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/pikespeaksports.us|
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.