Anyway, the Hill Junkie blog hasn't been put to rest yet. After a one year hiatus in racing, I finally built up enough motivation to pin a number on again. Last year was busy - buying a house, putting a house on the market, moving cross-country, and transitioning to less than full time employment. Racing just wasn't on my mind. Feeling settled in now, I couldn't let one of the premier Durango weekends slip by without engaging. The Ironhorse Classic race is in it's 48th year now. It started when two brothers challenged each other who could reach Silverton first, one by bicycle on road, the other as a brakeman on the steam train. The cyclist won. The event grew and now draws thousands to our small town each Memorial Day weekend.
I had hoped to race in both the road and MTB races for omnium points. I waited too long to register and all of the masters road race fields had filled. I didn't really want to pay $110 to participate in the untimed tour, so I signed up just for the MTB race on the second day.
After an abysmal weather week with lots more snow in the mountains and rain in town, the weather cleared for the weekend. It was killing me to not go out and do an epic backcountry ski on Friday and blow any chance of doing well in the race on Sunday. It killed me further to see a couple thousand riders head off to Silverton on Saturday on one of the nicest days in a good while. I had better not suck in my race!
Not having raced in almost two years and not having any historical reference to gauge my fitness, I had no idea how I'd do in the 55+ age group. Don't know anything about folks who race here either. In science, some of the best experiments are where the outcome is uncertain. That is where discovery is maximized.
After taking it pretty easy for a few days, race day comes. Trails are finally dry, it wasn't going to get too hot. I warmed up with my neighbor kid Jack whose family also recently moved to Durango. He is 14 but because he turns 15 this year, he had to race with the 15-18yr olds. He is strong and will surely be kicking my butt a year from now. Jack's dad also races, enduro style.
Lining up in the corral area, I was in fourth wave with one minute staggers. Ugh. This can't be good. I think the 45+ field in front of me alone had upwards of 50 riders in it. This isn't a road race where the pack leaves and you don't (usually) see them again. The first climb will fragment that pack, leaving many riders to pass. I would soon learn it was much worse than that...
|Leading out the 55+ wave at the start|
We caught up to a very large pack of riders just as we got to the 300ft steep switched-backed climb. This was going to be a huge CF. The trail has many places to barely pass, but there was wheel to wheel conga line of riders as far as you can see. I kept calling out passes and everybody was pretty good about it. I heard others behind me from my wave doing the same. Then, about a third of the way up, I call out "on your left" and get an immediate "there's no room and no where to go." Well, maybe at the very second it was true. But when it widened a bit, I called out again and the same guy says "your gonna have to wait until we get to the road." Huh? WTF. I said "your kidding, right." I think he was dead serious. It took some "initiative" to get around this guy. I didn't kill myself to that point only to sit on a slow wheel and have my competition close any gained ground. I passed easily over 30 riders on that climb. Was definitely a different kind of MTB race for me. At least I knew I was leading my wave when I got to the top, so as long as nobody passed me the rest of the race, I knew my standing.
I hadn't breathed that hard in years. The air was extremely dry, and minutes into the race my throat was already so dry it felt like it was cracking. I didn't take water with me because I don't need it for one hour effort and I knew I would be breathing too hard to drink anyway. No rest on the rim either. Just a minute or two of contouring at all-out hammer pace brought you to a rocket decent that lasted fraction of a minute. Then right back into VOmax effort on the next multi-minute climb. It was all singletrack with limited opportunities to pass. The passing windows were so short riding on extremely steep benchcut terrain. When you are already max'd out, how do you jump to a whole 'nother level to explosively pass in those tiny windows? I was sure I would blow up before finishing the second lap. The effort was completely unsustainable.
After dropping back off the college mesa at insanely risky speed through rutted chicanes of loose on hardpack, you're back on pavement on a gradual downhill dragstrip to town. You can see a half mile back to see who might be coming up on you. Then you get to the Steamworks Brewery. You race through the brew pub! They built a narrow-ish wooden ramp up the back side to come in at second story level. There was huge crowd there with live band on a platform. Surreal! You come downhill into sharp right and hit the lower ramp at high speed. It is all you can do to not crash through the rail. Then abrupt right and up another really steep ramp, except now you've scrubbed all your speed and you are in a huge gear from bombing down into town. Oh the humiliation if you had to put a foot down with a couple hundred watching, ready for the bobble. I mashed it out. Steamworks is pretty big inside. At first the "trail" is defined by a keg barrier left and right. It is nearly pitch black in there with shades on. I couldn't see shit! Oh the horror if I crashed into the row of kegs with hundreds watching. Inside the brewery there were abrupt right-left turns that were tight and so hard to see. Then you get to a straight-away and see the street-level window they removed through which you exit. It is an abrupt ramp up and over the sill to sidewalk. I accelerated and almost overcook the back side ramp coming down hard on my front well. Another big crowd there too! The cheering crowd inside was deafening. Was a crazy experience, and I would get to do it again on my second lap.
|Entrance ramp into back of Steamworks|
|Exit ramp out of Steamworks through window to street level|
Finishing up second lap, dark clouds were building. Winds were whipping and huge amount of dust got kicked up. I'm still getting it out of my eyes. Felt a few drops too. It wasn't until the Pro race right after my race that the thunder and lightning started. Lap and a half in, the race director made a safety call to stop the Pro race at two laps. It didn't rain much, but you are exposed to lightning up on the mesa.
I finished in 1:05:33, which is right around my best times on Mt Washington. This MTB race was the most intense MTB race I've ever done. There is no recovery around the course and it is short. It is an all-out sprint race, really. I don't think any of my Mt Washington races hurt this bad or forced me to take such long, sustained deep digs. Results are live and 100% electronic now, no printing and posting. They post a URL at the finish for you to check your result on a smart device. As expected, I took the win in the men's 55+ field. That was pretty satisfying. I didn't suck. Age group winners received a massive chocolate trophy that must weigh two pounds. Made by local chocolatier Animas Chocolate Co. I think there are cash payouts too, which are mailed.
|55+ Podium (third place didn't stick around)|
|Winner's Trophy. Maybe 8" tall. That is not hollow. It is solid chocolate.|