I flew out to Las Vegas from Chicago on the Thursday morning before the race. This is where my family first moved to when we arrived in the United States. I still have family in that city, so the trip out to the race had the added bonus of a free place to stay and familiar faces. First things first, after arriving I needed to go for a ride. Conveniently, I have an old friend Chris Tuma who moved to Las Vegas to run a cool bike rental place in Blue Diamond, NV. I had no idea Vegas could also be a destination for mountain biking.
Friday afternoon I drove out to Beaver, UT for the race. After I got squared away with my number, Clayton and his dad arrived at the hotel and we rested up watching a stage of the Tour. The next morning we drove to the start line bright and early for the 8 a.m. departure of the Pro/Open Men’s race. It was a pretty low key race, but very well organized. After the standard call ups of people like Levi Leipheimer, Ben Berden, and Jamie Driscoll we rolled out. The first 30 minutes or so were at a pretty laid back pace. As soon as we turned onto the first section of dirt, the race was on.
This is when the altitude really started to hurt me. I will start by pointing out that Chicago is at an elevation of 597 ft and Beaver, UT is at 5,902 ft. In theory, because of my 5’6” 135lb stature, I would be pretty ok going uphill. This was not the case. As soon as we started going higher my lungs and legs were in a world of hurt. I immediately went backwards and was using all of the 38/32 gearing I chose at the last minute to put on my bike. I had absolutely no clue how I was going to finish the race. I was getting passed left and right like I was standing still and there was nothing I could do about it. “Just keep pedaling” was all I could think.
After getting over the first climb it seemed like an act of God to be going downhill. This of course was the best part of the whole course. A loose dirt and gravel descent with switch backs and technical turns was great proving ground for my tubeless wheel set up. I spotted numerous riders on the side of the course changing flats.
An interesting thing that was pointed out by my coach Max was the connection between how my heart rate dropped the higher up the climb I got. I guess its proof that if you live at or near sea level, riding at altitude is going to hurt.
After the descent was a road section to the next climb. Here I was able to hook up with a decent sized group and we took turns going into the wind. After passing a neutral feed zone, I finally felt like I got into a good rhythm at the base of the next climb. On the way up I knew I was plugging along pretty well because this time it was me passing people left and right like they were standing still. It was kind of fun to see so many surprised faces of people who passed me hours earlier.
Lets go back to the map for a second. You can see where I recovered a bit at a lower elevation. My HR starts to drift downwards again, around 7000 ft which was about where it started to drift down earlier in the ride. What that means I’m not sure, but its some indicator of where my body starts to say, “I really don ‘t like doing this.”
The rest of the ride is honestly was a blurred view from the pain cave. “Just keep pedaling” kept repeating in my brain. What a relief to see sign that read “1 mile To Go!”. The longest mile of my entire life. 12% grade at 10,000 ft after 68 miles and 5 hours of riding. To say I was glad to make it across the finish line was an understatement. A huge relief to be done, sit in a chair, and share the experience with other riders collecting at the finish line.