I realize that in past weeks I have been, perhaps, a little critical of Aspen Cycling Club races. I apologize, not for my criticisms, but for the one-sidedness of my analysis. So before I begin this report, here are a few good things about Aspen Cycling Club racing:
- Tactical Uncertainty – You never know which of the 20 or so guys in each race with Ajax or The Hub jerseys on in an Aspen Cycling Club race will be working together.
- Beautiful Scenery – Granted, it’s hard to pick a spot in the Roaring Fork Valley where the scenery will be bad, but in every Aspen Cycling Club race, no matter how bored or far off the back you are, there’s pretty stuff to look at.
- Wide Range of Talent – Because fields are self-selected, most Aspen Cycling Club races unfold like a Spring Classic, with the big names marking each other, lesser-known teammates doing most of the work, and attacks being frequent and tactical. None of this USCF Cat 4 pack-welding-until-group-sprint-or-some-pro-level-athlete-
- “Safe” Courses – Personally, I prefer technically challenging courses, but it is nice to know that in most Aspen Cycling Club events, there’s little to no chance of crashing out due to bike-handling ineptitude.
Ok, enough boot-licking. I was psyched for this race as I am for any race that ends with “Roubaix,” (‘cept maybe like “Alpe d’Huez-Roubaix;” that would put me off a bit) simply because I love racing my road bike on crappy surfaces. I was extra psyched because it rained all night and most of the day leading up to the race. As I registered, however, I came to realize that this wasn’t all good, because many people (perhaps Aspen Cycling Club people especially so?) do not like riding in the rain. The turnout was small. Weak sauce, indeed.
I warm up adequately but still not well, and arrive at the start line mere seconds before the gun. I get a rolling start because, for some reason, they count down Aspen Cycling Club starts from 5. Most people leave on 2. There were 11 guys in my field, which meant the start would be even slower than usual. I decided immediately that I was having none of it, and began to ride a modest tempo at the front of the field. Soon, I had a 50 meter gap, and at the first turn, out of sight of the “field” (if you can call it that) I sprung away, despite not knowing where the course went, or what it was like.
The first mile or two was, contrary to what the title might suggest, incredibly well-paved and rather hilly. More “Emmastel Gold” than “Emma Roubaix.” But after a bit, the road, as promised, turned to dirt. Sadly, the Rocky Mountains (unlike the Appalachians with which I am so familiar) have never undergone any serious glaciation, and most “loose” rock is the result of water erosion, and found almost entirely along rivers and streambeds. This road, well up in the hills, was no exception, being red, and in some places, slick from the rain, but utterly free of anything resembling pavÃ©. Very misleading, Aspen Cycling Club.
What made matters worse is that this dirt road was not the flat, narrow fare of northern France, but wide and most definitely uphill. Divine mercy provided many curves, and a wide variety of pitches, but overall, it went UP. No idea how many feet, but for long enough that I was getting angry about it. I battled hard on my opening solo, but inevitably, I was caught. Fortunately, it was only a small group (like there was potential for it to be otherwise), comprised entirely (as is so often the case in Aspen Cycling Club races) of Ajax riders.
It was a weird combination of Postal at the 2002 TdF and Domo-Farm Frites at the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. I was Hincapie in the Domo Sandwich, but instead of sending Knaven up the the road, Heras was leading Lance to the top of this dirt-paved La Mongie. Lance and Heras gapped me by a bit, and rather an than flame out in a glorious blast of lactic acid keeping pace while towing their teammate back to them, I kept them in sight while staying at/below threshold. As we near the top, the the Ajax guy behind me says (between gasps) there are guys coming up and we should wait to have a stronger chance of chasing back on. What? Is this guy seriously trying to help me chase his teammates down? Or is it a ruse to slow my tempo, widen the gap and ease his ascent? Oh, the tactical rigors of Aspen Cycling Club racing!
The gap at the top of the first climb. That’s me in the red lid, second group.
I looked back repeatedly and saw no one near enough for me to care about, and so kept the heat on until we crested the hill. If the group chasing is serious, they should have no trouble snapping us up on the descent. And, halfway down, they do. A big chap in the French colors on a Motobecane, a compact ball of muscle in a The Hub (which sells Treks) jersey on an Orbea (which Ute City Cycles sells, BTW), and some dude on a Peugeot. As the descent steepens, some numbnuts on a motorcycle passes us utterly unnecessarily, making things a bit tight in a turn at the bottom. Peugeot man skids his rear wheel a lot, which tells me he needs to use his front brake more. Suddenly, there’s a brief uphill followed by a hard 180. I set up for the turn, and initiate a brief but unsettling front wheel-slide, as I realize that it’s an unswept 180. I retract my previous statement about “safe” Aspen Cycling Club courses.
Now the real fun begins. The two leaders are well ahead, but still in sight on a flat, relatively straight headwind section of the course. I’m in a 5-man chase pack, with three dudes who are psyched to have caught up this far, and a teammate of the two leaders. So I just sit at the back. The other three guys will pull out of excitement (for a bit, anyway), and if Ajax man does not want to chase, I can rest up for the 3rd place sprint. But, instead Ajax man organizes, or tries to organize, a pace line (see Aspen Cycling Club thing-I-like-#1 above). As expected, this fails after a few rotations (I pulled and rotated effectively, but never rode hard), but gives me plenty of time to see how everyone was doing. Peugeot-man is breathing mighty hard and standing up a lot. Motobecane doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything, so I’ve got my eye on him.
After the failure of the paceline, Ajax man makes a big old attack. I am at the back of the group, and, despite feeling real good, am out of position to chase. Besides, I want to see what everyone else will do. Orbea dude reacts late, and Peugeot man is right on his wheel, and Motobecane man does… nothing. Just stares at the road in front of him. So I zip past and hop on Peugeot-man’s wheel. There’s some sort of rotation, but I’m not really sure why, as the Ajax fellow lately of group has, at most, 15 seconds on us. Puegeot dude is breathing-super-heavy now, and I, still wanting to size up whether or not I want to work with these chumps, throw some labored breathing and weak pulling in as well. I also make a note to insert myself directly behind Orbea-man.
Sure enough, the gent on the Orbea wants none of our help (or rather, thinks we will be no help), and so he attacks (from the front of the line…) in the small ring. I stop gasping, lock onto his wheel and ride for a few seconds, until he looks back and sees that I’m there. Then I push it into the big ring and blast by him. It’s called tactics, bro, and you just got a free lesson. I wanted to throw back one of those Lance-to-Ullrich looks, but y’know, moving from 5th to 4th in an Aspen Cycling Club race is simply not that big a deal. I keep crunching in the big ring against the headwind and hill (both largely insignificant at this point) and catch Ajax dude, who criticizes himself for attacking too early. I agree and we work together very well, up to the (*arg*) turnaround.
On the descent, he hollers to me that the two guys ahead “know how to descend.” This would be useful information on an actual descent, but, in the best Aspen Cycling Club tradition, this is a long, unchallenging 52-12/13 spin, that any grandma in a wheelchair can go fast on. We go past the 180 again, but not around it, and begin another long, grinding ascent. But unlike two weeks ago, my legs feel dandy. Not good, but that sort of numb that makes it so you can push pretty much any gear at 70 rpms. Suddenly, I’m doing lots of pulling and feeling great about it, while Ajax man is suffering. Eventually, I come through for a pull, look back a second later and he’s gone. Then I really start to pile the coal on, and am not just within sight, but also about 20 seconds of the two leaders.
The chasers wouldn’t be there for long.
Now, had this not been an Aspen Cycling Club race, I would have really gone for it here, but I couldn’t shake this suspicion that things were going to start going uphill for a long time again. I had gleaned at the start that the race ended near something called “Deaf Camp,” and I didn’t see no deaf camps around here. Without K markers, or any sort of projected time, I had no way to judge how far out I was, and uncertain of how vanquished the riders behind were, I kept the tempo up, but didn’t go cross-eyed.
My suspicions were validated repeatedly over the next 20 minutes. I passed “deaf children ahead” and then I passed “Aspen Deaf Camp” and then I passed a bunch more mile markers. Between these things were hills, rolling, interspersed with the occasional little descent, but all in all (as was especially evident on the return to the start, it was, like pretty much every Aspen Cycling Club road race, up, up, up. I even passed the dude on the moto again a couple of times, and he, when I asked “how much further” gave me “two riders ahead” and later “45 seconds” as responses.
I had just finished a particularly tough section of road when I came around a corner to find ANOTHER especially tough climb. To make matters worse, just as this happened, I took a peek over my shoulder and caught sight of >1 chaser, still about 30 seconds back, but way closer than I wanted, with my legs feeling pretty beat after all that tempo and anticipating the finish line. My shoulders hurt, I had a hard side-stitch (from not drinking more than 8 ounces of water over the past hour) even my back above my kidneys was starting to hurt. I was upset about the prospect of not being on the podium after getting free so decisively, and may have even audibly dropped an f-bomb.
But then I was all like “Cosmo, pull yourself together and be pro about this.” So I sacked up and stood the whole pitch ahead of me, and upon reaching the summit, saw an “Aspen Cycling Club Finish Line 100 Meters” sign. Sweeeeeeeeet. I soft-pedaled home, leaving myself a nice fat gap of 6 seconds on Orbea man and Ajax dude. Embarassing part: I had lost 45 seconds to the leaders in the final 10 minutes of the race. Very Weak. But, 3rd is 3rd, and even if there were only a handful of racers, I still raced well. As the “pack” (7th-10th – the biggest group to finish at once) rolled in, Charlie Tarver *did not* hold his line in the sprint, and would have Bettini’d another racer right into the boards had there been boards (there was a yellow line and no on-coming traffic) and the gentleman in question, having been cut-off, simply slowed down, and Charlie retained his 7th place.