Stage 4 began wonderfully when I missed the start of the race.
When 8:10 rolled around, I was at my jeep trying to fit my chain onto an oddly shaped 23 tooth cog that Dicky had lent to me. I saw that it was time for the start, and hopped on my bike to sprint down the street. The chain made an angry grinding noise as it tried to slot onto the big cog. No one was there when I rolled up to the line.
I guessed that we were starting in the same direction as we had for stage 3. After a few minutes of anxious spinning, I saw the string of riders. When we turned on the dirt, I was in the back of the pack. There was a lot of traffic to try to ride through on the first climb.
Eventually I caught up to Dirty Dan Durland and Dejay. We ground up the aptly named Heinous Hill, then started an insane descent. There was a long steep rut filled with about a foot of dust. I locked up my back brake and slid down the chute.
I managed to avoid all the rocks and trees on the way down, and we started a long section of beautiful winding single track. We flowed through a series of sunny fields. Dejay rode just out of sight. I was following a Swiss duo team when we turned onto a paved road and ripped downhill.
I got into a tuck and cruised down the hill. Two of Dirty Dan’s teammates caught up, and I followed them to an intersection by a stable. It smelled like horse shit. They stopped and got off their bikes.
“We missed a turn. We’re supposed to be up on that ridge.” He pointed to the mountain we had ridden down. The Swiss guys continued hammering down the road.
We turned around and rode back up the big hill. At the top, there was an arrow. Riders were shooting into the woods. Our little excursion had taken almost 15 minutes. I knew all the single speeders had gone by in that time. I was totally discouraged.
It felt like nuts to have 20 miles of hard riding burnt by one wrong turn. I rolled along the flat trail slower than before.
After the aid station, I started a long mellow climb next to Keystone. It was a cloudless day, and I was enjoying the ride. The top of the hour long climb was followed by a twisty single track descent.
There were a few more fire road downhills and big climbs. When I crossed the finish line in 7th, I was beat. It was my worst result of the week, but I had a pleasant day riding my bike.
After sucking on both Stage 3 and 4, I made up my mind to do well on Stage 5 or die trying. I took off Dicky’s cursed 23t cog (his slowness rubbed off on me on stage 4) and geared at my usual 38x20 for the climb up Wheeler.
We lined up at the bottom of the ski resort in Breck. The start was narrow, so we went off in 30 second intervals. The single speeders were the 3rd group to go. I went for it and pounded up the hill.
I figured that if I could beat Evan Plews to the top of the pass at 12,600’, I would be able to hold him off on the downhill and maybe win the stage. I gave it everything I had on the first section of switchbacks.
After a few minutes of working my way through traffic, I was climbing alone. I ripped down a dirt road and turned into a section of rocky single track. I passed another geared rider and kept working my way up the long climb.
30 minutes in I heard a loud clanking behind me. I knew who was behind me before I turned around. I looked back. Yep. Evan. I stood and sprinted through the rock garden.
I dropped him in the rocks, but when we got back onto a smoother section dirt road, he started working his way back up.
I held the gap through the first aid station. The trees ended. We hit the bald spot on the mountain. There were big rocks covering the thin section of trail. Without air, it was impossible to ride the technical sections. Everybody dismounted and started to hike.
The day was perfectly clear. Hiking racers were scattered along the thin track up the mountain, some pushing their bikes and others carrying. I was terrified that Evan was going to out hike me and nullify all the hard work I did on the riding part of the climb. I started walking fast.
Every time I looked behind his mint leader’s jersey got a little smaller. I kept pushing up the hill.
I looked over to my left a few times and the height made me dizzy. The drop off was huge. I crested the mountain. The view would have been breathtaking if I had any breath to give. There were mountains in all directions, and Breck was tiny below. I jumped back on my bike and started the traverse.
There was a sketchy descent across the top of the mountain, then another set of steep switchbacks back to the top. I hiked up with a few other guys, then started the big downhill.
The trail turned down steeply and was covered in loose dirt and chunks of rock. Anytime I let off my brakes, I accelerated to almost 30mph. I was dizzy from the altitude, and kept shooting off the trail.
Once I hit the tree line traction was a little better. The trail was covered in huge embedded rocks. I pounded down the things for almost 20 minutes, brakes squealing the entire way. It was too steep to let off them.
At the bottom I rolled onto a paved bike path. I looked back and Evan was out of sight.
Five minutes later, I turned again and saw riders approaching. Evan blew past in a tuck. I jumped on Blake Harlan‘s wheel. He was cranking in his biggest gear, but we still weren’t going faster than Evan’s coasting speed.
Near the end of the pavement we passed him. We ripped through the aid station and started a fire road climb that led into some single track. Evan attacked. I couldn’t follow.
I rode the last few miles of rocky single track into the finish in 2nd. My finish bumped me up to 5th in the GC.
Wheeler was my favorite day so far. It was epic, but the weather was comfortable. And now there’s only one day of racing left.
Montana Miller is a single speeder from the hills of Western Pennsylvania. He thinks that riding in Colorado would be a lot more fun if the mountains were smaller and made of waffle crumbs. More of his literary drivel can be found on knobbymeats.blogspot.com.
Images by Liam Doran