The competition was at its finest this Wednesday for the Palmer Park race, with the largest race ever in Andy's 101 events. Huge fields at the Ascent Cycling Series mean one thing - speed. And with the speed comes the pain that only an hour of suffering can dish out. With Kelli E in the mix this time, I knew our race would be fast. Add in a new racers like Liz and anything could happen. But regardless of the outcome, it would hurt.
Fourth wave of the 6:15 start group, we got to watch the Pro, Cat 1 and Singlespeed men bolting from the line at Bruce's whistle. And then it was our turn. I took off from the line into the lead, digging hard on the sandy road. That lead lasted for maybe 15 seconds - then reality set in, AKA Kelli passed me. Perfect! I would get on her wheel and try to follow her for a little, see the lines she was taking. Ummmm.... Tried is about as far as that thought went. Kelli just rode away and I couldn't make the jump to actually follow her wheel.. It would be a race for second with Liz right on my wheel as we turned off the road onto the double track of the start loop.
Pain. Glorious pain. The speed of the start didn't fade as we entered the singletrack. I took advantage of a well timed pass to get a small gap on Liz. It wasn't much, but it was enough. Kelli was already well ahead, mixing it in with the guys. I wouldn't see her again. Dig. Focus. Take the fastest lines, over the rocks. Power when you need it but keep that traction on the rear tire on the steep, sandy climbs. Weight forward and low for the rock climb up to the road and a well timed wheelie to gain the blacktop. No chance to recover there, no matter how much I wanted to - keep pushing, pedaling. The short little loop and then more road. A peak over my shoulder every lap to see my gap before the descent. And ahhh - the descent back to the finish. Fast is smooth and smooth is fast and sometimes smooth means being airborn. I'm starting to figure that one out, finally!
Pain. The deep pain of an all out effort and pushing for a hour race. An hour of suffering. Set the pace, take it up a notch if possible and hang on. Such is the glorious suffering of the Ascent Races. The gap between me and Liz always stretched out on the descent, but never by much. I could see her on the road climb at the start of every lap, wrestling with her bike to try to catch back on. Back to the single track. Take the pain of the climb in anticipation of the descent. Every time we crested the rocky climb, Liz was right there, a corner behind me. Dig. Get the space so that you can fly free on the descent. Fly. Be free - use the whole trail, launch the rocks. While my Camber might have been overkill for this race, it definitely meant I was able to have some fun! And isn't that part of the pain, the fun of being able to descend without fear?
I gave into the pain a little on my third lap, allowing Liz to nearly close the gap. Whoops - a loss of focus at a poor time on the road climb. But then Fernando caught me as he started his fifth lap. I've done this enough now - I knew what that meant. I was on my last lap and I had to make it count. Just a few more minutes of pain. Dig deep and make the move. Don't look back, just ride your bike. I knew she was there, trying to catch me. Close but not there yet. At the top of the climb, I still had breathing room. JJ lapped me on the blacktop and I took a short recovery behind his wheel - just a few seconds of a draft. One last time down Kinnikinnick to the finish. Make it count but don't do anything stupid. And then it was over. An hour of pain, fading to memories of the ride. Until next time.