanted daylight between us. And I needed to throw down if I was going to get either one.

I took some chances on the first little singletrack section and attacked the hills before the first road section. Onto the road and I put my head down and pedaled as hard as I could. Kept the cadence high and the power to the pedals even. A few quick glances behind showed that I had a good gap, but I needed to hold it through the rest of the road section, past the cows and into the single track. If I could get to the technical single track with a large enough gap, I had a chance. I also had some help from the guys around me. They were willing to let me tuck in behind and draft all the way to the trees. The tow into the single track was what I needed to keep the distance. I pushed the pace through the rocky sections as much as I dared, keeping the smooth, efficient and fast lines. Made the really steep switchback this time around, with much verbalization as I maneuvered through the dust and trees. I didn't make the last switchback before the road - my front tired washed out and I pitched off the bike. Got up, dusted myself off, checked my chain and brakes and started riding again. Now I was riding scared - I could see Natalie a few switchbacks behind me, making her way through the trees.

Onto the road sections with some steep climbs, I knew I needed to keep my composure and keep the tempo high. I attacked the s-curved climb, glancing over my shoulder a few times. Natalie was there, but not getting any closer as we climbed. Into the next rolling section and the first of the half marathoners caught me. He flew by so quickly, it was like I was standing still. On the next steep little climb, I took another glance back. It looked like the distance was opening up. I kept the gearing hard and attacked the hill, passing two of the guys who had helped me on the first double tracks section. Thane was at the aid station, cheering everyone on - I got a high five, smiled at the volunteers and kept pedaling. Only a little bit until the rocky chunk of trail I'd caught Natalie on before. I'd just followed her line before through that section...

There was another sweeping curving the trail that allowed me a subtle glance behind. I couldn't see Natalie's white helmet and dark kit in that space. Maybe I'd gotten the space I needed... Into the fun little rocky section and I was free to ride. A few more of the half marathoners caught me, but again with the speed difference, passing wasn't an issue. Kept it smooth, kept the gearing easy so I could pedal over the rocks and maneuver the bike. I enjoyed that section of trail - not climbing or scary descending, but still tricky and fun. But the next section - the long double track through the meadows and pines, was not fun. Not this time. I was still worried about Natalie and her speed on the flats. And the wind had picked up quite a bit. The tires of the guys around me kicked up dust clouds, blowing hard. I wasn't close enough to anyone to be able to draft, so just got low and pedaled. High cadence, smooth pedal strokes. Passed the first pond and we started catching some of the XC racers. I felt sorry for the first kid - he was really young, on a tiny bike and was pushing up the hill. Made sure to tell him good job, then focused on the little rock garden in front of me. Another sweeping turn and we dropped into the long straight descent where Natalie had let me around on the first lap. I made the right hand turn and slammed straight into the head wind. Ugh. And while now I had company, I was moving just fast enough that I didn't want to stay and draft off them. I kept my eye on the trail across the meadow, hoping that I could get out of sight before Natalie entered the clearing. It was close, but she started the descent just before I was gone. Close enough to still be able to see me at times, but far enough away that it would be hard to chase down. Time to keep that pressure on and turn the gap into daylight.

I was close the end of the first 14 miles of the lap. The sun was baking the dust and the wind driving into our faces every time the trail turned south. I was also running out of fluids. A few desperate pulls on the bite valve from my camelbak revealed that it was empty. The water bottle on my bike was also close to dry. Knowing that there was an aid station at the 14 mile mark, I drained my water bottle after the last few tricky corners and climbs. Only a few minutes left - the drop into the campground. Since my camelbak was empty, I didn't see the point of carrying it for another eight miles. Ditched it at the pit zone, along with my now empty water bottle and grabbed one from aid station. Just water, but it would get me the next eight miles. I just needed to remember the good times to drink since that last eight miles of the lap were the most technical.

I felt comfortable riding up Bobcat gulch this time, but I wasn't able to clean every climb. The dirt was so dry and with people walking up some of the hills, it was deep and loose. I spun out on one of the climbs and had to run. Otherwise, it was a smooth, fast run up the gulch to the top of mesa. I knew I could gain some time on that section if I just kept the rubber side down, so rode hard but smart. Smooth is fast and fast is smooth. The last steep descent was also getting really dusty, with the rocks knocked out of place. There were some sections of sand surfing just before we hit the road. Much worse the the first lap, one of the guys noted. This time, on the road, I shifted into my hardest gear, laid my arms on the bars and TTed to the next section of single track in aero. Then kept the speed high, not shifting on the little climbs, but attacking the whole way up. Turned back south, into the wind and it was like pushing into a wall. I used the road section to monitor the riders behind me. Still no sign of the Yeti Beti kit. Or of Nick - we'd both figured he'd catch me on this race. I was riding about 10 minutes per lap faster then we'd anticipated thought... Only one more section of rocky fun until the finish line. Again ran the big rock, but made the second one very smoothly. Downhill to the lake, then the short climb to the finish line.

Rocky was waiting for me with my new camelbak and still mostly frozen bottle. A smooth pit stop and I was off into the woods again. Nice cold water and GU Brew to drink and a snickers bar to eat. I was set. I had room to breath, but didn't know how much. But I wasn't going to take any chances. I wanted this lap to be smooth, clean and fast. I needed to keep it close to a 2:00 lap if I wanted to break six hours, but had to focus one section at a time. I was starting to get tired and I could see how mentally taxing the wind and the cows could be. Especially when the cow standing right in the middle of the trail decides to dump a pie right down wind from you... All the incentive I needed to ride fast.

With the big lap, the field was very spread out. I felt like I was alone among the trees and cows for many parts of the course on that last lap. I could see riders in the distance ahead and behind me and the few places were the trail double backed. No sign of Natalie as far back as I could see. But I knew that things could change quickly, especially on the open, exposed meadows where the wind was now gusting. I was using my little ring more, not attacking the climbs like on that second lap. The sun was rising higher in the sky, sending the temperature soaring. Happy to have my camelbak on again and happy that there was still ice cold fluids in the bladder, I kept the focus on eating and drinking where I could. I needed to keep my mind in the race and not drifting away like the dust from my tires. One moment of inattention could lead to a wipe out or hugging a tree or something else equaling fun.

As I entered the last section of trail before camp, I emptied the bladder in my camelbak. Yes, it was that hot. But I still had my bottle - it had been almost frozen when I'd grabbed it, so I hadn't really been drinking from it. Finding the most efficient line down to the pit area, I made the decision just to ditch the camelbak again. I could survive with just my bottle for the last eight miles. A quick fling to the side and I was focused on the u-turn at the aid station. I almost didn't recognize Nick in his blue leaders jersey, holding another bottle for me. Cold water - in a bottle I could drink out of easily. I drank about half of the bottle and tossed it. Now I was set for that last push to the finish line.

Breaking six hours was looking tight at that point. I needed the fastest ride I could do through the technical climbs, steep descents and meandering single track. I wasn't as efficient as I wanted to be - had to walk the really loose climb again and was slow getting back on the bike. I was starting to feel the first 60 miles in my hands and back. My run through the rocks and the dusty descent down to the road was the smoothest of the race. Another TT down the road, surfed the sand pit without issues and onto the flowing singled track. Fast, but not acceratling on the little climbs. I was still shooting for the time, but watching the seconds ticking by on my Garmin, was less hopeful. I had about 15 minutes left of time and about 20 minutes left of riding. And I was tired enough that I wasn't confident of being able to make the two time match. The last section of long road into the wind was a bit of a struggle. I wanted to be done - was tired of fighting the wind, tired of baking in the sun. A little less enthusiasm for the last time up the rocks - still ran the first one and rode the second step. As I popped out of the trees, the clock ticked over 6:00. And I still had a few minutes left of riding.
Half Marathon SS podium - Paul Von Boeck 1st, Travis Eckenberg 2nd, Nick 3rd

RMES Pro/Open overall. Sarka (not pictured) 3rd, Natalie Ryan 2nd, Me 1st
Photo - Mountain Moon Photography
 Crossed the finish line with a wave - riding 6:04:03. Close - so close.  I didn't hang out at the finish line - soft pedaled up to the camper to get clean. I had a salt lick on my face (maybe that's why the cows were hanging out in the trail) and wanted something cold to drink. This was one of the best races in the series - a fun course that didn't favor one type of rider. There was something for everyone. It was a hard race - with some good competition through out the day. Congrats to everyone who finished the marathon, half marathon or cross country races. And to everyone who decided not to race - you missed out on some cool camping, watching the night time crit, and a really fun course. I don't have too many photos because Nick and I were racing at the same time...

See you next year!

The three women bold enough to complete all five races in the series - Cristiene Beam, Me and Natalie Ryan.
Photo - Mountain Moon Photography


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