Jul 19, 2011
Tour stages 4-5 are the days of rythmn and survival. A stage race creates intimacy with yourself, your racing mates, your bike, the weather, le directors and your chamios. In short one-day races, your actions of the day are stories you tell to your friends back at the car or home. In le Tour you show up to eat dinner across from your race nemesis (your new friends). All your actions are subject to scrutiny and if there was a slip of conduct or cool, jabs will abound.
In other words, this is your family for a week and they retain all the rights of family to make you feel foolish. Unlike a family jab, it's easier to laugh at yourself and forgiveness abounds. If, you can laugh at yourself. I've seen people who have a hard time relaxing, return year after year and eventually their stiff shell softens from the humbling beating. That transformation can happen in a day or a decade.
Essentially stage racing distills you to your essence. When your body is kneeded, whipped and blanched daily, what rises to the surface can feel very raw. This makes me want some key lime pie.
Our stay at the Carpenter house has been a tradition for the Cupcakes for years. Ping pong table, Kari, Lindsey and Carp, basement hideouts and an amazing garage so filled with bike carcasses it looks like those monk caves in france with walls lined in human skeletons. It's an amazing safe-haven. This year most of the dinners were held at the Carp house, so for four evenings we'd get back from a stage to find ourselves cooking chicken, sausages, burgers, salad, pasta and whatever else. Yes, we cooked salad.
Day four was a classic mountain stage. We parked at the Stokesville Church to start the stage underneath a pleasently overcast sky. How the organizers managed to retain permission to park this rolling, heathanistic party on God's soil is still a mystery of faith and forgiveness. I expected to find a bible in my race package for the day. We started with a strolling parade pace up Leading Ridge road and turned our troops up at Todd Lake to climb to the top.
I can't remember the exact course of the first stage, but I'm pretty sure it involved racing to the top of the mountain then dropping down Chestnut Ridge trail. I believe that would be 1900' of climbing in the first 4 four miles then 2500' feet of descending in six miles. If you've done the Shenandoah 100 then you have gone down Chestnut. It's the second to last trail descent, just before aid station 6. So long, so fast and probably one of the most perfect super-d descents you could ask for. The top section is a snug fit between mountain laurels to the sides and wet rocks from below. They have done a fair amount of work in the past year, so some of the trail is now more flowy for those who like that kind of thing. The over cast skys had made the trails a little slick but I was pretty happy with my traction since I had converted my tires to tubeless with the help of my trusty Stan's tape. Amazing the confidence you gain, and the velcro grip lower pressure gives you. So dumb of me to allow myself to think I could trust tubes. On some of the screaming descents I managed to nail my rims once each and tires held! Across the line I was 8th, further proof that my climbing legs were less than acceptable. Well, that's why I was there. Training, not straining.
At the bottom was the trusty red truck and the Carps waiting with food and drink. They also had their dogs plus mine, all rolling in the dirt or diving for rocks in the stream. Chilling....
A parade pace and sprint later we worked our way to the far end of the Narrowback ridge for the next timed section. We would be racing the whole ridge, back to the cars. The last couple miles would be on road, but the ridge miles were going to be a series of rocks that look more jagged than broken glass. Narrowback has many similarities to the trails of Michaux state forest, so I had confidence I could work my way up if I started off in a controlled manner. Towards the end of the "Barely there trail" I felt the rain coming and all I wanted to do was get off the rocks before they got slimey. Allah save anyone who was still out there. About the time I exited the last piece of trail the heavens opened up and it was a serious downpour all the way to the finish. Besides what it does to the bikes and the trail, I love riding in the rain. Across the line in 5th place. Behind, people were getting lost and time was ticking away. My closest competition, Spreng, was sacrificing time to support his teammate who had a busted bike. Good on him!
All good, everyone safe, and found. Bruce Dickman was the last one in, lost in a haze of lube and party pace pounding. He made it.