Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ascent Series Final - Tactically Speaking

After five races over the past eight weeks, the Ascent Series finally drew to a close on Wednesday night. For our final race, we returned to Bear Creek Terrace which, if you recall, hosted the first race of the series and also served as the bane of my summer.

This course was laid out a bit differently than our June track, cutting out a significant amount of climbing, which was a disappointment for me, considering I excel in the uphill sections. I generally feel more at ease on a course with a lot of vertical gain, when I can just settle into my rhythm on a long climb and reel in my competition. Alas, this course had no such extended climbs; as a matter of fact, it really only had what I consider to be two short, punchy climbs and alot of flat sections which, frankly, suck to ride with singlespeed. Aside from the elevation gain being cut nearly in half, the course was virtually identical to our last Bear Creek visit. You can lurk my Strava down below to check out a course map.

I woke up that morning with the same ache in my legs that took me hostage at our last Palmer Park race. Not allowing myself the luxury of diagnosing the pain, I quickly ate breakfast and booked it out of my apartment to meet up for a tandem cruise - more on that in my next post. After putting in a mellow 35 miles, my legs were feeling better, but still not as strong as I wanted them to be. Mentally, though, I was prepared to defend my 2nd place standing and, if the opportunity arose, attack for a first place finish. I spent the afternoon consuming as much nutrition as I could stomach, trying my best to give my legs the energy they were so badly going to need. My body still felt empty and weak, but psychologically I was tuned up and ready for battle. I had planned a variety of tactics I would employ depending on how the race unfolded; I wanted to remain unpredictable and attack late in the game. I'd been envisioning a sprint finish, so that should give you an idea of how late I wanted to make my move.

Spirits were high at the starting line, everybody was chatty and Mr. Durland, our class clown, was keeping things jovial. The energy was fitting for the last race of a series - exuberant and relaxed, as if we were celebrating the sight of our destination at the end of a long journey. Our singlespeed field was rather small, with only six racers, even with the appearance of Dan, Mike Durner, and Mark Gouge. It was good to have some other players in the field, but the real race would be between Nick, Travis, and myself. We had been the three consistent contenders throughout the series and were there to defend our points. Travis and I had both accepted where we stood in the rankings and knew that we pretty much just needed to finish our races in order to stand on the podium at the end of the day.

As we approached the start line we were informed that our race would only be 50 minutes long instead of 60, as our previous short track events had been. At first blush, that sounded great to me - 10 less minutes I had to spend in the pain cave. In reality that puts me at a disadvantage; I'm pretty good at outlasting my opponents and I like to use that to my benefit. Regardless, I was relieved at the thought of getting to my Happy Cola gummy candy 10 minutes sooner than I had originally anticipated.

We left the start line right after the Pro/Cat 1 racers, as we usually do. I intentionally throttled back during our initial sprint, allowing the field to spread out by its own volition and then accelerating into my place behind Dan, who was right on Nick's wheel. With the three of us leading, it felt like our Cheyenne Mountain race all over again. We stayed close together and were riding like a locomotive, one rider after the next. It was evident early on that my tactics would be simple - I would follow their lead and let them dictate the pace. Nick would pull away slightly, and Dan and I would reel him right back in. Our rhythm was great and we were putting a gap between us and the chasers. This was working great for the first two or three laps as everybody got comfortable and settled into their groove.

Somewhere in our fourth lap Dan made a pass around Nick. At least I think it was the fourth lap, at this point mental fatigue was beginning to set in and I had no idea of how many of these ridiculously short loops we had actually put in. My initial instinct was to follow Durland's wheel and keep rocking the pace we had, but I instead decided to stick to my tactics and just stay right behind Nick.
Photo Cred: Anya Inman/
On our fifth lap the clouds that had previously been veiling the sun opened up and created a vicious glare whenever we faced west; add to that the significant sweat deposits I had inside my glasses and I was riding blind as a bat. On multiple occasions I was literally using my peripheral vision and memory to make my way through the course. It seemed rather fitting for this period in my life, but again, that is a post for another day.

As we entered our sixth lap I was itching to make an attack on Nick. I already knew Dan was going to take first place, but I still had an opportunity to land second and gain one more series point. Still, I stuck to my plan of attacking at the last minute. I knew that if I passed too early I would burn valuable energy that my legs couldn't afford, allowing Nick to take advantage and pass me on the next descent. I wanted to take my opportunity late enough that he wouldn't have the time to make a counter-attack. I kept close to him the entire sixth lap, even though that meant riding slower than my natural pace. I needed him in my sights in order for my strategy to be affective. Nick pulled away from me on the final downhill, as he usually does, and I prepared myself for my opportunity to pass him on the next climb and drop the hammer. I knew that on the seventh lap he would be mine and I would roll into second place.

As we passed the Start/Finish line at the 46th minute I began to put the power into my pedals to bridge the gap Nick had made, and from the sideline I hear the voice of Durland. "You're done Ian!"
The race was over. They pulled us early and I never got the chance to use my action plan. My initial relief of being finished was immediately replaced by disappointment and regret at never making my move. My Happy Cola gummies gave me shallow consolation, and the support of my brother at the finish line lessened the sting, but my dissatisfaction remained.

There are a number of ways I could articulate a moral to this story, but do I really need to?
Okay, at the risk of sounding saccharine, I'll say it. When you have an opportunity to make something happen, don't hesitate. Yes, you might come out too early or too strong; Yes, you might fatigue and be the victim of a counter attack, but at least you made your move. That's better than missing your chance altogether. I'm not just talking about bike racing here...
Still, though, I was happy with my race. My legs performed better than I imagined they would, and I survived. My standing in the points remained, and I still stood on the podium to receive my silver medal - a medal that represented five of the (ironically) longest-feeling races of my season, and also represented innumerable lessons I learned along the way.
Now to focus on the next nine days and the lessons they hold. Yep, that's a post for another day...

I am extremely grateful to all the individuals who have helped support and encourage me throughout this race season. Particularly I would like to thank AKT Combatives Academy and Blasfome for their assistance and aid.  Without them, this series would not have happened for me.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Morning Motivation

The following video has served as my inspiration the past week. 
A combination of the vision, determination, and independence of this project speaks volumes to me.
The story transcends cycling, and should function as an impetus for any person with aspiration to achieve their goals. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ascent Series #4 - The Winning Combination

On Saturday we convened at Cheyenne Mountain State Park for Number 4 of the five race Ascent Cycling Series. Frankly, I was not looking forward to this particular race, but in order to defend my overall points position, my participation was necessary. As of the third race, I was sitting in second place overall, 4 points behind Nick Thelen and 2 points ahead of Travis Ekenberg. That put Travis right in my crosshairs; I didn't care about how I finished, as long as it was in front of him. That sense of requirement made this race all the less appealing to me. Luckily I am surrounded by remarkable people that gave me a ton of assistance and encouragement. I wish I could compile a list, but that would be an entire post in itself. In particular, though, I received a major amount of support from AKT Combatives, a martial arts academy that goes far beyond the parameters of self defense and karate. They have developed a fully comprehensive system of self development that breeds confidence in every facet of your life. That psychological coaching played a significant role in my preparation for this race.
Photo cred: Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette
Fortunately for me, this was more of a cross country race, consisting of four 30-minute laps, totaling up to about 21 miles. This style of racing suits me much more than the short track format of the preceding races, but I still spent the week prior grumbling and griping about the course. The track was a combination of sun-baked desert soil and tight weaving singletrack through near-impossible to maneuver rock gardens, and after my initial preride I kept finding myself saying "It's fun to ride, but it will suck to race". When I woke up Saturday morning I was still feeling apprehensive as ever about the 2 hours of suffering I was committing to. Still, I found myself at registration, receiving my now-familiar 17 number plate. I never cared much for the number 17, but after racing with it all summer, it's beginning to grow on me. The sun was beating down on us and I could tell the heat was going to be brutal. In the first wave of riders there had already been reports of overheating, DNFs and a handful of crashes (two of which allegedly involved cracked helmets). I was further unnerved when Dan Durland arrived. If you are familiar with Colorado singlespeed racing, you will probably recognize his name. He is a powerhouse, and I was rather intimidated by the thought of racing with him.
I gently reassured myself that my finishing position didn't matter and that I was only racing for the experience. This little mental shift allowed me to formulate a basic tactic of following Dan's rhythm through the course. He's an endurance racer, so I knew following his steady pace would allow me to conserve my energy and finish strong.
I took the immediate lead off the start line, with Dan quickly taking his place in front of me, as I made room for Nick Thelen to take his usual spot at the lead. The three of us boogied over Talon and Turkey Trot trails, which are mostly hard packed, sun scorched, and covered with a thin layer of decomposed granite (thats a fancy word that we use on the front range to describe our gravel). I immediately enlisted my plan of staying on Dan's wheel and began letting him pace me. For the first lap everything was going just as I had hoped, we were putting a gap between us and Travis, which is all I cared about.
Soon we were on Zook Loop, where we were confronted with the first rock garden. There is a line that allows you to avoid a significant portion of the rock pile, but the catch is that this line goes directly over a sizable boulder. Its rideable, but I opted to save my energy by dismounting and climbing right over it. Luckily so did Dan, and we practiced our cyclocross skills as we ran to the next clean section of trail. As we neared the end of the first lap, my tactic was serving me well, Dan was riding at a comfortable rate, though I could tell he was starting to slow. I assumed he was just getting into his rhythm, but he soon motioned me around him as we began the second lap. I tried convincing him to get on my wheel and work with me on the ensuing climb but he declined, and suddenly I was riding on my own. I immediately switched gears mentally and began monitoring my efforts very closely as I entered the uphill section of the course, climbing about 500 vertical feet over two miles. That gives you an average grade of about 4.4% which doesn't sound daunting, until you consider the spikes of 10% grade peppered throughout the ascent.
As I commenced the third lap I was delighted at how fast the first hour of riding had passed by. I was feeling incredibly strong and, to my amazement, I was actually having fun. I savored that feeling, knowing that it would quickly dissipate as I entered Cougars Shadow- a section of very tight singletrack, twisting between trees and navigating over difficult rock gardens. The real difficulty of this section, though, is maneuvering through these technical portions while battling fatigue and attempting to recover from the 15 minute climb you just crested. I was catching occasional glimpses of Nick ahead of me, so I knew he was within my reach, but I remained calm and stayed in control. Over the final two laps that patience payed off. I was elated as I finished my third helping of the course, rolling down the wide open descent that took us over the start/finish line and onto the fourth lap.
I looked down at my wristband and remember the AKT student creed, Take Ground. I meditated on that as I began to climb our last uphill and bridge the gap to Nick. I was soon right behind him, and I sat patiently as he tried to create a gap and force me to chase him. We yoyoed like this a number of times until we hit the climb and I got right behind him. I used this as an opportunity to rest my legs, but I could feel his rhythm slowing as we engaged in some light conversation. I mentioned to him that I was strictly trying to finish ahead of Travis; and as though I had conjured him up with my words, Mr. Ekenberg came climbing around the switchback behind us, and Nick quickly moved aside to let us settle our score. Careful to not make the same mistakes I  had made in my last battle with Travis, I calmly got on his wheel and followed him up the remainder of the climb. Tactical plans were rolling around in my head, attempting to formulate a scheme for passing and attacking, but, knowing that I would take greater risks and higher speeds over the back side of the course, he cordially offered me an opportunity to pass. I expressed my gratitude and pushed forward, steadily putting a gap between us. Riding the final two miles of the course at a decidedly cautious pace, I wanted to move just smoothly and swiftly enough to maintain the distance I had put between myself and my mark. I rode across the line more satisfied than I have been all season.
This race was, for me, a perfect example of determination, premeditation, flexibility, and patience, the combination of which proved to be very powerful. I employed the principle of Work Smarter Not Harder, and it paid off superbly, not just with a first place finish and 5 more series points, but with the valuable experience I was racing for.
Photo cred: Tim Bergsten/

I want to express significant gratitude to AKT Combatives Academy for their incredible support.
And of course, thanks to Ascent Cycling and Sand Creek Sports for organizing this event.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Recovery, Not Ramen: Black Beans and Rice

Today is Sunday. The sabbath. And I am not talking about attending mass. I'm referring to dirt church. It's Race Day, the religious observance of cycling. On our sabbath we do not abstain from work, on the contrary, actually. We dole out the upwards of 600 calories an hour to pre-meditatively flagellate ourselves; bowing our heads and coming to prayer at our handlebars, seeking to strip away our temporal routines and purify ourselves in the meditation of contest. Masochistically demonstrating our reverence like devotees of Santa Muerte crawling on hands and knees.
Now, as far as I'm concerned, that is about as spiritual as you can get.
Now all that pious effort will surely create quite an appetite. For that appetite I present to you a highly confidential recipe for my favorite recovery food. Black Beans and Rice - incredibly easy, incredibly delicious black beans and rice. Not to mention it is likely one of the very few vegan recipes you will find me sharing.

I once heard that blacks beans and brown rice contain all nine essential amino acids. Is this true? I have no idea. Yes, I am sitting at a computer and Yes, Google is a click away. But I don't care that much, and I'd rather continue believing it's true than to be disappointed for the sake of accuracy. Whether this meal contains amino acids or not doesn't really matter anyway, because its frickin' tasty and will make you feel good after busting your ass in the saddle all day. Not to mention, it's simple enough to prepare when you are knee deep in a caloric deficit and battling post-race delirium. And it will make you feel like damn gifted chef.

Now that I have your attention, I know what you're asking. You're saying "Ian Backpack, what do I need in order to make this delectably nutritious fodder for myself and my loved ones?" And to that I say, you need the following:

- One 15 oz can of Frijoles Negros (that's Black Beans, dummy)
- One 14.5 oz can of Stewed Tomatoes
- 1.5 cups of instant brown rice
- 1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin
- Garlic, to taste
- Oregano
- Crushed red pepper
- Black pepper
- Salt
- Olive oil

Optional Ingredients that I like to use are Lime, Apple cider vinegar, and, of course, my trusty Sriracha sauce. This dish is extremely adaptable, and you will quickly devise your own list of secret ingredients.

Go ahead and heat a little bit of that olive oil in a large pot (when I say large, I mean 2qt or so, I don't actually know if that counts as a large pot). When your oil is good and hot, throw in your sliced onion and sauté til it's translucent. At this point I add my garlic and let that cook with the onions for a minute. Mix in your beans and tomatoes and give it all a good stir. Drop in your dry spices and give a squirt of lime, a blast of Sriracha and a splash of vinegar, if you're into that kind of thing.*
This is when I like to use a knife and the back of a wooden spoon to cut those outrageously large stewed tomatoes down to size. Cut 'em into bite size pieces, or don't, whatever. Bring this amalgamation to a boil and stir in your instant rice. Reduce your heat to a simmer, put a lid on that shit and let it percolate for 5 minutes. Pull it from your heat source and let it sit covered for another 5. Now you're ready to unveil and indulge.

I generally split this into two portions, but for those with an average appetite or not using this as a one-course meal, you can probably get 4 servings. I precook and pre-portion this feast for literally every race, epic ride, or out of town trip I engage in. It is not uncommon to find me post-ride, clad in dirty bike shorts, half-consciously spooning cold black beans into my face and chasing it with a glass bottle of Coca de Mexico. Actually, that is how I recommend this meal to be served...

*A few notes about the list of ingredients...
-I like to add vinegar for a little tang, but it also helps make spicy food spicier, so you gringos might want to avoid this addition.
-To cheat a little bit I use seasoned recipe beans, and mexican style stewed tomatoes. They add a little more flavor and make things that much more fool proof.
-I know next to nothing about the process of making rice into instant rice, but I sincerely doubt that 100% of the initial nutrition remains intact. That being said...
-If you are opposed to the idea of cooking with canned Beans & Tomatoes and instant rice, then, first of all, this blog probably isn't your cup of tea. And secondly, you can totally rework this recipe for fresh ingredients, but at that point you have defeated the spirit of this instruction and may as well look for your bean and rice recipe elsewhere. Probably somewhere on the internet NOT called Ramen Hacks.

If you have any recommendations, proof that instant rice is not vegan, or just arrogant criticism, go ahead and leave a comment so I can publicly praise and/or chastise you. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Ascent Series #3 - Hitting the wall

I promise I have more in store than just race updates, but in the meantime, here's another race update.
Photo Cred: Tim Bergsten/
The third installment of the Ascent Series was another showdown in Palmer Park. Yes, that's three Palmer Park races in a row. This course loosely followed the KMC Classic loop, with the omission of the Grandview descent / Cheyenne tech section. I was super stoked for this track, it's fast and flowy, with minimal climbing (which ultimately worked to my detriment), and I had already ridden some hot laps over these trails 2 week prior, so I could take this as an opportunity to try some new lines I had learned and developed last month.
I had spent the preceding week or so basically ignoring any training schedule for the sake of just having fun on my bike. That consisted of mostly road miles and commuting, and also forgoing proper maintenance of my legs. I say this to preface my raceday backstory...
I woke up Wednesday morning with aching limbs, and instantly I knew I had fumbled my recovery time. At this point all I could do was eat right, hydrate, and hope for the best. I relaxed as much as I could before having to pretend to be a responsible adult, performing my functions in society. Around 3 o'clock we received our afternoon thunderstorm while I was commuting about, taking care of my to-do list. If wisdom was a quality I possessed, I would have sought out shelter and grabbed a coffee, but I do not possess wisdom, and I got caught smack dab in the middle of a downpour. So now its 4:00, and I'm soaking wet with a set of empty legs. Still, at this point I wasn't too concerned about my ability to race, and I rolled up to the Start/Finish line early enough to watch the Cat 2/3 races and grab a bite to eat. So now it's five o'clock and time for me to change into a dry kit and get in a warmup and a pre-ride. Using the primitive bathroom at Council Grounds as my dressing room, I lay out my things and shut the door behind me, immediately remembering why the door should remain open. The padlock on the doorframe has a knack for becoming entangled behind the vandal-resistant lock guard on the door. So now its 10 after 5 and I'm stuck in the creepy dungeon bathroom. After ten minutes of my calls for help going unrequited, I was finally able to coerce the assistance of a beer-drinking spectator after threatening bodily harm if he did otherwise.
In retrospect, it seems as though the chips had been stacked against me all day, but oddly enough I still felt optimistic and excited to ride.
I was able to get in two quick and easy laps on the track, finishing my warmup just in time to roll into my spot at the start line. I pounced when the whistle blew, going just hard enough to sprint off with Nick Thelen and take a spot behind him as we entered the singletrack. During our first lap I was mentally ready to race as I kept Nick in my sights and rode defensively, which is pretty much all you can do when you're up against that guy. We were all moving at a good clip, the rain had left the dusty course nice and tacky, allowing us to really rail through the turns and keep a good pace. All the elements of the course at this point were making for some fast racing, perhaps too fast for me... My second lap was uneventful, as I began to settle into a pace. On my third lap I could feel that pace deteriorating, I was fading fast. Travis Ekenberg was catching up to me after the first climb of the lap and, ignoring what my body had been telling me all day, I dug deep to pull away and put another gap between us. Coming into our fourth and final lap it was evident I should have employed tactics and let Travis pull me, because I had burned valuable energy in an attempt to defend my position. The lack of rest made itself apparent; I wasn't bonking, I was hitting the wall. Crashing straight into it. I was feeling fatigued and depleted, my vision was blurring, and combined with the fog and sweat inside my sunglasses, I started making costly mistakes. Eventually my front tire washed out in a turn and I took a bellyslide through the gravel, wasting more valuable time. Shortly thereafter, Travis bridged the gap and took his position in front of me. Even with his words of encouragement I still couldn't derive the power from my legs to hold his wheel. He slipped away and out of sight as we reentered the singletrack. Determined to not slip any further back in the results, I took our final descent at full speed, offering up prayers of appreciation that the course ended with a downhill section. I released my brakes and let the flow of the course carry me to the finish, 16 long seconds behind Travis, and a whopping 1:28 behind Nick.
At the finish line I felt nothing but gratitude. First and foremost I was thankful to be done, but ultimately I was grateful for the lessons I learned and the experience I gained at this race. Every race under your belt is that much more practical knowledge you can build on for future events, and this race contained a heap of education. Obviously the point of racing is to win, but sometimes it's much more valuable to race and learn.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ascent Series #2 - Palmer Park Edition

This wednesday was the second installment of the 2013 Ascent Series, this time the racing was going down in Palmer Park. Remember Palmer Park? I told you all about it last week. It must have been the cool place to be for the singlespeeders, because thirteen of us showed up, and I think that's an Ascent Series record. That's a big singlespeed field for a local race, particularly when you're guaranteed to be riding in 90º temperatures with the bright Colorado sun blinding you every time you turn west.
I was honestly feeling a little nervous about this race; I had spent the preceding several days on airplanes and overeating at sea level, nobody was quite certain what our course was going to be, and I was intimidated by my gearing choice. To put it simply, I was stuck in my head. At the start line I was feeling mentally absent - I knew I didn't have the competitive fire in my belly. Still, I stayed focused and decided to stick to my guns; I had a loose plan of letting the bulls charge and just keeping the wheel of the leaders til I settled into a groove. Fortunately, Nick Thelen and Kip Biese left the line with a comfortable sprint pace, I settled back behind Nick's wheel and let them carry me up the first ascent. We crested the first climb and stayed pretty close together, mashing down the road section. Travis Ekenberg made his way up with us and pushed me into 4th position and it was at this point that I knew I didn't have the desire needed to be a real competitor that night. I made a decision to just relax and enjoy myself. We all hit the singletrack like a freight train, one right after the other. It felt good to be able to just sit back and keep pace with some other singlespeeders, instead of trying to maintain a position off the front of the pack. I could feel Kip and Nick pulling away from me on the slight descent of Grandview Trail. Travis graciously allowed me to pass, and I kicked up the pace a bit to close the gap and keep the boys in my field of vision.
At the start of our second lap I was really beginning to enjoy myself and the leaders were kind to me as everybody kept a cautious pace up the first climb. At the road section I could see Kip motoring away with his huge gear (this was his first SS race of the year and he was pushing a gnarly 32x17). I was still in comfortable distance with Mr. Thelen as we made our way down the final descent of the lap. I got stuck behind some Cat1 riders on the next set of climbs, and that definitely slowed me down a bit, but I had no intentions of attempting a pass at risk of blowing myself up.
I knew on my third lap I had made a significant gap on the ten chasing riders, so I began to settle into a comfortable rhythm to defend my third place position. I could feel a huge smile cracking on my face, simply at the joy of being out for a ride on my bike. It was a welcome departure from the mindset I was in at the first Ascent race. Even after falling out of my pedal in a rock garden at the top of the initial climb, my morale was high. I was surfing the trail and riding my own race.
Fatigue was setting in on my final lap and I was thankful for taking it easy earlier on. At this point the course was bare. I saw no other racers for the entire 3 miles, the spectators that were previously at every turn had disappeared, and I was out there riding by myself. The trail reflected the race I had been riding. Solitary, tranquil and obliged. Just myself and my bike.
I was grateful for this rare opportunity to enjoy Palmer Park without having to worry about any other trail users or opposing traffic. Thoroughly captivated by trail vibes, I cruised over the finish line in a relaxed fashion, coinciding with my disposition. My Wednesday cruise was good enough for a 3rd place finish, and 3 series points, as well as a gratifying commute home, staring at the sun going down behind the front range. Totally grateful and and content, that's how every hump day should conclude.

Photo Cred: Tim Bergsten/

Good look to everybody that showed up to race and to observe. And a special shout out to all the homies that came out with one gear!
And, as always, Thanks to Ascent Cycling and Sand Creek Sports for giving us something to do on Wednesdays!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Oh, this is what XC racing feels like.

I've had a theme this summer of competing in any race I can get into, which basically equates to hitting up every local event. Luckily that also meant competing in the KMC Classic, which was the USAC Colorado XC State Championship race, right here in rocky Colorado Springs. This marks two years in a row the Springs has hosted the state champs (last year it was in Ute Valley Park.)

This year was a hella fun course through Palmer Park, smack dab in the middle of town. If you're not familiar with Front Range mountain biking, Palmer Park is a 730 acre technical playground. I cannot overstate the density and variety of trails in this park. It is really a gem of central Colorado mountain biking. For this course, though, we kept ourselves to the Southeast side of the park, partaking in 5 laps over some of the fastest trails in it's network. We started counter-clockwise up Kinnickinnick Trail to an ultra fast descent down Grandview, bringing us to a dirt road climb/passing zone til we bottlenecked back into a technical climb up Cheyenne, which has always been one of my favorite sections of the park. It's only about a quarter mile of climbing, but navigating up, over, and through the rocks will take it out of you fast, especially with only one gear to work with. At the top we hung a right to take us back onto Grandview Trail, where we climbed up another rock garden, got back on the accelerator and into our first technical descent, weaving in and out of some daunting rocks at full speed, while trying to avoid rather threatening handlebar-high boulders. Pulling a 180 at the Grandview Overlook we headed down the road section, where waves of the Cat1 racers with gears were blowing past us modest singlespeeders. Getting into our aero tuck positions, we took full advantage of the slight decline we had, picking up some valuable speed before slipping back onto the singletrack of Kinnickinnick trail with a speed-sapping right turn before lots of rock-dodging. It's easy to underestimate how important it is to choose smart lines through Palmer Park, but particularly through this section, where the proper line allows you phenomenal speed, but the wrong line can be disastrous. We descended at full speed all the way down to the Start/Finish area at Council Grounds, met by cowbells and cheers from a ton of supportive spectators.
Photo Cred: Tim Bergsten/PikesPeakSports.US
I showed up mentally prepared for 6 of these 4.2 mile long laps, but USAC threw us a curveball and shaved off one lap, which disappointed me, but probably ended up being beneficial. We left the start line at 12:30, right behind a wave of young Cat1 racers. I blasted off and was immediately by myself, giving me a vital confidence boost as I began to catch up and move into the wave of riders ahead of me. On the second lap I could tell I was redlining, so for sake of endurance I backed off a bit and tried to pace myself. This isn't always an easy task when you're sharing the trails with riders that have gears and a totally different rhythm than the one you're rolling with. It becomes a back and forth game of passing them on the climbs, and being passed on the flats. I held my lead til the 4th lap, when Travis Ekenberg caught up with me at the bottom of our first descent. He gave me some intel on Spike Huismann's position, and that lit a proverbial fire under my ass. I had evidently become a tad too relaxed on lap 3, and now I had to pay back my debt. I dug deep and decided it was time to drop the hammer as we approached Cheyenne trail . My legs were screaming at me and my stomach was trying it's hardest to reject the gels and electrolyte drink I had been pumping into it. At the road section Travis was about 30 seconds behind me, just close enough to be seen over my shoulder and keep me pushing forward. My left calf and knee were sending me warning signs of cramping and I could taste the energy gel I had eaten two laps prior making it's way back into my mouth. I continued spinning at full cadence, gambling against my muscles. I called their bluff and they calmed down as I entered my final lap. I emptied my tank over the next 4 miles, putting every bit of remaining power I had into the pedals, as my left leg tried to seize on me. Shaking out the lactic acid and favoring my right leg as much as possible, I kept my pace through the road section. I knew by the time we came into the last mile of singletrack that I had a gold medal in the bag, as long as I didn't get comfortable or careless. I kept hustling through our final descent, coming across the finish line at 1:35:56, with Travis pulling in 19 seconds later and Spike behind him. A podium lineup I could be happy with.

It was a perfectly ridden cross country race. I left everything on the course, and I couldn't have finished another lap even if I had wanted to. My lungs were aching, my legs were noodles, and my brain was intoxicated by endorphins. Finishing with just enough gap to feel confident and still know I worked hard and earned my top spot. I suppose this was the teeth-cutting I had signed up for..

Thanks again to Sand Creek Sports and Ascent Cycling for making this happen!