The Gila was touted as a "pure climbers" race, with the entire race bible dedicated to accurately describing the difficulty of all the ascents. Meanwhile Mt Hood unassumingly snuck much steeper and longer climbing into every stage. Mt Hood was the true "climbers" race with the Gila being a fat-man's course in comparison. The ominous presence of a snow covered Mt Hood loomed over every stage of the race as a constant reminder of the painful parcours.
All aboard the pain train!
Seven days post Gila and three days pre Mt Hood, the Berkeley Hills Road Race would serve as a fitness reassurance between major stage races. It was a looped circuit, 17 miles in length with roughly 1700 feet of climbing per lap. Each loop had two short-but-sweet climbs in succession, with the summit of the second climb representing the finishing line. The ascents were named Mama Bear and Papa Bear respectively. A few Baby Bears were scattered around the rest of the course, but didn't represent much of an effort in comparison to the parental climbs.
The final day of the Gila featured a reverse route of Stage 2. It was 73 miles of a few rollers, followed by a final decisive climb, fast descent and a final gentle uphill to the finish in Pinos Altos. The major climb near the end decided the entire stage, either you had your climbing legs or you didn't. Nate and I decided the best strategy was to sit in all day, eating and drinking and hope that we had the juice for the final uphill showdown.
For as much as I train, eat and race as skinny climber – deep down inside I may bear the soul of a fat, angry crit sprinter. I know that when the shit-hits-the-fan, I can surprise other racers (myself included) with a blazing sprint. When I saw the layout of the Stage 4's Downtown criterium, I knew I could do well. It featured about 80 feet of climbing per lap with four 90 degree corners and a high speed downhill. Sitting at 48th on the GC, I had absolutely nothing to lose and was determined to go balls-to-the-wall all day.
With my GC hopes in the toilet, sitting in 50th place overall and 25 minutes down on the leader, today's stage presented itself as a pseudo rest-day. It was an individual time trial, 16.14 miles in length with 1600' of climbing. It would be impossible in 16 miles to bring back 25 minutes, or even 5 minutes so I decided to just go out and cruise the course to save my legs.
I woke up this morning determined to do well. I knew today would be the hardest stage of the whole race, and I wanted to make sure everyone felt it too. No more fucking around hanging out in the middle of pack getting a free ride, if I wanted to move up on the GC – I needed to take the race into my own hand. My legs still felt fresh from the previous day's effort, and the constant up and down profile of today's stage fit my riding style. Nate and I discussed going on the attack the entire day to shake a larger breakaway group loose and create some time gaps to move us up on the GC. What we didn't factor in were the constant 30 – 50 mph head winds for the last 30 miles of the race.