Friday, January 13, 2006

Ride for the Pass (May 21, 2005)

It’s the first race of the season, and I’ve hardly been on my bike at all, let alone done any climbing. This should be more of a training ride than a race. I rode this race two years ago, and loved it for its simple quiet and beauty; I rode in the competitive wave and got dropped right at the start, and mostly just meandered along up the road during the 10 miles of the race on that day, enjoying every moment. That race was my first ever bike race (not counting the times I raced informally with the kids down the block ever so many years ago), and it impressed me as just a nice bike ride among a few friends.

Today is different. It promises to be a beautiful day, and there is a huge crowd. Two years ago, just 124 people participated in this event, and this year there are 402 entrants. I’ve also gotten a bit more competitive about the bike. Approaching this race, I’m not sure that the change in my cycling ability has matched the change in my cycling attitude, so today is a small test. It’s a madhouse at the start, especially with the chip timing, and many of us get stuck in the chip-mounting area while the gun goes off. Unfortunately, there is no chip sensor at the start, only at the finish, so I’m already a few minutes behind as I cross the start line.

The ride is up Independence Pass, the road freshly plowed in anticipation of opening to the public next weekend (this road remains closed throughout the winter), and we get the ultimate luxury of riding this incredible stretch of roadway with no vehicular traffic. The first part of the race is the steepest, but then the grade flattens out a little, and there’s time to look around at the scenery. I love this road. To the right – just past Kevin Costner’s ranch (not that I’m all that much of a stargazer) – is a view down to the Roaring Fork River. Sometimes there is thick foliage and you can only hear the roar of the river, and sometimes the view opens up and you can see the sheer drop-off and the boulder strewn stream below. To the left, pine and aspen covered mountain slopes steeply up, sometimes sheer rock faces. There is snow everywhere on both sides of the road, and rivulets of snowmelt mark the roadway as we climb.

I’ve forgotten how long this race is, so I tell myself that I’m just riding for the fun of it. How much further? Who knows. But somewhere in the middle of the ride, I realize that I’m trading places with a number of people who are racing this thing pretty hard, and I get into the spirit of the thing. The most notable difference that I find between running races and cycling races is that in cycling races you may very possibly pass and be passed by the same people over and over again. These guys all seem to be a bit stronger on the pure climbing sections of roadway, but I tend to catch and pass them on the few downhill stretches, and this surprises me. When the finish line comes into sight, I crank it up as much as possible, and it’s a real race. I’m happy to nose out a couple of the guys, and roll across the finish with a smile.

When I check my results, I’m pleased to see that – although my time is not blazing fast – I’ve improved quite a bit from two years ago, trading in a 1:22:25 time for a 1:16:00 finish. I’ve also moved up from near the bottom of the standings to right around the mid-point (for women, at least), and it fuels my competitive juices. I start thinking – the dangerous thinking that always follows a race – of how much better I might do if I did some real training.

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