2015 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 4: The Chase

06.20.2015 | 6:20 pm

Previously in this Story: 

  1. Race Prediction: We Will Lose
  2. Part 0: Generosity and Bratwurst
  3. Part 1: Cold Fury
  4. Part 2: A Day in the Life
  5. Part 3: Winning When You’re Losing

A couple of days ago, The Hammer and I talked about racing. Specifically, we were talking about how much we love to race. The conversation was humming along; I thought we were going to be agreeing with and emphasizing each other’s perspectives.

But we weren’t. Sure, we both love to race, but for almost entirely different reasons. The Hammer, well, she loves to race because it inspires her to push herself to do the best she possibly can. To find out what her limits really are.

I think that’s sweet, and I think probably a lot of people race for that reason. But that’s not why I race. 

I race because I love the chase. Doesn’t matter whether I’m the person chasing, or the person being chased. Either way, I get to indulge in a sense of intensity and ferocity that I don’t otherwise get a lot of.

Some of you don’t know what I’m talking about. Some of you, on the other hand, know exactly what I’m talking about.

And this — leg 5 of the Rockwell Relay, my second time out on the bike for the day — gave me everything I needed for a good chase.

The odds were against me: Mary’s a strong rider, had a strong rider (Ryan) working with her, and had a 5:33 head start on me. 

I, on the other hand, was riding alone, and the climbing — what I’m best at — didn’t really get going until thirty-seven or so miles into the forty-five mile course.

Screenshot 2015 06 20 18 56 36

So…what are we waiting for?


At the end of my previous installment, I wrote this:

I stood up and sprinted off the line like I was going a hundred yards, not 45 miles.

“I want time checks on Mary ASAP and often as possible!” I shouted to Cory over my shoulder.

The part about sprinting off the line is true. The part about asking for time checks as I took off from the line…well, that’s not even remotely true. That was strictly me trying to draw you in with a dramatic ending to the installment, so you’d come back for today’s read.

For that, I apologize. Also: hey, it worked.

The reality is, I had a better idea of where Mary and Ryan were than my story let on. After all, after we left Lynette to go to the exchange point, we had passed the two Infinite guys, Danny and Mark (notice how I’m not calling them “domestiques” anymore? That’s because they don’t like it, and I have a generous heart). 

It was at that point that I realized my ride had the potential to change our standings. It was then that I demanded time checks as soon as possible and as often as possible.

There. Now you know the whole story. Because truth-telling is very, very important to me. 

Not Sociable, Nor a Pleasant Person

I buried myself, right off the line. I wasn’t lying about that. And — thanks to the work I did last winter / spring with TrainerRoad — I have both good power and a really good sense of what level of effort I can maintain for the long haul.

What TrainerRoad did not give me, however, is social skills while on the bike.

Which is to say that within fifteen minutes of starting my ride, I closed in on a largish group (between six and eight of them) of racers.

“Grab my wheel!” I didn’t say.

“How’s your race going? Having a good ride?” I also didn’t say.

Instead, I looked over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t going to get run over, then blasted by. I might have said, “Hey,” but I also might have just nodded. 

It’s also possible that I just went by. Riding at the level of effort that causes tunnel vision sometimes makes me…curt.

Before too long, my team pulled alongside me in the van. “Need anything?” The Hammer called.

“Time check! Stet!” I shouted back.

Screenshot 2015 06 20 17 11 40

Yes, I actually said, “stet.” I meant “stat” — a word from The Hammer’s world, but my addled race brain picked out “stet” (a word from my world) instead.

Making me both a dork and an idiot.

The Game of Leapfrog Begins

My crew obliged, surging forward and leaving me to wonder how I was doing at catching Mary and Ryan…if I was gaining on them at all.

Several minutes later, I saw my team on the side of the road, Cory with his phone out — obviously timing ’til I crossed his imaginary line.

I sprinted like it was a finish line. I know, I know: ridiculous. But I was caught up in the chase, and the smaller the number, the more fuel to my fire.

“3:38!” Cory yelled out.

Awesome. Just seven-ish miles in and I had already cut the gap between us down by almost two minutes

My team shot by me. “Need anything?”

“Time check!” I yelled back. These time checks were everything to me.

And so my team went ahead, finding and passing Mary and Ryan, pulling over, and timing the distance between us.

So many stops gave them plenty of time for photographs. Here’s Cory and Lynette, posing in front of what they hope will someday be their home:

Thumb IMG 3391 1024

For about an hour, that gap kept dropping. In fact, it dropped very fast, to the point where there was just two minutes between me and the Infinite teams.

I could taste triumph. OK, actually I could taste blood in the back of my throat, but they’re very similar tastes.

Things Change

I remember the first time I got a time check that said I was less than two minutes behind Mary and Ryan. 

Specifically, I remember it because in the next time check, I was back above two minutes. 

And then that gap held. I went harder and harder — something I wouldn’t have even thought possible — but I couldn’t seem to close any more of the gap.

That — at least to me — was not awesome. But I expect that to Mary and Ryan, it was awesome indeed. And I knew that Mary and Ryan knew what the gap was between us as well as I knew.

Why? Because the Infinite teams were getting time checks from Troy and Big D. 

And thus began my favorite part of the whole race. I’d go by my team…and then past Troy and Big D. Then Troy and Big D — in Troy’s red truck — would shoot ahead of me to do the next time check, followed shortly by my team.

At first, Troy and Big D would stop at different places from my team. After a few rotations, though, the pretense was abandoned; both teams would park in the same place. Both teams would have their phones out, timing and shouting out the gap. 

And before long, Troy and Big D were ringing their cowbell as they drove past to do the next time check, bringing (almost) as big a smile to my face as when my own team did.

The sun started getting low. Golden hour. 

Screenshot 2015 06 20 17 15 24

When I needed to get rid of my sunglasses, I handed them off to Big D. I knew he’d get them to my team.

A Possible Reason

Warm fuzziness between teams notwithstanding, I was still flummoxed by my inability to close the gap any further. It was stuck at two minutes.

“Maybe I’ve gone too hard, too soon. They’ve meted out their energy better than I have.”

Which might in fact be the case. But — and I didn’t realize this until I checked the Flyby of the leg — it’s also possible that it’s because right about an hour into this leg of the race, Mary and Ryan had swept up another racer from another team: Brad.

I’m going to guess that once Brad had gotten a decent pull, he became a contributing member to the train, neutralizing me.

Hey, I’d rather believe that than…that I just slowed down.

Regardless, as I failed to eat into the gap, I became demoralized. I had tried so hard to catch Mary. And I was failing.

Night Rider

It seemed so weird that it was now dusk and getting dark. Hadn’t we just started this day? Wasn’t it still morning? Nope. The sun was down, and it was getting dark quickly. My team told me to be ready to put my light on the next time I pulled over.

As instructed, I came to a stop the next time I saw the van pulled over, hating every second, knowing Mary and Ryan (and, I guess, Brad) were increasing that infernal two-minute gap they had on me.

My fingers shook, I fumbled the light, forced myself to calm down, discovered that I had failed in trying to force myself to calm down.

Finally, after about four tries, I successfully slid the light onto my mount. The whole process probably took half a minute, but might have taken a month.

Now I See You

My team went on ahead. I needed to finish this leg on my own, so they could get The Hammer out and ready for her next ride.

Thumb IMG 3396 1024

I continued on, alone. And then a Very Good thing happened. 

I discovered I could see red blinking lights off in the distance. Those had to be Mary, Ryan, and Brad’s lights, right?

Had to be

I went from feeling like I had lost…to feeling like I was back in the hunt. 

And then a second Very Good Thing happened: I could see that those blinking lights were going up

As it turns out, I’m pretty good at going up. 

I charged forward, at first trying to tell whether I was getting any closer to those blinking lights. Then wondering if those blinking lights were for a stationary object: the Rockwell guys always put lots of warning blinking lights before cattle guards.

And then I was sure: three sets of red blinking lights. All getting closer. 

Minutes later, I had joined the train. 

“Hey Mary,” I said (I didn’t know Ryan or Brad’s name at the time).

“What took you so long?” Mary replied.

One Try

Mary was joking (I think), but the fact is: she and Ryan had held me off until the last couple miles of this leg. I had to decide now whether we were going to finish this leg together, or if I should try to drop these three and give The Hammer as much of a lead as possible at the beginning of her next leg.

No, I’m just kidding. There was never any decision. I knew I was going to attack before I even got close.

So I rested for a moment, then rode up to the front and stepped up the tempo. Enough so that it hurt.

Mary hung with me. The other two could not. 

I slowed, and Mary moved up front, holding my pace. Maybe even stepping it up just a little. Seeing if she could make me fall off.

Which I did. I slid back. Her gap increased to ten, then fifteen feet. And she knew it, too — seeing the wash of my headlight fade.

And then I stood up and attacked with everything I had. Rode at a stupid pace, using the metric that if I didn’t throw up at the exchange I hadn’t gone hard enough.

I went a full minute like this before I dared to look back. 

I had done it: exploded the group. All three of them were riding alone, now. Maybe they’d reconnect and finish together, maybe they’d finish individually. That didn’t matter to me, because it was happening behind me. All that mattered to me was what was ahead.

The finish line. That was what was ahead.

I kept going, just as hard. I had put Team SBR-WBR back in the lead. Now I was going to do everything I could to make that lead as big as I could.

I saw the lights at the gas station ahead, where I knew the exchange would be. I gave everything I had left to give, crossed the timing mat, stopped by Cory so he could move the timing chip over to The Hammer’s leg.

I gasped “I love you too” to The Hammer, even though she hadn’t said “I love you” yet. Then I bent over…but didn’t throw up.

So I guess I should have gone harder.

1:11 later, Mary came in (I don’t recall whether Ryan was with her), and Marci (either with — or soon to be followed by — Billy) took off, chasing The Hammer again.

Which is where we’ll pick up in the next installment of this story, which features the single weirdest, most eerie thing I have ever witnessed in any race. Ever. 


  1. Comment by ScottyCycles | 06.22.2015 | 8:09 am

    Fatty did any of you have a GoPro or other cam on the bikes during the race? The description of that last leg was riviting!


    Thanks, Scott. It’s pretty easy to write these reports, there was just a ton of action, and two very close-matched teams. Believe it or not, though, this first part is just the setup. The real drama of this race hasn’t even begun.

    I didn’t bring a GoPro for this race. Last year, though, Cody Larkin brought both a GoPro and a drone to the race and created a stunningly beautiful video from his footage. Click here to view.

    - FC

  2. Comment by Kate | 06.22.2015 | 8:11 am

    I love reading your race reports.

  3. Comment by Jim Tolar | 06.22.2015 | 8:21 am

    Awesome leg, FatMan, awesome report. I almost forgive you for making me wait until Monday.


  4. Comment by Eric | 06.22.2015 | 8:36 am

    And the “hooks” just keep coming! Riveting is a great description. Superb writing, Fatty.

  5. Comment by Will Benton | 06.22.2015 | 8:57 am

    If you’re not puking your not trying hard enough.


  6. Comment by JerseyJoe | 06.22.2015 | 9:27 am

    Best race report ever from a master of them! Because – the hunt.

  7. Comment by Scott | 06.22.2015 | 10:16 am

    Best post ever!

  8. Comment by GenghisKhan | 06.22.2015 | 10:28 am

    Great write up!

  9. Comment by MattC | 06.22.2015 | 10:28 am

    Fantastic story Fatty! I will be right here, on the very razor edge of my seat until part V (don’t think my boss will like that tho).

  10. Comment by MtlDan | 06.22.2015 | 10:42 am

    Great write up!

    I wish I had your pain tolerance.

  11. Comment by Yannb | 06.22.2015 | 1:04 pm

    Elden, reading this post, I can’t wait to do that leg again next year. I used the virtual partner on my Garmin to ride against my ride from last year. Kept seeing my time ahead increasing. Eventually finishing almost 48 minutes faster than last year. I didn’t have any one to chase during that leg except myself and it helped me.

    I’m not surprised, based on how fit you were looking this year. Congratulations on kicking your former self’s butt! – FC

  12. Comment by Troy | 06.22.2015 | 2:29 pm

    As I said when you finished, amazing ride to chase our riders down. We know you’re a strong climber but very impressive 2+ hr effort. Big D and I were timing and couldn’t believe how fast you were catching Mary and Ryan at the start. We thought they were going to be caught in no time but then the gap stabilized. I don’t remember where to know if it corresponded to when they caught that other rider but we noticed it and wondered if they could hold you off. According to Mary, the other guy wasn’t helping their pace really and hence why he was dropped. I didn’t know about the attacks and counter attacks, that was awesome. Shows how strong of a competitor both Mary and you are. Mary gives it her all every time. Also shows that ‘Cold Fury’ must work well for you. That was a long attack to hold to gap our riders that much at the end. Once again, impressed with your riding ability.

    I love this leg because the temps cool, the canyon is awesome and it always seems to happen about sunset. We thought we had plenty of daylight and didn’t don the reflective vest. When we realized it was going to be dark Dave dug up some reflective tape we slapped on our riders backs as they came by. Ryan and Mary did an incredible job holding you off as long as they did. At one point in the dark we could see 3 lights coming with 1 behind. We thought Fatty is really close. To our disappointment, the back light was the other rider and you were with Mary and Ryan already. Our hope then was that you were killing yourself and wouldn’t have much left for leg 9. But I know you always kill yourself and seem to be able to do it at least 3 times in a little over 24 hrs. But now we weren’t trying to close a 12 min gap so we felt optimistic we could retake the lead with Marci and Billy on the road and then extend it more than the 1st four legs by the time we hit Leg 9.

    Few little mishaps at Torrey. That RV that pulled in practically in front of Mary right after you was actually our RV, a little misjudgement there, a few raised voices. While Billy and Marci were waiting at the stop an RV backed into Marci’s car (minor damage). That wasn’t helpful for mood or maybe it helped Marci have some anger, excuse me, Cold Fury to work out up Boulder.

    And the story is going to get better.

    I had no idea about any of the RV shenanigans. I tell you, most of us shouldn’t be driving those things (one RV buzzed The Hammer on her first leg of the race, not giving her anything like the three feet they should have. I was astonished when it turned out to be a racing RV. I seriously think that for a race like this, RVs should be banned. Too many bikes, too much traffic, too unfamiliar of vehicles, too little sleep. Bad things are going to happen. I’m glad nobody on your team got hurt. – FC

  13. Comment by Billy | 06.22.2015 | 4:01 pm

    Marci and I were definitely hopped up on adrenaline after both of us were nearly crushed by the RV that backed into her car. We weren’t sure her car would even be drive-able for a time, and thought, uh oh, this might really mess up our Rockwell race. The rest of our crew — our RV and the alternate sag vehicle with Dave and Troy — were nowhere to be seen/found, so our stress levels were high. Fortunately it proved to be mostly cosmetic damage to her driver-side front fender, but it was less than ideal. It was special fun (mostly for Marci) to have to scramble and collect/exchange insurance information from the driver of the RV roughly 10-15 minutes from the time we needed to embark on Leg 6.

    Both Marci and I were having a difficult time shoveling in the mediocre Turkey sandwiches we’d picked up earlier in Hanksville — our stomachs churning uncomfortably (as expected) by this time. I think both of us had struggled to eat well enough through the day, mostly as expected. It was apparent that some cramping was about to set in. Oh, I couldn’t wait for that sensation.

    Admittedly, we were both motivated to hunt down Lisa from the moment we departed after we witnessed the time gap, and wanted to close it quickly. I was particularly motivated to close the gap, so that *we* could settle into my comfortable climbing pace. I knew that trying to keep up with Marci “in the chase” on a climb would be really difficult to do. Part of me was very prepared to let Marci go and crush it up the hill, but the ego in me was very much saying “No way! You have to stick with her all the way up! Prove your manhood!”

    I’ll drop some more details about our climbing experience up Boulder Mtn. once the next part of the story is revealed. Can’t wait — the story is getting juicy!

    I’m super-impressed that Marci was able to get her head back in the game so fast considering she’d just had a near-death experience.

    As far as food goes, next year go for cold pizza and nutella/banana burritos. I recommend them highly. – FC

  14. Comment by Dave (a.k.a. "Big D") | 06.22.2015 | 4:51 pm

    I found myself actually cheering you on due to the epic effort that you were putting in to bridge the long gap that you started with. The cowbell was sincere. Everyone likes an underdog, right?

    Thanks Dave! (And thanks for getting my glasses back to my team.) Next time I see you, I buy you a slice of hot pizza. – FC

  15. Comment by GregC | 06.22.2015 | 4:57 pm

    you’ve totally sucked me in, I’m reliving my teams experiance from two years ago and really enjoying your photos and descriptions. I’m actually surprised that there arent more car/ RV accidents/ injuries through the race- racing urgency, giant vehicles in close quarters, fatigue. I do like your night riding reflective vest solution also!

    Greg, thanks for taking the time to comment. How are you doing? – FC

  16. Comment by Justin L. | 06.22.2015 | 7:24 pm

    I am loving this story, i feel like i am right there. Cant wait to read the next installment. I didn’t even want to ride tonight, now i do

  17. Comment by Danny | 06.22.2015 | 7:25 pm

    I am enjoying this write up more than I thought I would, and I know the race results :). It was so amazing/depressing/agonizing to watch you do so much damage every time you got on the bike. It was kind of like when I watched MJ decimate the Jazz in 98. He was amazing to watch, and I apprecaited/admired his effort, but part of me wanted to take a baseball bat to his knee or something… not saying I had any such thoughts about you of course. And, yes I suppose I did just compare you to MJ :).

    Danny, I am totally going to bronze this comment. – FC

  18. Comment by Corrine | 06.22.2015 | 7:39 pm

    This story just keeps getting better and better. I love hearing from the other team members. Such an exciting race! I have to say, I’m like Lisa, I like to race to see how fast I can go, more than I care where I end up in the race (and since I’m always at the back of the pack, that’s probably good, otherwise I would just be depressed!)
    Can’t wait for the next segment.

  19. Comment by Cyclingjimbo | 06.22.2015 | 8:17 pm

    I am loving this year’s write-up. The competition, the camaraderie, the suspense . . . . A real nail biter going on here that keeps us coming back. Truly your best race report to date.

    What impresses me most, aside from the action of the race, is the way the teams bond together and support each other, even though they are working their collective butts off to beat each other. This is bicycle racing at its very best, with strong competition and truly wonderful sportsmanship. Come to think of it, this is life at its very best. Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

  20. Comment by MikeL | 06.22.2015 | 9:23 pm

    This is a really cool write up with the comments from the other teams filling in details and providing a counterpoint. This is definitely one of the best reports you have done.

  21. Comment by Heath | 06.22.2015 | 11:03 pm

    I bet I know what the weirdest most odd thing is that you saw that night. I couldn’t believe seeing it myself. The flannel people!!!!!!

  22. Comment by PaulW | 06.23.2015 | 1:02 am

    You know you’re sucked in to Fatty’s race reports when you start reading the comments section to see what Fatty has commented on the comments ….

    (…. if you know what I mean)

  23. Comment by Tom in Albany | 06.23.2015 | 5:17 am

    And I quote Deep Purple (becuase, duh!) – “It’s not the kill. It’s the thrill of the chase.”

  24. Comment by Mary | 06.23.2015 | 8:24 pm

    I was actually about 35 seconds behind you :)

    That makes sense; it didn’t feel like I had gained that much time on you. In my story I’m just working from the results page, which show me crossing the timing mat at 21:46:25, and you crossing at 21:47:36. Did you lose the extra time cuz of the RV turning in front of you? (Troy mentioned that in a comment.) – FC


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.