A Note from Fatty: This is part 2 of my 2013 Rockwell Relay: Moab to St. George race report. If you haven’t read part 1, you’ll find it by clicking here.
After spending the first ten miles — about half an hour — of a 54-mile leg of the race alone, I was grateful to be caught by a group of fast guys. I jumped onto the back of the peleton and did my best to recuperate; I knew that a series of hard climbs were coming up, and I didn’t want to be shot out the back when that happened.
Within no more than a minute of sitting in the back, letting others pull me, I felt much better. Staying with the group was no problem. I felt like I was ready to hit the climbs hard. Maybe even split the group up a bit with an attack.
I watched the first really hard climb of the day approach. 200 yards. 100 yards. 50 yards.
I jumped to the front. Most people bridged, but not everyone. I pulled to the top of the climb, bringing anyone who could hang. Did I have a strategy in doing this? Absolutely not. I was just reveling in the fact that, in the last few days of my 46th year, I am able — for the first time in my life — to jump to the front of a pack of fast guys and hurt them a little bit on a climb.
I wasn’t worried about smart. I was just having fun.
Once we got to the top of the climb, I drifted back to the back of what was left of the bunch, thinking maybe I’d do it again in a little while.
Wait, Come Back
In truth, it really didn’t matter even a tiny bit that I had created this split in the field, because right after this pitch, we ran into construction traffic. The entire group rejoined as we slowed down and slalomed our way around cars and cones.
No matter. There was lots more climbing where that came from. Around 5000 feet of climbing in the 54 miles, according to my Strava of the ride. Here’s what the elevation profile looks like:
Yeah, it’s mostly just a lot of up. That said, there’s up, and then there’s up. And I wanted to make sure I didnt get dropped on the next hard pitch. So as it approached, I moved forward, and then — just like the last time — stood up and hammered away on the steep part.
What was the advantage? None. As far as I knew, there was nobody from another coed team in this group of riders (as it turns out, I was wrong — more on that soon). Beating them here didn’t help my team at all.
But I just wanted to. I was racing. Not racing smart, mind you, but definitely racing.
I succeeded. I split the group up. But I was beat. Time to move back to the smaller field I had created.
Except we were already at the base of another hard climb.
I tried to rally to the front, but this time the real racers — the guys from the teams that would win the overall race, eventually — hit the climb hard, and I couldn’t hold them. Not even close.
“That’s OK,” I thought to myself as I crested the climb with the smaller group I had managed to attach to. “We’re still doing very well.”
All Alone, Again
The group of three or four guys I had glommed onto worked together well, and we flew along, not worrying about catching guys we could never hold on to, but not being passed by anyone else, either.
And then, around mile 25 — halfway through my first leg — my team pulled alongside me in the van, ready to swap out bottles and give me any food I needed.
I had kinda wondered where they had been all this time. As it turned out, that construction traffic that I had zipped through was a one-lane-only area. Right after my group had rolled through, the construction workers had stopped everyone — including a majority of the racers and many support vehicles — for twenty minutes or so.
I drifted back a little way from my group and switched out bottles, while the team took some pictures…
Oh, is that a new bike there? Hm. You can’t see it very well, can you? I guess we’ll learn more about that bike another time.
…and cheered me on:
The Hammer, with cowbell.
This is one of the most awesome parts of the Rockwell Relay: the near-constant cheering from your teammates. It gives you an indescribable boost, and makes you want to be the absolute fastest you can be.
In this case, though, I had made a mistake. I had drifted too far back to get a bottle, and by the time I was all taken care of, the group I was riding with was a considerable distance ahead of me.
I gave chase, but to no avail. I could see them, and could even keep them from gaining on me, but I could not catch them.
I was riding alone. Again.
And so, for the second half of the first leg of the race, I soloed it. Just rode my brains out, all by myself. The very personification of the opposite of the “don’t play harder, play smarter” axiom.
From time to time, my team in the van would give me reports: “You’re still one minute behind that group you can see up ahead!” Or, “There’s nobody behind you for miles.”
So I just kept pedaling. Going as fast as I could, on my own. What else could I do?
Every half hour, my GPS would chime, and I’d suck down a Honey Stinger gel (the Acai and Pomegranate flavor is my favorite). There’s nothing that works nearly as well as these for me when I’m racing. However, I did learn something important about handling them, which I will now share with you. As I ran out of the ones I had put in my jersey for the beginning of the ride, I yelled at my team for another as they went by me in the van. “And have it open for me already,” I said.
Which they did.
As I pulled alongside them and took the gel, however, I grabbed a smidgen too eagerly, and…splut.
Gel all over the left side of my body. Especially my left hand. What a mess. Which, naturally, transferred onto my bars, effectively gluing my hand there.
“I,” I thought to myself, “am perhaps the clumsiest dork who has ever lived.”
Introducing The Comedy Act of Kenny and Fatty
I pulled into the town of Monticello, looking for the City Park, where I’d hand off the slap bracelet — which acts as the relay baton — to Kenny.
I stopped, then proceeded to remove the bracelet so I could hand it to him, allowing him to start his leg of the race:
But there was a little problem. See, I was completely fried from my ride. My hands were shaking, and I had no coordination at all. So the transfer, uh, didn’t exactly go smoothly:
And in short, it took around forty-five minutes for us to make the transfer, with an ever-increasingly large crowd gathering around and laughing their heads off.
And then, finally (!!!), Kenny had the bracelet, and was gone.
In spite of my (lack of) race tactics, I had ridden a good, fast race: 2:36 of riding by the race clock, which is 21mph on average, for 54.4 miles, which is not bad at all when you factor in that this 54.4 miles includes 5000 feet of climbing.
It was Team Fatty’s fastest time for leg 1 of this race ever, by 17 minutes. This was fast enough to put us in tenth place overall — out of 100 teams — at the end of the first leg of the race. I assumed — wrongly, as we’d learn soon enough – that this would easily put us in the lead for the coed division we were racing in.
I could rest now, til the evening, when it would be my turn to ride again.
Now it was Kenny’s turn to see what he could do.
Which is where I’ll pick up in the next installment of this story.