by Greg Chmelik
I had been looking forward to this race for quite a while. It's a funny thing; I really like events with climbing even though it is not one of my strengths. I guess you just like what you like. It was great to line up with so many teammates and meet some new people too. The field was a lot stronger this year and I figured it would be a pretty tough race.
The weather was great and we got rolling with no problems. I wandered up near the front and found Gary. We formed an accidental break coming off the first turn. I guess we were all pretty revved up because four of us had opened a gap without even being aware of it. The field regrouped and we took the next couple turns and headed out towards Bisbee. Two of the Stonehouse guys casually rolled off the front without even alarming the pack and the next thing I knew they had opened a hefty gap on the field. Suddenly I saw an orange streak out of the corner of my eye. Gary had shot out to bridge up to them. He got across pretty quickly and no one else responded. From there it was slow pedaling to Bisbee. I couldn't believe nobody wanted to try and chase or jump across. I stayed near the front but did not do any work. It was great because Gary and the Stonehouse guys got away pretty well.
By the time we got to Bisbee they were well out of sight. Then the race started to heat up. One Stonehouse guy took off at a good clip as the climb steepened. I stayed on his wheel but when I checked my power I saw I was doing over 450 watts. I knew I couldn't hold that all the way up the climb so I eased off and let the skinny guys fly by. I tried to hold steady power up the climb and then accelerated as hard as I could over the crest and tucked in for the descent. At this point the break was still gone, a small group of very strong guys (including Michael) were together up the road, and the rest of us were scattered behind. We collected up a good group at the bottom of the descent and got a nice paceline going. The group ahead was stronger but not as well organized. We caught them right before Davis Road.
Here was where I made my big mistake. I got a little lazy right as we caught them and didn't close up the last few meters. I figured it would slow down as the two groups merged and people shuffled around. At the same moment the road steepened and somebody attacked out of the group we had just caught. I found myself off the back with a couple guys in the wind over the top of that little climb before Davis Road. Out of the few of us who had fallen off, nobody looked too excited about chasing the group down again so I put my head down and took off alone.
It took six miles of time trialing as hard as I could to catch back on. I could see them pretty well but there were strong guys on the front taking pulls and launching attacks so it took forever. I groaned inwardly every time I saw Michael or Kyle moving up. I kept hoping the chase car behind their group would take pity and come back a bit to pace me up to them. No such luck. Many times I wanted to give up. When the gap would grow a little or my legs would get weak I would start thinking how easy it would be to just sit up and wait for a few guys but I knew the result would be much better if I could just catch those guys. Eventually I did. I can't describe how great it felt to finally get up to the chase car and feel my legs unload for a bit. The car didn't let me get lazy. It promptly moved over and I had to jump the last couple meters to the group.
After that I was pretty exhausted for a long time. The group kept attacking each other all the way back and it was all I could do to just hang on as each of those many accelerations happened. At some point we caught the early break but I was totally oblivious. When we finally turned on to Glenn, I was pretty happy knowing the end was near. The sprint started pretty early and I lost the leaders as we turned on to Leslie Canyon for the last few miles to the finish.
It was a great race and really boosted my confidence after a season full of injuries and illnesses. I was proud to be the top finisher for ChristianCycling. The majority of the guys that beat me were very polished racers, cat 3 and up. I was also proud of Gary for boldly chasing after those guys to join the break. That couldn't have been an easy decision so early in such a long race. He must have known he was signing up for a lot of pain. Jimmy had some adversity but handled it with his usual poise. Michael was in the lead group as usual, taking pulls and dishing out the pain. Didn't hear as much from other people so I'll look forward to hearing more later.
I want to make special mention of my awesome wife and fellow ChristianCycling member, Margo. She crushed it in the 47 mile event! She did not get a good grid position and was boxed in. This caused her to miss the lead group. Nevertheless she kept her head down and worked hard the whole way. She placed second overall for the women and placed quite well in the combined field too. I'm sure next year she will be shoving that little bike a bit further forward on the starting grid!
Greg at the start line