I am a 44 year old male, 74 kg, 249 FTP. I started structured training with TR in late 2019, with an FTP of 189. Up to that point I had been a casual rider who mainly just liked climbing big hills. Slowly.
In July 2020, I mentioned to a riding buddy who was prepping for that years Lotoja that I wanted to do the race in 2021. He told me that I should just sign up for the ride, and not the race because two other guys in our group hadn’t finished before the cutoff in years past and they were stronger than me. I carried a chip on my shoulder for 14 months. I overthought everything that could be thought about. I Strava stalked other athletes and compared my power profile to theirs. Part of me thought I couldn’t do it. Part of me thought I could go top 10 in the 4/5 field. Turns out I wasn’t placed in the 4/5 field. I was in the 3/4 field. No problem I thought. I will just use what I’ve learned from the podcast and conserve my energy until the first big climb, then empty the tank to stay with the lead group over the pass and see where things shake out.
The forecast called for a possible morning shower, and strong winds, with highs in the upper 70’s.
As I got to the starting line for a 5:50 AM start, I began to wonder if I needed the medium weight jacket and gloves I was wearing. I briefly contemplated taking them off but then the race director started giving final instructions and we were off. The first couple of miles were uneventful. I found a great big butt to ride behind and was keeping my power low. Then the rain hit. This wasn’t a drizzle, or a shower. This was a downpour, with big drops that stung a bit. Now I was grateful for my jacket and gloves. It was getting colder it seemed. Then 4 riders slow rolled off the front. Nobody flinched, nobody seemed to care. A few miles down the road a race official let us know the group was 1:30 up on us. Next update it was 2:00, then 2:30….3:30…5:30. When the moto let us know the group was 6:00 up, a few riders started being vocal within the group that we needed to start working to keep them from getting too far out. At this point, we were just past Preston and about to make the turn to begin the long climb up Strawberry. My NP was 135 watts, and I had done a good job not ever wasting power unnecessarily. I was confident. My cue sheet that I taped to my stem said I needed to be in 10th position coming as the climb slowly got steeper. As I made it to about 15th position the pace changed. I was positioned well but was pushing 250 watts in the draft. This was getting difficult. Everyone else is suffering I said. The pace will relent soon. Now I was pushing 300 watts. F U I thought directed at Keogan. Elevation is real. 310 watts (123% ftp @ sea level) and I was moving backwards. The group was shedding riders out the back quickly, and before I knew it the group was riding away from me. My race for a top 10 was over. Time to recalibrate my goals. Initially I decided to just finish. I locked in at 180 watts and steadily climbed. Race groups that started behind me were now flying past at an incredible speed. The rain had stopped, and there was a bit of sunshine as I rode over the summit and started the descent to the first feed zone. I got in a group of 2 and begin taking pulls as we zoomed toward Montpelier. I was 30 minutes back, and knew I had zero shot of catching up, yet I wasted no time as my wife pulled my empty bottles and trash, and replaced them with new bottles and gels. I stripped off my jacket and took off. Going up Geneva summit I rode most of the way up with Scott. He was just hoping to finish, and had started in the group 15 minutes behind me. We seemed pretty equal in power and size, but 1k from the top he pulled away and I didn’t see him again until the last major climb when he caught up to me again. He had stopped for something and I had passed by, now we were together again. We chatted again before he once again slowly pulled away. About 5 miles short of the next feed zone, a group of three rode past and invited me to join their group. I declined. They were moving a little too fast for me. As I got into Thayne, there were two of the riders from the group on the ground, police officers checking them out and an ambulance coming down the Main Street. What a decision not latching on to this group! I took an extra minute at the feed zone to eat some potato chips but didn’t want to let myself get too stiff and headed out. The power was steadily dropping. I was paying for the effort I had put in earlier up strawberry. Now the math started in my head. 10:30 was in reach. 11:00 was a certainty. At 157 miles, I went through the last feed zone that I wasn’t stopping for as I had resupplied 19 miles earlier. My wife was at the corner yelling for me. Tears welled up in my eyes, and for the next few miles I just enjoyed the moment. The scenery was spectacular. I was feeling good all things considered. Then reality slammed me in the face at around mile 170. My nutrition and hydration was good, but while my NP was still at 170, my legs were struggling to put out 85 watts. 10:30 was out. 11:00 was possible. For almost an hour I suffered. Around mile 180 there was a detour off the highway, with a sketchy bridge at the end of the detour right before getting back on the main road. A few minutes before getting to the bridge, my legs started coming back. I was going to make 11:00 if it killed me. I dropped down the gravel road, and made the turn on to Swinging Bridge. Swinging bridge doesn’t really swing. It is a dirt/gravel bridge with 2 wide wooden planks for car tires. Just off the end of the bridge was a short but very steep pitch up to the main road. I wanted to carry some speed into it so I didn’t have to pedal as hard to get up it. 3/4 of the way across the bridge, and my tire slipped off the plank. A momentary lapse of focus, and I was on the ground. My head slammed into something, and everything flashed. I didn’t lost consciousness, but I was stunned. I laid there trying to evaluate the severity of it as another racer checked on me, and a neutral support vehicle stopped as well. I got myself and my bike off the bridge, answered some basic questions about who I was, where I was etc. I was told the decision to continue was mine. I thought about it, and decided that it was better not to risk things. I wasn’t sure how jumbled my brain was, and getting out on to a busy road seemed like a risky proposition. My voice cracked a couple of times, and a few tears fell as I called my wife and told her I was pulling out and what happened, but those quickly dried up. I felt sorry for myself for a minute and then started reflecting on how amazing this all was. 2 years prior, I thought a 2 hour group ride was a huge effort. My longest ride at that point was 51 miles, and had left me gutted despite drafting the entire way. While I didn’t finish top 10, nor did I even finish, I am incredibly satisfied with my performance in the race, and the dedication and consistency I coaxed out of myself to train for this. As an under achiever in life, it feels good to over achieve even if I came up a bit short in achieving my BHAG