I was nervous in the weeks leading up to this race, I had mentally reached the point where this was the race that would determine whether I actually had any bike racing ability or I was just wasting my time. A 2nd place in a crit 2 weeks ago and a very solid training ride with the best climber in CO without a pro contract (and better than a lot on contract) 3 days before Gila really boosted my confidence and calmed my nerves. Still, a local crit and a training ride are not the same as the hardest Cat3 race in the country.
Stage 1 was a 73 mile point-to-point race with some big-ring rollers leading into the final climb. The group of 73 seemed to be a bit nervous for the first 10 miles and then everyone realized we still had 60 miles today and 200 miles of racing the following 4 days. My plan was to sit in and do absolutely nothing until we hit the climb. The hardest thing I did in the first 65 miles was eating and drinking, I was already looking ahead to the rest of the week but taking on that much nutrition was a bit difficult.
We reached the first part of the climb and I will admit I was positioned too far to the back. Gaps started forming right away and I found myself picking my way through the debris. Over half of the field was dropped on the lower slopes of the climb but a few caught on when we hit the false flat leading to the final 2.8 mile climb. At the base of the final climb a group of 4 or 5 went up the road but I found myself riding through the shrapnel again. At 3k to go I was solidly in the top 10, counting heads and looking for signs of fatigue. We hit some very steep kickers and I dropped into the 28, I was very happy to have such a small gear, and suddenly I found myself on the front of the group of 6 chasing down the break. With 2k to go I had dropped the chase group and had reeled in a few of the break that had went too deep. 2k to 1k was ridiculously long and was the segment where I reeled in the 3rd guy on the road. I started losing a bit of steam at 1k but I desperately wanted to maintain my position. 1k to 500m was torture, 500m to 200m felt like an eternity. I looked back to see someone trying to sprint me to the line so I put in a few hard pedal strokes and crossed the line 3rd and 1 second up on 4th.
The guy that won finished 1 minute ahead of second and I finished at 1:15. The leader has a commanding lead but 2nd-21st are separated by less than 2 minutes leaving the GC fight and the podium fight, in particular, wide open.
As for my fears going into the race, that’s all gone. I went from doubting my abilities to thinking about how to win. It feels great.
I wasted a lot of energy moving through the group at the start of the climbs and missed an opportunity to go with the winning move. My project for the rest of the week is to hit the climbs near the front of the group so I don’t waste time or energy. I can climb with the fastest guys here, I just have to be near them when they go.