I drove out to Baker City on Sunday afternoon. Last year, I came out on the Thursday before the race, and that was just not enough time for me to acclimate to the higher altitude and drier air; I started off a little dehydrated and was never able to catch up. This year I am fortunate enough to be able to work remotely, so I decided that I’d come out early and give myself a few days to relax and acclimate. I rode the course for stage 1 on Tuesday at a moderate pace, but other than that and a brief opener on Thursday, I forced myself to save it for the weekend. That wasn’t easy, as part of me kept saying, “you aren’t trained enough; get just one more workout in.” The fact of the matter is, though, that if the last six months of 14-hour-a-week training weren’t enough to get me there, nothing I could do in the week before the race was going to make a difference other than to tire me out. So I forced myself to take the time to recover and be ready to go on Friday morning.

Stage 1: Keating Valley Road Race

On Friday morning, I felt good. I did a small warm-up with Jorge out near the finish line, then we cruised into town for an espresso before the start. Not long after, we were lined up with the other 4/5 men and ready to go; I think we have about 20 people in our field. We got the speech from the official and off we went for a very chill roll-out. Planet X has 5 guys in our field; it’s their race to lose, so everyone was content to let them sit on the front until we hit the first climb over the ridge before dropping down into the valley.

At the climb, it was time to go, and a few people attacked off the front. Now, last year, I got dropped right at this spot, because the toll of elevation and dehydration just made my heart rate skyrocket, and I popped hard. I’m very happy to say that I made it up to the top with the front of the field this year. I’d like to say “easily,” but that would be a lie. The attacks were hard, and at one point I was putting out over 800 watts just to stay attached!

But then we had the long cruise down to the valley floor, and it really is the downhills where I shine, because an 180-pound guy on an aero-bike who is comfortable descending and knows how to get low on the bike drops like a rock. I barely had to pedal and was passing people; meanwhile Jorge said he was going into the red on the descents just to stay with the group.

We made the right hand turn at the bottom and started heading toward the short-but-terrible gravel section. Having ridden the course on Tuesday, I already knew that the gravel was going to be a real shit-show. Apparently it had fresh gravel put down about a week before the race, so while it was more of a dirt road last year, this year it was deep and loose. Now, I like riding gravel on my gravel bike, but on a road bike, this was absolutely no fun. I knew I wanted to be in the front when we hit the gravel, because the good lines were few and far between, and I didn’t want to get stuck behind a mishap or just a popped rider. I think I may have moved up a little too soon, though and taken the wind a little too long, because about half way through the gravel section, I needed a match that wasn’t there.

As we hit a left hand turn at the mid-point of the gravel, the rider in front of me started to lose traction and swept right into my line. I had nowhere to go, so I had to try to slow down and prepare to bail as safely as I could. Fortunately, neither one of us went down, but it was just enough to cause me to lose contact with the lead group. I tried to catch them before we hit the pavement again, but just didn’t have the legs at that moment (or maybe it was the nerve; I’m not really sure.) When we got to the pavement and turned into the wind, I considered trying to sprint up and catch the back of the group, but the big climb out of the valley comes right on the heels of the gravel, and I knew that it would take so much to catch them at that point (where we also turned into a stiff headwind) that I would just lose them right away on the climb and be totally gassed for the day. I already knew what wattage I can hold for a 20-minute climb, so I decided to just keep it steady.

My guess is that if I hadn’t lost the lead group in the gravel, I would have made it up the climb with all but the few who managed to get away off the front. But being by myself in the wind meant that the lead group was gradually stretching out their lead. That said, I only got passed on the climb by one person (a great climber, but small enough to have a lot of trouble in the gravel) and I did pass up a few guys who blew up trying to hang with the front.

The only real issue I had is that my calves started cramping near the top of the climb. The odd thing was that they only cramped if I eased off on the power; they seized up if I dropped below about 220 watts, but it I stayed above that, they were fine. So maybe it was a good thing?

I came across the line at 6:14 down. Not too bad. Last year it was 13:01.

Stage 2: Oregon Trail Uphill Time Trial

This stage is a short-but-steep 1-mile individual time trial course. Now, my goals this year are to finish the race (I DNF’ed the last stage in 2017) and to place in the criterium. I’m easily going to lose 30 minutes on the final climb on Sunday, so I’m not racing for the GC (general classification; the lowest cumulative time for the weekend). Since I want to save my legs for the criterium tomorrow, I planned to soft-pedal this stage. Why waste energy on something that doesn’t help you towards your goals at all?

I declined the hold at the start line. I even told the guys behind me just to let me know which side they wanted to pass on. I put the bike in my 36/28 and took off from the start gate as though I was going for a leisurely ride on the bike trail with little kids. I pedaled that mile going as slow as I felt like I could comfortably do it. At one point, Dublin came jogging along side me, so I slowed down a bit more to have a chat.

Last year, there was a mix of being mad that I got dropped on the first stage and also a desire to really try at everything, because I didn’t really know what parts I would be good at (it was my first stage race). I turned myself inside out trying to get to the top of this climb as fast as I could. When I got to the top, I could barely breathe. I must have been coughing for ten minutes at the finish. I was sure that this year my time would be nowhere near what I accomplished in 2017.

It turns out I did it in just about the same amount of time. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(According to Strava, it took me 4 minutes longer last year, but that must be an issue with the segment, because my official time was pretty close to what I did this year.) I don’t have the official time yet for this year, but to be anywhere close to what I did last year and yet not even break a sweat is a good feeling.

I plan to go easy in tomorrow morning’s time trial as well. Without a TT bike, there’s no chance of a stage win, and–again–I don’t really care about the GC, so the TT is just something I have to get through in order to make it to the criterium in the evening.