Stage 2 of the Epic, The Colorado Trail. 41 miles, 7300′ elevation gain. In previous years, this has been the penultimate fun stage. This year did not disappoint. The section of the Colorado Trail that we rode today was, as Mike Mac would say, like Ewok Planet. Someone, who knew what they were doing and had vision, built some of the most rippin’ singletrack around. But we’ll get back to that.
The stage started on lower Washington today instead of the Ice Rink. Once again, I rolled out of the condo last, and in my haste, mindlessly rode up to the Ice Rink for the 8:10a start. Last year, I missed the start of this stage, and only caught a glimpse of the last rider turning the corner a few blocks up. Had I missed that last rider, I would have missed the stage altogether since the course is unmarked at that point and it winds it’s way around the neighborhood. Visions of a repeat this year were in my head as I hustled to the new location. I got there with about 30 seconds to spare and lined up behind Jeff Kerkove on the outside of the starting fence. I could see the first place duo team in front, and I had them marked. I was determined to not lose sight of them, even if it meant burying my legs to keep up. That plan worked great during the neutral start. But once the police car pulled off, the dogs were unleashed. To that point, I was well above threshold already, and was hoping that I wasn’t ruining myself or Dan, who was just behind me.
Quick side note about Dan. He’s known among our circle of friends as “the Lung”. Not only because he has a super-human oxygen carrying capacity, but because when he breathes during a ride, it sounds like a hurricane. Even on moderate grades, you think he’s about to have a heart attack or an asthma attack, or some kind of attack. But he just keeps on going, and eventually you’re left wondering how a guy that sucks wind like that can be dropping you.
We caught the last glimpse of the leaders as we hit the first big climb, Heinous Hill. It’s aptly named. Steep and unrelenting, it goes on and on. Did I mention it’s steep? The duo team disappeared from view, like they teleported. Gone. Vanished.
A couple times, there were a couple mint green leaders’ jerseys pulled off to the side working out a punctured tire. In those shameful moments of schadenfreud, it’s hard not to go “Hell yeah!” But the afflicted teams were Jenn G. and Miles, the duo coed leaders, and Thompson/Overstreet, the 80+ leaders. Our duo team was long gone.
Going out so hard proved to be fruitless (we still lost 40 minutes on the Cannondale guys), and detrimental. I felt tired after burning most of my reserves early on, and I didn’t have the pep in my legs from yesterday. Nevertheless, the course was as fun as riding your bike can get. The brutal climbs early on culminated in fast, curvy descents. The aforementioned section of the trail, for which the stage is named, got a little moisture yesterday, so it was sticky and fast. The grade of the trail and the timing of the turns make for a perfect no brakes, hair on fire, throw your bike around section of trail. The trail winds it’s way through dense forest and then shoots out onto an open meadow, from which the veiws would have been spectacular had I had a second to take my eyes off the dirt immediately in front of me. The ride is way too fast to not pay full attention. Being the fastest descender, Dan led us down first. We just tried to hang on. He may have been having too good of a time though because we rounded a blind corner to find Dan standing next to his bike with his helmet in his hands.
Ken got to him first. “You okay? What happened?”
“I think I fell.”
Apparently, he got off line in a deeply cut piece of singletrack and smacked his helmet on something. I sent Ken ahead because he had 48 minutes to make up on the Clydesdale leader. Plus, ain’t no use in having two doctors stand around being useless. You only need one for that.
Dan seemed shaken, but okay. At least he was conscious. We stood there for a while waiting for him to get his bearings and straighten out his helmet. He wanted to ride right away, so we got back on our bikes. I led the rest of the descent at a pedestrian pace.
After the really fun descent, the rest of the course is perhaps, mm, not so fun. Testy, rooty climbs and loose, rocky descents remained, and it was all I could do to not whine about it. But in the end, I did anyway. We caught Ken at the top of the final climb, and he led us down to the finish. Chris was not long behind, having finally found his legs and lungs in the altitude. It took a few days, but he’s finally adjusting from the 300 feet elevation of Arkansas. Chris moved up a number of places in the men’s 30-39, and Ken took back some time and stood on the top podium spot once again. Dan and I, despite riding as hard as we could, finished second, and last, again.
Tomorrow is the toughest stage of the race, The Guyot Loop. We go above 12,000′ twice. 9400′ of climbing over 42 miles.