The weekend of September 29th and 30th the 2012 version of the Everest Challenge Stage Race was held in Bishop, California. It is held over both days and covers over 150 miles with over 29,000 feet of elevaton gain. Each day has three climbs, and each day the final climb is the longest of the three and ends at the highest elevation. I am not too familiar with tracking numbers, but I do know that these numbers add up to a great deal of difficulty. Even though this is called a race, it seems to me more of a test. I didn’t feel like the riders in my category were necessarily my competition, but I sure as heck was gonna compare our “scores” at the end and see who came out on top!
I was competing in Category 3 and lined up on saturday morning with a couple of familiar faces, but also a number of unfamiliar ones who either love to climb, love suffering, or have no idea what they’ve signed up for. The first climb of the day was where the first real separation in the group occurred. One rider from Cynergy/Big Orange was about a minute off the front at the turnaround, and the peloton had been whittled down to about 12 or 14. As we came down the mountain and began the second climb of the day, another separation happened…this time it was myself and a rider from Reno named Aaron who were able to crawl away from our chase group and begin our own chase of Stathis (the Big Orange rider). Each day I tried to push myself, but you have to know that you’ve got enough left for the third climb. I think knowing your own body and its indications and limitations is the key to doing your best in such a challenging environment…
…Anyway, the two of us were able to stay away from our chasers the rest of the way up and down climb number two, and worked well together en route to the final mountain of the day through the town of Paradise! About a quarter of the way up the climb, we caught sight of Stathis up ahead. It took us maybe 30 minutes to get about 50 meters from him and Aaron decided to bridge that gap. I was not willing to push myself that deep just yet, and was only slightly frustrated to watch them ride away from me and out of sight. As I began the final “half” of climb number three, I was feeling the effects of the altitude. I felt weak and slow and was getting angry at the road for not being smooth. I think I was about 4 miles from the summit, and the end of the day of racing, when I caught a glimpse of Aaron up ahead who was obviously slowing. At our ridiculous pace, it took me about two miles to catch up to him. We were both too exhausted to speak, but I suspected he would get on my wheel and we’d engage in a comical slo-mo sprint across the line. That didn’t happen, and in the final mile or so I was able to gain about two minutes of time on him. Stathis had stayed strong throughout and had crossed the line about 6 minutes ahead of me.
Those of you in the club who know me may know how familiar I am with second place. I had actually lost to Stathis at the UCLA Road Race earlier this season. Usually, 2nd is a point of real frustration for me, but that wasn’t exactly the case on saturday. I was pleased with my effort and excited about my result.
As my category lined up on the start line on sunday morning, the group seemed a bit smaller. The top finishers were there, though, so it was obviously “game on”. The main group was able to stay together up the long and painful first climb, and as we came down at speeds approaching 60mph there were 8-10 of us. The second climb of the day is not particularly steep, but it is still able to sap the energy and cause splits in the field. I like this type of climb, and I was “comfortable” out of the saddle pushing a big gear up a lot of this one. As I was settling into that feeling I referenced on the second climb of the prevous day, my competitors decided to test me. Stathis, Aaron, and one of Stathis’ teammates moved up the road away from the group. I had to maintain my own pace, because I knew what the final climb of the day held. I put my head down, started cranking out a smooth, hard cadence, and pulled two other riders in my group along. By the top of climb number two, I had closed what had been about a three minute gap back to about 15 seconds…not a pedal stroke of help from the two other Cat 3 riders on my wheel. We closed on the downhill, and by the start of THE FINAL CLIMB we were six together!
Stathis from Big Orange had made clear that he was content to follow wheels to the race win, so it was up to me to keep tabs on the rider in third place, and my only chance for a win was to beat Stathis by over 6 minutes…a tall order. The rider in third place, Aaron, rode away early on the final climb, but I felt confident ehough in my ability that I didn’t give it a second thought. As the heat turned up and the sweat poured down, Aaron was never able to get out of sight. I kept chugging along with Stathis glued to my wheel. We (I) were able to make the catch about a third of the way up, and it seemed at this point, that he and I would be stuck with one another for the remainder of the day. There were no more competitors…only the sun, the mountains, the miles, and the elevation. We were able to chat a bit, but I wanted to do whatever I could to make him suffer at the end. I’m not sure that happened. He stayed glued to my wheel for well over an hour under the absolute torture of that final climb. As we crawled up the steeper slopes toward the finish, I felt worse than I’ve ever felt on a bicycle…not like I was going to vomit, but that my stomach, throat, lungs, and intestines might just fall out through my mouth (sorry, that’s the only way I can think of to describe it).
Near the finish line, Stathis was kind enough to let me know that I could have the stage win. He is a strong, strong rider, a worthy champion and a gentleman racer. We came around the final bend, and crossing that finish line first in my category was a real thrill! Even today, I am a bit too tired to celebrate, but it was a proud moment for me…First on the day, and a solid second in the General Classification for Cat 3.
Day one was a little over six hours on the bike, and for sure more than four and a half of that is uphill at slopes of 5-10%. Day two was over five hours, and probably four and a half of those are uphill at slopes between 4 and 12%. I probably went through ten or more large bottles of fluid, either drinking or pouring over my head and body, each day. I have been hungry since 3pm yesterday. I’m still hot and sore, but most of all I am proud to have finished The Everest Challenge with a stage win, a second on GC, and the respect of my competitors and comrades.
Although this is a race report, I wouldn’t be able to send it to the club without a few more details. I know all of the La Grangers who tackled The Everest Challenge are hugely thankful for:the efforts of people “behind the scenes”. Joe Camacho and Brian Pera for their hard work and dedicated efforts on the days of the event AS WELL AS months before organizing, emailing, and wrangling supplies to make the weekend easier for LG and “friends of LG”.
-I also want to give kudos to the event organizer, whose humor and attitude are contagious and may be the reason reason a lot of people come back to suffer year after year.
-All of the other LG volunteers, some of whom I recognized and others who I did not, did a great job of shuttling people to and from starts and finishes, handing out bottles and handing out words of encouragement.
-I am especially tahnkful for this great club, and the guys I ride with the most. Its impossible to describe how their congratulations and words of encouragement affect my attitude. Needless to say, it feels good.
Thanks for reading,