Be careful what you wish for.... Having had the experience of finishing last on this course two years ago, and knowing my own strengths and weaknesses, when I signed up to ride several months ago, I hoped for a strong north wind. Regular readers know that I regularly whine about riding in anything more than a slight breeze. However, I knew the only way to stay with the peloton (made up of 60-64, 65-69, and 70+ riders) after the second hill would be to have the leaders slow down to my speed as I hid behind guys.
Gale force might be a tad strong, but the wind was quite stiff out of the north. Unfortunately, we still had a few lingering showers in the area. Saturday's racers had to contend with steady downpours. Be that as it may, unlike my previous experience with a south wind, the peloton kept a reasonable pace for the first two miles, mostly a slight downhill. The first climb caused a sharp increase in heart rate, but everybody made it over in good condition, and the wind kept the young guys from haring down the other side.
The second hill, two tiered at 10%, separates the men from the boys, and once again I came up short. But, I stayed with the guys longer than some of the others, and when finally I got gapped, I had some company. Michael, in the 65-69 age group and Fred, in mine, found ourselves about 20 yards behind the group and unable to close (indeed it continued a bit faster than us), but ahead of the rest of the old guys and possibly one or two younger ones.
The course heads north for 16 miles, then south for about 14, then west for about 3. Even though the two tough climbs were behind us, the trio still had 10 miles and 7 minor climbs against the wind before getting some relief. Trading places leading, we pushed on as fast as we could without going into the red zone. Fred and I were putting time into the other guys in our group, Michael hoping to pick up stragglers in his group.
The turn to the south finally came and we enjoyed the wind at our backs pushing us up what is usually a challenging climb. I topped 40mph twice and spent a lot of time in the mid-30s on the downhills. But in order to do a downhill, there were the climbs to conquer. About twenty miles into the race, a 13% grade loomed up at us. We took it as gentlemen, easing up without trying to bust it. I began to feel the effects of racing.
A few miles further and a horn sounded behind us. The young ladies started 15 minutes behind us and apparently the leaders were approaching. It took another couple miles before the lone lady passed, quickly leaving us behind, as she did all of her competitors (they were not in sight and never did catch us). Well, we just enjoyed the heck out of this leg, but soon enough came the last right turn.
The last few miles has two hills, the last one 7%, then is only slightly up, like 1 or 2%. As we approached the first hill, the last, lingering shower caught us. The rain was cold and sharp, with the wind coming into our right shoulder. My left shoe quickly filled with water coming from the wheel, while the right shoe was merely wet. On the second climb I stood to test my quads for the upcoming sprint. They quickly told me that if I tried that again, they would shut down. Sitting down and easing off a bit cost me 20 yards and I couldn't close the gap. That is how we finished.
During the whole race, Fred was clearly stronger than I. I learned later he rides a bunch (obviously) and had raced the Leadville 100. I was happy just to hang with him to the end. Rain notwithstanding, I had a good time celebrating my 70th birthday.