Since the Firecracker 50 on the 4th of July I have been on the "just ride for fun" plan. This bike season has been up and down for me, with some good results and some bad luck. I opted to not take the trip up to National Championships in Sun Valley a couple weeks ago and instead enjoy the local trails with friends. The high alpine riding is finally dry, the wildflowers are spectacular and the trails are tacky making for some awesome trail riding.
Crested Butte was the host for the final Leadville 100 qualifying race over the weekend and even I had no desire to race Leadville, I'm not one to pass up a local race. I figured I would take the “just for fun” approach with it. I showed up to pick up my number on Saturday afternoon and heard the rumor that Lance was racing. Of course my reaction was, "Yeah, right." However, it was announced at the race meeting that he was on his way over. So much for a casual pace....
Sure enough Lance Armstrong rolled up to the start line a couple minutes before 6:30 am. Of course I’m thinking, "Wow, I'm getting to race Lance again on a mountain bike." I raced against him a couple summers ago in Snowmass at a Mountain States Cup race and it was pretty anti-climatic. The race started and immediately Lance rode off the front and was out of sight within 5 minutes. I hoped for something different today, but expected the same to happen. Luckily, we had a neutral roll out from Mt. Crested Butte down and around town before the race started so everyone would get to ride with him for at least the first 5 miles.
The energy of the peloton was buzzing as everyone rode behind the pace car and Lance down Elk Avenue as locals and tourists snapped pics and cheered. A pace line quickly formed as we headed out of town and turned onto the dirt road to head up the Slate river valley. The group stayed together for the first 5 miles of dirt to the base of the first climb, locally called Slate D'uez. As soon as the road grade started to climb the group slowed dramatically and I found myself out in the front pedaling comfortably. For the first few pitches I was waiting for Lance to come flying by, but he didn't.
Instead he rode right on my wheel and stayed there even when another rider came by and opened up a small gap partway up the climb. I was feeling great, riding at a comfortable pace, and enjoying myself. I could hear Lance breathing hard and about three quarters of the way up the climb he was asking, "Does this climb ever end?". To which I replied jokingly, "I know the Alps has way harder climbs then this." His reply was in good spirit, "Yeah, but it's different when you haven't been training."
When we reached the top of the climb there was a guy who had a 30 second lead on us. I quickly closed the gap on the short decent into Paradise Basin and passed him on a fast section where he chose a bad line threw the rocks. As the road flattened out Lance rolled up and informed me that the guy had flatted due to his bad line choice. There were a couple more little climbs to get to the top of Scoffield Pass and Lance again was asking me, "Do we ever get to descend?" I was still feeling great and found this encouraging, but told him we were almost at the top.
We rolled over the top of Scofield together and started the screaming fast road decent down past Emerald Lake to the snow plug. The snow field across the road is huge this year, still a couple hundred yards long, and requires dismounting to get across. The photographers snapped away at the unique shoot as I scurried across with Lance on right on my heels. Then it was back on the bike for a couple more minutes of screaming fast road decent before it flattened out for some fast road riding. As Lance and I started taking turns pulling across the flats another rider who neither of us recognized, caught up to join us. We made quick work of the ride out of Gothic each taking pulls to get back to the ski area.
I jumped out in front when we hit the 5 miles of singletrack at CBMR to climb up and over to the base area. Hopefully, this will make you chuckle; About halfway up the climb I made the decision to stop for a minute and go pee, thinking I could easily catch Lance and Greg on the decent. Luckily my plan worked as I caught up partway down the decent to ride Lance's wheel into the base area on the first lap. Of course, the crowd was all cheers as we rolled through the base area. You are probably wondering, "How are Lance's descending skills on a mountain bike?". Surprisingly, they are pretty good, he is really fast on the dirt road decents, but a little slower on the singletrack.
As we started the climb up Washington Gulch on the pavement my legs were starting to feel the 40 miles. I ignored the feeling, hoping it would go away and put down some food and liquid to keep going. I was encouraged that Lance was feeling the same as he was asking me about distance and climbing of the second lap. Once we hit the dirt after climbing on the pavement for a few miles Lance said, "Is anybody else feeling this? Or is it just me?" To which I replied, "No, my legs are definitely feeling this." However, the mystery man, didn't really say much and shortly afterward began to push the pace and pull away.
Neither Lance or I felt like trying to hang with him so we chatted it up for a bit as we started the gradual climb. As the climbing got steeper Lance started to push it a little more, split timing with his watch as to how big the gap was. He also asked me, "How much time do you think you can make up on the final singletrack decent on him?" in a way that almost implied that he would help me get to the top to close the gap on mystery man. To which I replied, "I think easily a minute." As we hit "the wall" near the top of Washington Gulch I could feel my legs starting to cramp, but just kept pushing to stay on Lance's wheel. As we rounded the final corner and could see the top he said, "I think there is a god." To which I had to laugh that he was as relieved as me to reach the top.
When we hit the top of Scofield the mystery man had about a minute and a half on us. A quick decent down to the snow field, this time it seemed more challenging to stay up right crossing with my bike, not sure if it was my legs or that the snow had softened up. Then another screaming fast decent down to the flats and Lance started to push the pace on the false flats down to Gothic. My legs started to cramp so I eased up thinking there was no way I could keep that pace all the way to the finish. Lance looked back when had opened up a gap of a hundred yards and to my surprise he slowed down a little to wait for me.
When I caught up, he asked me how I was doing and I told him my legs were starting to cramp. He said his legs were starting to cramp too if he started to “give er” and said lets work together. So I put my head down and rode threw the pain, taking turns pulling all the way to the ski area. We turned off onto Prospect and could see the mystery man climbing up the road ahead, still about a minute and a half up. Lance was on it and began to pull away as we started to climb, obviously determined to close the gap.
As I forced my legs to keep spinning as the road got steeper the sound of my chain going around was similar to nails on a chalkboard. My bike was in dire need of chain-lube after 60 miles and multiple stream crossings. My legs felt just like my bike sounded, screaming at me, but I had to keep pushing forward. I was relieved to hit the singletrack and get off the road, but Lance had already opened up a decent gap.
The singletrack gave me something to focus on other than the growing pain and cramps in my legs. On the first steep section my legs began to seize but I just let out a few choice words and pounded my fist against my quad to unlock it and keep going. I was relieved to reach the top of the singletrack but my legs where so smoked that I had little left to push across the top of Painterboy to begin the decent. I rode the decent fast and smooth knowing I would at least make up a little time. Halfway down I caught a glimpse of the duo riding right together lower down on the mountain, but the gap was a little too big to close before the finish line.
Lance Armstrong took the race in a time of 4:32:21, edging out the mystery man by 3 seconds! Turns out the mystery man was Greg Krause from Littleton. I finished just over a minute back in third place.
Wow! What a day to remember, I got to race side by side with Lance for almost 60 miles!
Lance later tweeted-
"Helluva fun ride today in CB for the @ltrail100 qualifier. Beautiful course. Squeaked out a "W" somehow. Full body cramp at the end."
"Thanks to the Crested Butte Alpine Odyssey MTB race yesterday I now feel like I've been run over by a truck."
I guess we have something in common, I woke up this morning feeling like I was run over by a truck too!
Thanks for reading!
for some awesome pics-
Team Alpine Othropaedics had a great showing for the day. Jenny Smith from AO took 2nd place on the women’s side in a close race with the winner Rebecca Rusch. Jari Kirkland also from AO rounded out 3rd. We had a bunch of riders from the team in the top 20, including Dr. Griggs, Mr. Alpine Orthopaedics himself.
for full results- http://singletrack.competitor.com/2011/07/race-results/2011-crested-butte-alpine-odyssey-results_19070/2