When the race medics asked, “what stage is this?” and I responded, “Colorado,” they told me to abandon the USA Pro Challenge, but quitting makes quitting easier. Plus, our mechanic had already collected my broken frame and lifted my leg over a spare bike aimed at the finish. Since I crashed out of the peloton, the team had put 130-pound George Bennett and 120-pound Olivier Zaugg on the front to chase the breakaway. For cryin’ out loud, my team needed me for another five days.
I recovered my cognizance as I limped the last 40km to Crested Butte, but when I saw my family at “1 km to go,” I nearly broke down. My sister, Hannah, rushed to the finish. Two months ago she began nursing in Crested Butte of all places. Ironically, we went to her hospital to dress my wounds. A photo of Bobby Julich with his hand in a cast hung on the wall outside her office. Apologies to the fan whose arm I punched when he tried to push me uphill and put his hand right in my road rash.
On the first stage, Jakob Fuglsang had launched Ted King and me on a double King attack in the last five kilometers. I’ve always wanted to escape with Ted. We’ve talked about it on training rides around Lucca, Italy, our European base, and now we were trying to hold off the field for the win. The reduced peloton caught us before the sprint, but I was amused. The next day, a crashing rider grabbed me on his way down, effectively tackling me at 45 kph (confirmed by my SRM file).
The instant my helmet cracked against the pavement, my excitement to race the queen stage became determination to see the finish. During stages three and four, I climbed Independence Pass twice and Cottonwood Pass in survival mode.
In my 2008 criterium season with Kelly Benefit Strategies, I developed a “no whining about crashing after two days” policy, so I went for the early break on stage 5 with Zaugg. The 12-man breakaway included Vincenzo Nibali, who dropped five of us a few kilometers later on Hoosier Pass. It reminded me of one of my first races with RadioShack when I escaped with Nibali on a climb and he gave me a perplexed look that said, “is something the matter? Are you suffering?” (http://velonews.competitor.com/2011/03/news/ben-king-diary-part-2-of-a-pro-race-day-start-to-finish_164943)
In my last blog, I mentioned how the older riders volunteer their experience to young riders like George Bennett and me. Bennett came tantalizingly close to a stage win in Colorado, but gave himself away too early. I consoled him with a dose of the optimism he’s been feeding me with all week, but we both owe a big thanks to Jens “breakaway” Voigt, Andreas “So-Pro” Klöden, and Chris “Coke n’ Snickers” Horner for their advice, critique, encouragement, and especially the example they set.
The embodiment of never giving up is Jens Voigt. Forty years old, Jens spent four of five road stages in the breakaway, sticking one for the win, another for third, and accidentally winning the KOM jersey in the process. At dinner one night Jens began a story with “when I was younger and had more energy…” Quote of the week. Some of the best news of the week: Jens re-signed with RadioShack-Nissan-Trek for 2013.
Bennett and I have a long way to go in cycling. The Pro Challenge taught us practical tactical lessons and character building perseverance, and hopefully contributed some future old-man strength.
The fans last week impressed everyone. My European teammates commented on how knowledgeable about the sport most of them were. That’s good news for USA Cycling.
I have a week to recover at home for the Grand Prix Quebec and Montreal.