Mt Evans race report by: Chris Carr:
I went in to Mt Evans with the goal of a top 5 or 6 – realistic expectations I thought. Lining up at the start that morning I didn’t really know what to expect; the field was relatively stacked, and I had those “unsure” sensations coming from the legs. The kind where you can’t tell if you’re going to have a great day or barely finish. My one teammate in the race, Rory Kelly and I discussed it briefly while we spun around warming up and decided we both felt the same and would just see how it played out on the road and roll with it. He’s a better pure climber than me, so in the back of my mind, I’d do what I could for him and see where I’d end up.
We started off slow, really slow. A guy went solo from the gun, didn’t see who it was because I was 20-30 guys back in the pack. No one really thought anything of it because usually once the climbing really starts about 6 miles in, things get fast. There was also a predominantly southwest wind (headwind) that morning, so being tucked safely away in the pack ensured a calm and easy ride. We hit the real climbing and we went hard for a few minutes at a time, but then it slowed dramatically and everyone caught back on. This continued all the way to Echo Lake, roughly the halfway point of the race. Every other year I have done this race, the field has been reduced to less than half by this point, but this year I don’t think we dropped a single person, yet…
People started attacking out of the fee station gate, and it was enough to whittle the group down to maybe ten guys. We came around the corner out of treeline into a long, 5-6% grade with a cross wind from right to left. A few of the strong guys, my teammate Rory Kelly included went to the front and “guttered” us along the yellow line, which was perfect strategy. I knew I could hang on at that pace in the cross wind (we were all essentially doing equal work because there was no draft) and I could see that others were starting to show signs of fatigue. There were a couple of people, won’t name names, that found it acceptable to completely disregard the rules and safety of other riders that day by riding well across the yellow line, in the middle to the oncoming lane to try and gain an advantage. But, sadly for them, when we turned out of the wind, Rory attacked pretty hard (hard enough that I thought I would be dropped) and those cheaters would not see the front of the race again. Good riddance.
The next several miles are fairly flat, even downhill at times so the name of the game was staying out of the wind and conserving. There were a few attacks through here but nothing too serious, but then again, every effort at this altitude takes a toll, so legs were still being softened up even if you didn’t realize it. We hit the long, sustained climb out of Summit Lake and the place slowly ramped. I found myself at the front here thinking that I would try and set tempo for Rory and I would hang on as long as I could. Matt Cooke and Julian Kyer (both domestic pros known for their climbing prowess) took turns attacking, and I held on for dear life. Each time I would say to myself, “one more of those and I’m done!”
The last 5 miles or so are mostly steady grade with a couple steep pitches, but the long straight switchbacks to the summit seem to go on forever. It was there that we could see the lead car a couple minutes up the road and realized, “oh yea, there’s still a guy up the road..” That guy was Ben Blaugrund, teammate of Leroy Popowski, who has dominated the Colorado hillclimb scene the last several years. That also explained why Leroy had been unusually quiet the whole race. Normally he goes early and hard, and few people if any could stay on his wheel to the end. At this point it was the two pros, Rory, myself and Leroy, with Ben still up the road. Julian attacked, and I countered at a switchback into a tail wind. I knew attacking into the tail wind was the way to get away, or at least do some damage because there is no draft in the tail wind, so if people wanted to catch or stay with me, they had to go at least as hard as me. To my shock, I looked back and had dropped everyone. Leroy was the last one, but dangling a few bike lengths back. I hesitated for a minute because I knew we still had over 2 miles to go, and half of that would be into a head wind. I decided I needed help, and would wait for Leroy.
He caught back on and I sat in his draft when we turned into the wind, then once we turned into the tailwind again, I slowly ramped up the pace and when I looked back, I saw something I had never seen before – I was dropping Leroy in a hillclimb. I actually panicked for a second thinking that I was going way too hard, was going to blow up or something. How could I possibly be beating Leroy, Rory, Cooke and Kyer in a hillclimb? I caught and passed Ben shortly after and realized that I had a shot, a really good shot. My legs were beat, I was going all out at 14,000 feet. Each switchback I thought would be the last one, it seemed to go for an eternity. I crossed the line, arms in the air, legs barely able to pedal my body out of the way of the finish line. I was in disbelief. I didn’t realize that I had really won until I got a high five from Rory who powered home strong for third, just behind Leroy. I went from thinking I’d be happy with seventh place, to a solo victory.
Looking back at my training for the last month, I shouldn’t be surprised. Coack EK and I have done A LOT of work specific to this, and similar hillclimbs. Tons of long, climbing threshold intervals and over-unders getting ready for the big hillclimb at Mt Washinton later in August, but it clearly it paid off here.