The Steamboat Stage Race is the last race in the Colorado road season. It has always been one of my favorites. I bring the family. They have plenty to keep themselves occupied and I get to enjoy some great roads to race on. The latest editions have been more friendly to a time trialist than a pure climber. Also, the time bonuses play a part. The first stage is the time trial and is a little over 20k long and almost pancake flat. For those of you that know me that is for sure my weakest discipline. I’m ok with punchy time trials and those that gain some elevation. Flat, consistent power time trials I never do well at. The next stage is an 80 mile road race. For the higher categories it is long and has around 6500ft of climbing. The thing is with the road race is that it is extremely exposed to the elements. Almost every time I have done this race I get cramps toward the end which are pretty debilitating. The last stage is a relatively simple 4 corner downtown criterium.
My first general classification win at a stage race was last year’s race. This year my goal was to use it as a tune up for the national championship road race the following Friday. I desperately needed this race as I was coming back from a tail bone injury. Two weeks prior I had taken a hard fall at the King of the Rockies MTB race. The fall beat me up pretty well. I had clipped my handlebar on a tree during a flowy single track descending section. The result was that I slammed my shoulder and helmet into the tree. The impact then violently threw me on to the ground where I hit my gluteus hard and injured the tailbone. For the next couple weeks all I could do was easily spin the pedals. Any hard efforts were very painful. Obviously this was less than ideal training for peaking at Nationals. So, I really needed this race to get me in shape as much as possible for the main event a week later. One thing that I couldn’t do until the Thursday before the race was get on the TT bike, the more aero the more pain. So, I knew the time trial stage was going to be the hardest.
My start position was behind Aaron Bouplon, a teammate and TT specialist. Aaron was first to go off and then it was my turn. I had taken some ibuprofen to dull the pain a bit for the TT and for the most part it was working. I eased into the effort and a few minutes in I started to hammer. Then I passed Aaron walking his bike. Not good! He must have flatted. I imagined his disappointment being the favorite on the day and having such horrible luck. I knew at that point there were about 5 of us around the same TT ability. So, I had better drill it as I could be fighting for the win. I went hard, but I kept thinking about Nationals the following Friday. The plan was to go hard, but not to go deep at Steamboat. If I went deep I most likely would not have that extra punch at Nats. I ended up 4th. Fortunately the time gaps were not too big. John Guala won with 28:27. LT was 2nd at 28:29. Andy, my teammate, was 3rd with a fantastic ride at 28:37. I was 4th at 28:45. Tom Fiorillo was 5th at 29:04. Aaron had a flat and ended up walking most of the course until he met up with a race official whom gave him a wheel. As always Aaron was positive and up beat even after what could only have been a huge disappointment.
The road race was next. We chatted a bit on what the team’s strategy would be. The plan was to send Aaron up the road first and make others chase. Then on the first real climb Daniel Fernandez, our newest team member and excellent climber, would attack a couple minutes into the climb. Daniel had recently regained his climbing legs after a horrific accident at Tour of the Gila earlier this year. I would bridge up to Daniel with whoever responded to Daniel’s attack. Then we would push the climb and hopefully end up with a strong leading group. The goal was to drop those ahead of Andy and I in the general classification. We started 5 minutes behind the young Cat3 guys that had a pretty large field. We took it easy for a while and then the attacks began. I wasn’t expecting Boups to go right away, but he did. From then on our rivals began setting the pace to manage the gap. Boups kept on drilling it. With a relatively small field no one was completely sheltered, but I tried to save as much energy as I could. About 44 miles in we passed the cat 3s. At 46 miles the climbing began. A couple minutes into the climb Daniel Fernandez hit the accelerator and powered away from the bunch. Last year’s road race winner, David Cho, bridged up with me in tow. Daniel and I began working together while David sat on. Essentially we had 34 miles to go and it was all full gas. The 3 bitches (as the locals call it) were next on tap. They are each around 5-10 minutes long. Nothing too hard, but they certainly will cause some separation. Our trio summited the first climb and began the 2nd one. At this point David Cho went backwards. It was just Daniel and I up front. Then Daniel was gapped. When I realized I had dropped my teammate my first inclination was to sit up and wait for him. However, by the time I realized he was off the back I had too big of a gap. I had to keep drilling. This was going to be a hard solo effort. When I got to the top of the third climb the course reversed itself and I began the long descent. A group of young cat 3s caught me on the descent. They had taken it way easier then we had on the first part of the course and were pretty fresh. I slotted in behind them trying to give them some space and not to disrupt their race. Every time there was a little kicker on the descent I would go off the front and do the work. There were two 5 minute climbs left. One at 67 miles was called the cork screw. Its definitely the hardest and steepest climb. Then the last climb is almost as hard. The cat 3 leaders imploded on the cork screw and it was every man for himself. Then the inevitable cramps began. I tried hard to manage the pain and to work thru them as best as possible. Towards the top of the climbing I looked down and noticed a race vehicle behind me. I could only assume these were the chasers. I did not have much time on them. I was committed though and needed to finish it off strong. So, I put my head down and pushed forward. As I approached the last few miles I looked back and no longer saw the vehicle. I sat up and enjoyed the finish taking my time crossing the line. In the end the chasers (Tom Fiorillo, Dave Cho, Chris Doyle and Daniel Fernandez) brought the gap down to only 14 seconds. Daniel had been able to get a free ride with them as he of course would not chase down his own teammate. Tom was the best placed chaser finishing 5th in the TT the day before. With the 10 bonus seconds for winning the stage and the time differences in stage 1 and 2 I had plenty of time in the bank. I could go into the criterium not having to worry about chasing the bonus seconds.
For the crit we were hoping to get Daniel some extra bonus seconds to get him on the final podium. Half way thru he realized he did not have the legs and let me know the plan was off. So, I began to focus on the final sprint. At the beginning of the final lap Matt Skrdla jumped the bunch. LT was leading out Tom. He attempted to close the gap. LT, Tom, Chris and I had a gap on the rest of the field as it imploded on the final lap. Tom, Chris and I looked at each other. None of us were willing to give up the win to bridge the extra distance to Matt. So, we ended up racing for 2nd. I launched first on the long finishing straight. In years past I could hold a good sprint the entire distance. There was a head wind this year and I did not take that into account. Tom nipped me at the line for 2nd. Matt took a well deserved win in the criterium. It definitely was a confidence booster to end up with the overall win. The tune up for nationals was complete.