Today was day 4 of the Epic, which is known as the Aqueduct Loop, because we ride the Aqueduct trail into Keystone. It is kind of like the stage 2 Colorado Trail stage, except backwards, and with a few different climbs. The singletrack on this stage is stupendous fun, so nobody complains about riding it again, this time in the opposite direction.
The day began in a pretty standard fashion, with Ben Aufderheide leading the peloton up the first climb. He put the screws on us pretty early so gaps formed straight away. I was settling in and attempting to find rhythm for what was going to be a long day in the saddle. I crested the first big climb, which took close to an hour, with a small group including 3-day Epic leader (and future winner at the end of the day) Yuki Ikeda (Topeak Ergon), my Horizon Organic / Panache Development teammate Jorge Espinoza, and Firecracker champion Colin Cares (Kenda). On the descent, we rode right through Ben Aufderheide. When this guy gets some downhill skills that match his uphill skills, he will be a serious badass.
About this point, my day took an unexpected turn. On the descent, my bike began to make a horrendous noise which at the time seemed as though an otter was caught in my spokes. I stopped at the first aid station, convinced that my wheel had moved in the frame, but upon inspection it had not. I continued on just behind the group as we began the gentle undulations of the Colorado Trail. The otter returned on a short descent, which prompted another inspection. At last the cause of the noise was obvious to me: my chainstay was separating from my bottom bracket on the non drive side of the bicycle. This was clearly problematic, given my intention to race another 30 miles on the day. Bicycles function much more effectively when their tubes remain joined together.
I rode a bit further, contemplating my dilemma. Clearly if I pressed on, my day would include a lot of walking. I found a photographer courseside and inquired as to the best exit strategy. He suggested I continue on the course for about threee3 miles until the switchback descent of the Colorado Trail, which was very close to Highway 9. Then I could ride the road back into town.
After taking a moment to apply my tire boot kit (comprised of a long piece of Gorilla tape wrapped around my seatpost) to the gap in the frame for whatever support it would provide, I rode on, stopping when riders who were still racing needed the trail. When I reached the course exit point, I stopped to cheer on a few riders who I knew were coming, including Sonya Looney (leading the women’s open race) and Don Powell (Grand Poobah of Panache Cyclewear). Both inquired as to my trail side location; I quickly synopsized my debacle.
I rode the bike path back into town at a leisurely pace, and was thinking of spending the afternoon at the pool with my wife and daughter. I contemplated lunch. I considered offering to pre-ride the course before the race started tomorrow to verify the course markings.
Then, I rode to the Cannondale service trailer, and talked to Troy, the mechanic.
Me: “Bonjour.” Troy speaks French.
Troy: “Bonjour. Ca va?”
Me: “No va. My frame, she is not happy.”
Troy took a quick look and said: “I can fix it in five minutes. Then, you are back in the race.” This was an option I had not considered. I had already ridden 40 minutes from the course, and would have to get back to the place I left it. The rules state that if you leave the race for any reason, and intend to finish, you have to return to the course in the same location.
Me: “How will I get back? By the time I ride there, it will be 2 hours.”
Troy: “There is a person who works for the race right over there. He can take you.”
Before I knew it, I was in a truck and heading back to the Tiger Road RV park, where the trailhead was.
After 3 years of hard racing and training, including three Breck Epics, one Breck 100, two Pisgah stage races, and countless rides, my bike had fatigued and broken. Troy told me that there were a small number of frames in this model and year that had this problem, and they were all covered under warranty. In the mean time he would get me on the road and I could complete the race.
I was concerned that the aid stations would be closed by the time I got there, but a quick call on the radio confirmed that I had at least 2.5 hours to make it to aid two. So I hit the trail and began riding at a conservative pace. No reason to go crazy now, I am only about 90 minutes behind the race leaders…might as well enjoy the view.
I began to pass riders, one by one. I began to count, to give me something to do. By the time I reached the line, I passed around 50 cyclists, including women, men, Clydesdales, single speeders, and duo teams. Most everyone gave me an encouraging comment as I rode past. Some were a bit surprised, and maybe a bit confused. I was not riding full speed, but I was definitely riding faster than everyone else on the trail.
I finished the stage in 5:22. Lico Ramirez won the stage in 3:35. Not bad considering my sojourn into town, repair, and subsequent car ride. I have been racing a long time and had many moments in which I thought my race was over in one form or another and it turned out to not be, but nothing ever like this. This was a modern version of the stories I have read about Tour riders in the early 1900’s heading into small villages and repairing their own frames by hand, then returning to the course, and getting top three on the stage. Except I am now 15th on GC, almost three hours down.
From looking at the results, the GC has remained largely unchanged. Ramirez now has a 22 minute gap on second place, which should be sufficient to get him the win. However, as today shows, anything is possible. I am grateful to be still in the race, even though pool time would have been nice this afternoon. Tomorrow is a monster: Wheeler Pass, which thanks to the route selection of our ever tenacious race director, involves about 25 minutes of hike-a-bike at around 11,900 feet. This frame needs to survive one more day and then it can be retired to the Cannondale graveyard. Friday, I will use the hardtail and go for glory.