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A Tale Of Two Races

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was...Okay, I'll start from the beginning. I ride both road and mountain bikesprofessionally and recently I had my sanity tested by both. Here's my story.There's this race called the Saturn Cycling Classic, you may have heard ofit. It is 140 miles long and has 14,000 feet of high altitude climbing.It goes from Boulder to Breckenridge, Colorado, over seven mountain passesand up and down some pretty tore-up roads. So torn up, in fact, that atone point you actually change from a road bike to mountain bike and

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By Burke Swindlehurst, Navigators professional cycling team

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was…Okay, I’ll start from the beginning. I ride both road and mountain bikesprofessionally and recently I had my sanity tested by both. Here’s my story.There’s this race called the Saturn Cycling Classic, you may have heard ofit. It is 140 miles long and has 14,000 feet of high altitude climbing.It goes from Boulder to Breckenridge, Colorado, over seven mountain passesand up and down some pretty tore-up roads. So torn up, in fact, that atone point you actually change from a road bike to mountain bike and backagain.There’s also a race, exactly a week later in Vail, Colorado, known asthe Vail Ultra. It’s strictly a mountain bike race, is 100 miles long,and also has 14,000 feet of high altitude climbing.And it is precisely at this point where the sanity testing comes in:I did both.Relative luxury
My story from the Saturn Challenge is actually a pretty good one. Afterplacing 5th last year, I focused my training this season on putting inthe long altitude climbs and mileage needed to perform well this year.My hard work paid off nicely with a 2nd place finish to an unbelievableand deserving Chris Wherry. Okay, so here are a few facts about the SaturnChallenge to bear in mind for later comparison.Fact #1 When you get a flat tire, you notify your team car withyour high-tech communication device, pull to the right and dismount whileyour team mechanic changes your wheel. You then re-mount, get a nice pushfrom aid mechanic and begin racing your way back to the peloton with thehelp of the cars in the race caravan. It can be a very nervous few minutes,but usually you’re back in the peloton quickly and without remark.Fact # 2 When you’re hungry, even if you miss a feed zone, youcan still rely on your team car to bring a variety of life-saving foodor beverages up to you after using the aforementioned communication device.This means when you do bonk, it’s your own damn fault!Fact# 3 There is a “rolling caravan” in front and behind therace and course marshals at all corners to make sure you never go off course.Hell, there are even course marshals on particularly bad corners to warnyou ahead of time. This makes for “fool proof” navigation of the course.Fact #4 Team staff. There’s the team director, the team manager,the team soigneur, the team mechanic and the miscellaneous family and friendspresent to make sure all your needs are met, right down to a nice wet towelwhen you dismount at the finish to wipe off your grime soaked face andbody so you look pretty for the cameras and reporters and handshaking withGreg LeMond (yeah baby!!!).All of this and you still finish completely exhausted and more tiredand beat up than you’ve ever been before. That is, before competing inthe Vail Ultra 100!Totally fool-proof
Exactly one week later and I’m on the start line of the Vail Ultra.It’s 6:30 in the a.m. and I’m looking forward to the “practically pavedjeep roads” that I over-hear a multi-time competitor somewhat wistfullydescribe to a first-timer.The gun goes off and 500+ competitors ranging in skill level from WorldCup winners to weekend warriors are all off at once. The course immediatelygoes straight up for four miles on the “nearly paved” jeep road and I findmyself feeling good in a group of five that includes the likes of RishiGrewal. As we start down the first descent, I take up the rear, preferringto follow the more experienced riders down the hill. This is where my storyreally begins.The rider immediately in front of me can’t hold a loose turn and goesoff course, slowing me in the process. I lose sight of the trio in frontand gingerly pick my way down the hill. I’m re-caught by the rider whocouldn’t hold the turn, so I decide to follow him down the mountain.It’s a really fast and rocky downhill and suddenly we’re headedstraight for a closed gate and POP!, I have a rear flat. We both grindto a stop and the nameless rider informs me we have gone off course atsome point, and “bummer dude, see you later.”Inspecting my tire I find that the bead has actually separated fromthe tire and I’m forced to put in only enough air to make sure the tubedoesn’t pop through the side. That problem under me, I begin climbing themile or so back to where we made the wrong turn and back onto the course.By this time, there are literally hundreds of riders in front of meand I begin furiously passing in a desperate effort to make it to the firstfeed zone at mile 15 where I can get a new tire. My second flat tire occursless than a mile from the feed zone, and as I’m changing it, a rider slowsto watch me in my manic haze.He has this look on his face like he’s witnessing The Birth of Christ.A look of pure joy! And he exclaims, “Oh that’s beautiful!” Apparently,he was someone who wasn’t pleased with how I had passed him earlier. Iactually find some humor in this as well and get on my way to the feedzone, where I find my entire support crew (otherwise known as “my wife”)near tears in worry as I’m now 50 minutes behind the leaders.As I re-fuel and change my tire, I relate the story to my support crewand tell her that if I haven’t made up significant time by the next feedzone at mile 45, I’ll bag it; I’m out of tubes and if I flat it’s goingto be a long walk. Then I’m off on what turns out to be a verylong time trial.At the next feed zone I have made up 15 minutes and I’m feeling goodand have managed to work up to around 17th, so I decide to carry on, andat the following feed zone I’m in 12th having made up another 10 minutes.My support crew is celebrating my effort! I have around 30 miles left tomake up more time, and by the second to last feed zone I’ve moved intoeighth.Here, I get off the bike and slam a Coke and Snickers, refill my bottlesand try to regain my composure as I have been nursing a bonk for the last20 minutes. The feed zone crew encourages me and I feel confident in makingup enough ground to make the podium by the finish. Remounting, I beginwith new energy and enthusiasm flying up-hill and down, at one with mybike and the terrain.After about 20 minutes of this, it strikes me that I have seen nota soul, nor a course marking since leaving the feed zone… “Ah, justfurther between riders,” I think and I recall what the organizer said atthe pre-race meeting about the course markings being “fool proof.”Fool proof indeed! It soon becomes apparent that not only am I off course,I’m way off course. The wind is blowing furiously and has coveredany sign of the 500 or so bikes that may or may not have traveled thisroad. As I’m reduced to getting off my bike and searching for empty waterbottles or spent goo packets, I contemplate life, death, bears and knobgoblins.Cutting to the chase… by the time I find my way back to the last feedzone, with 15 of the original 100 miles left, I find my support crew intears. She expected me three hours ago. Apparently my old “high-tech communicationdevice”, telepathy, was low on batteries. She makes the mistake of askingif I plan on finishing; I laugh maniacally and explain I’ve alreadydone 115 miles! As I tell her my story, I explain that this was the longestsix-hour time-trial I’ve ever done. Now it’s my wife’s turn to laugh.”Sixhours?” she taunts. “It’s 4:30!!!”While wiping my face with her shirt I do the math: Nine-and-a-half hours!The longest I’ve ever spent on a bike, ever. I make a silent vownever to swing a leg over a bicycle again and simultaneously have the thought,”wait till next year.”I’m such a sucker.


Burke Swindlehurst is a member of the Navigators professional roadcycling team and also races mountain bikes for Moots Titanium Bicycles.