A Different Kind of Summer | Firecracker, Tripple Bypass, & Winter Park
Recovery is one of those thing you can love to hate. I personally thrive on consistency and struggle with transition. When I'm riding a lot I want to ride more, when I'm resting, it can be challenging to regain motivation. When I'm getting a lot of work done on the computer, I struggle to get out and ride. When I start my day out riding, I have a tough time bringing focus back in to do work. But like with anything, balance is key and part of growing is adaptation, moderation keeps things fresh. Despite a well developed comprehension of this concept I still fight it.
There are very few races anymore that I'm stoked to do year after year without tire. One of these is the Firecracker50 on the Fourth of July in Breckenridge. The start line is repurposed as the annual patriotic parade a few minutes after the riders depart and the entirety of Main Street is packed with thousands of folks set up with chairs and blankets, strollers and screaming children. Sending off the race might be a second thought for these spectators but we do begin the days festivities and the crowds are some of the largest I've seen at a mountain bike race in my U.S. racing career.
I had signed up to do this race as a team, with one partner doing the first 25 mile lap and the other the second. In the six years I've toed the start line, just one year was solo and after an episode of epic bonking, I vowed never to do the race alone again. The catch was that this year I signed up to race before Haute Route was on my plate, with the consecutive 7th and final day of taking in all the road riding the Rockies has to offer being a mere 4 days before the Firecracker.
I had high hopes that four days would be enough to get my legs back under me but in hindsight that was more than a pipe dream. Even with the excitement over a race I truly enjoy and a series of rest days on and of the bike, I could tell the evening before that I was likely not in the best spot. My partner and I, had I been rested, likely could have pulled off a podium and it was hard to stomach letting him down while I spent a very slow 2 hours and 51 minutes crawling through the trails and staring in exhaustion at my bikes stem, too fatigued to lift my eyes for more than a necessitated few seconds.
So a good lesson learned: Recovery is key. I continued to have a light workload on the bike and a week and a half later embarked on my very first endeavor one of the very classic Colorado fondo rides known as the Triple Bypass. This was the 30th year of the event and one heck of an eye opener at what 4k riders on a 120 miles stretch of road looks like. Once again I felt fresh as a daisy and despite the fact that this day was a few miles longer than any on Haute Route, when we were done there was no next day to prepare for and suffer through.
Friend and fellow mountain and cyclocross rider Ksenia joined me for the day and helped keep the jokes rolling and the vibe lighthearted as we cruised the the mountainous Colorado backdrop on as perfect a weather day as you can get traveling multiple high elevation mountain passes mid summer. I felt for sure that despite the thousands of riders who passed over the start line before us it was only a matter of hours before we found the front. No such luck!
Having neither of us having done the ride previously we had presumed it would take around 10 hours. Beginning in Evergreen and heading straight up Squaw Pass, we hastened by the first few rest stops to avoid the massive crowds. As the riders began to string out we made quick work of the brisk and chilly descent to Idaho Springs and proceeded to head up to the second climb of the day on Loveland pass.
Some of the riding today was on roads we had traversed during Haute Route although all but a seven mile stretch was in the opposite direction. Two of my favorite sections from the earlier event consisted of descending on the I-70 corridor bike path, a tree shrouded and secluded route I had never laid eyes on despite many trips along the interstate. I was really excited to return and ascend these same trails but with such a high number of participants on such a narrow space and the scenic views now being behind us, I actually much preferred the consistency of the days open road climbing.
After passing through the Loveland Ski area at the base of Loveland Pass the pass itself was a quick spin to the top. We opted to continue on rather than stop for pictures and Ksenia was just in front of me when I realized I had a rear puncture. I yelled but she was already zooming out of site and after a moment of oversight of having left my pump in the car that morning, I continued to ride the flat tire down the mountain. On an uphill I likely could have casually queried another rider for a pump but with the reward of speed and flying down the mountain after conquering the climb I didn't want to flag down anyone for my own inexcusable accord. As I gingerly lightened the bike over every pavement crack, I rolled into the Arapaho Basin resort area and located a car containing a floor pump. Within a few minutes I was on my way, texted Ksenia to wait for me at the following aid station and motored my way up the non-advertised unstated fourth climb on Swan Pass.
Rejoined with my battle buddy for the day we continued on more path climbing to Copper Mountain before ascending the third official climb of the day up Vail Pass. Vail was also a narrow bike path so we spent the climb dodging in and out of riders to keep our pace more to our liking. We opted again to bypass the aid station or photo opportunities at the top with the end now just a downhill cruise away. As the path widened out to a road width and we gathered speed the temperatures also gained momentum. We passed through no less than a 20 degree differential in the span of 30 minutes descending off of Vail pass. From 66 degrees Fahrenheit at the top to an eventual 96 when reaching Avon, I took our final moving hour to bonk thoroughly.
Ksenia was a champ and sat on the front blocking the wind for me while I sorted through all that was in my pockets to be consumed. I have a habit of grabbing snacks with the intention of consuming while riding and then not consuming them until the next stop where I grab more. Needless to say I was by no means short on pocket calories and went through a few packages as we passed through the Vail proper straightaway and continued the gradual descent to Avon.
I perked up enough to get a second wind and regain momentum for the finish. We were hot, sunburnt, and tired but jubilant to join the thousands of folks having already completed their day. A quick jump in the lake was followed with some quality food and some scrounging to fond some clothes to change into as mine was allegedly in a van still up on Loveland Pass. I hugged it out with Ksenia as her ride showed up to take her home and spent the evening helping the race promoters tear down and pack up for the night.
Amazing what a little rest will do, after the week of Haute Route the Triple Bypass was downright easy. I could have been a little better about eating and drinking but overall I had a blast and felt very comfortable with the pace. Comfortable enough I figured I'd give my first Winter Park race of the season a go the following weekend.
Fitness still does not generally equate to speed and while I was feeling good overall, race shape is still a goal to obtain closer to when cyclocross season kicks off. My goals were to push harder than I wanted to and maintain consistency throughout the 25 miles of trail. I was impressed at the start line-up, a number of strong girls showed up to give it a go, I was happy with fourth on the day.
The moral of the story is that this has been a very different kind of summer and I'm really interested to see how it pans out in the fall. Cross is always coming!