The idea of spending the next 3 hours climbing the big hills of the Alpine Challenge all by myself was not particularly appealing, but that’s what I had ahead of me. I had been part of the 20-person lead group that hammered over the first climb of the day to create a safety zone for the long descent ahead. I stayed with the leaders as we rocketed the next 14 miles down, down, down – creating an altitude deficit we would have to pay back in spades.
The race exploded as the road turned up and the leaders decided it was time to distinguish themselves. I was about 15-20 places back, and all by myself. I was one of 13 Descenders racing (ok, riding!) the 2009 Alpine Challenge. It was very cool to be part of such a big group. We had riders ahead and behind. At the start line, we had lined up together and took the first two rows.
Looking up the road, I could see some blue Descenders jerseys and the distinct pedaling style of Mike. They were not far and after pacing them for a while I could tell we were going about the same speed. Instead of spending the day alone, I decided to use a little gas to join them. Mike, Scott, Jeff and I became a group of four that would spend most of the day together.
Mike became our Captain on the road. He regulated our pace; steady tempo on the hills so we wouldn’t drop each other and fast pacelines on the descents to make up time on the leaders. A flick of his hand could mean, “Slow down just a touch to let someone rest a little”, or maybe “Hurry, hurry and pull through – get the paceline moving!” At one point, just as I was feeling tired and not looking forward to my next pull, he waved me out of rotation, sending me to the back to draft and rest. At the pee stop, he was full of, “Come on boys, let’s not stop for tea, time to GO!”
We gobbled up a few of the leaders along the way. One guy in an Ouch/Maxxis jersey took a terrific pull for us, which proved to be too much for Scott and Jeff. It was also too much for Ouch who faded over the top and Mike motioned to wait up for him since he’d worked so hard. We were just a few miles from the finish and my competitive juices were really starting to flow. On an incredibly steep highway overpass we dropped Ouch again and Mike said it was just us now so we hammered it. We traded very strong pulls a couple of times and then Mike started having difficulty keeping my wheel. I yelled encouragement to him and kept the hammer down as we sped the final mile. Mike stayed on and we finished strong together – I was really stoked cause my family was at the line, waving cowbells and cheering for riders.
In the post ride analysis, Team Descenders took 8 of the top 20 spots, including first and third. Mike and I came in somewhere between 10th and 15th. What a kick-ass day on a bike – made all the better by riding with an awesome team.