I have had a crazy schedule since race day and I am just getting back to my hotel in San Francisco. Following up the Vision Quest with my “recovery ride” and then jumping on a plane this morning was not the best recovery protocol but I am still so pumped up from the race that I can't sleep anyways. Ha!
It was an exciting race this year but can honestly say after three years of racing the Vision Quest that each experience was just as challenging and rewarding.That is one thing that I love about endurance racing! Just like Luke says there is a ton of respect for everyone out there because everyone has to overcome "problems" throughout the day. . .Nobody signs up for an easy day. I was lucky enough to race in the top five for most of the day and witness some pretty polished riders but I saw just as many flats, mechanicals and crashes . . . it is all about keeping it going and everyone who finishes has shares that experience.
That “race pace” was what was unique about this year’s experience and it was intense from start to finish. When the race started at 5:30am in the black of night I saw the lead pack flying down the road. A break away started and I instinctively sprinted to catch the wheel in front of me. I did not want to start out that fast but I knew that if I didn’t get into the draft it would take twice as much work later to catch up. I felt like I was pushing too fast of a pace but I just went with it… a theme that would continue throughout the day.
Just a short time into the climb up Blackstar I heard a familiar voice rolling up next to me. It was Luke and I was so stoked to be riding with him! We were pushing a strong pace to stay with the lead pack and I didn’t notice until we were nearing the top that we were in the group that broke away from everyone else. Exciting! We were almost at Beeks place when Luke reached in his pocket and the balla’ dropped a wad of cash out on the trail and he stopped to pick it up. I kept rolling and told him I would see him in a few… and I would see him again just a bit later. A couple more turns and we reached Beeks place where they were calling out our numbers. “number six” the guy says to me... I looked around and said, “Are you sure?”
After I reached the ball I started looking up front and counting places back to me. Manny Prado and Dana Weber were already putting on a good gap on everyone and then there was another pack of three guys pulling away from everyone else. I stopped holding back after the ball but was still pushing “my pace”. As we worked our way into the rollers on the way to the first major downhill we all began swapping places and holding a brutal pace. Was I going out too fast? I was attacking the climbs like it was a cross country race but somehow I was able to recover in time to do it again…and again….and again.
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Just as I started getting into a climb up Maple Springs my shifting started to jump around….. I should have known better. My chain got stuck between my cassette and spokes two times before my hanger had enough, folded over and died on me. I was nearly 500 yards from when my derailleur hanger broke on a training ride with Luke just about a month ago. Luke passed me by and said something like “again Slater?” I was pretty bummed out and told Luke to “have a good race bro” because I was not sure if I was going to be able to keep going. I had about four guys pass me while I made the change and time felt like it was standing still but I knew that it wasn’t!! I made quick work of slapping on a new hanger and the time it took was not as bad as I thought looking back. I have had plenty of practice!
I pushed on up Maple Springs now at “my pace” and before I knew it I started reeling in people again. At one of the switchbacks I saw James, Melissa, Jeff and Josiah who had come out to cheer us on and it sparked a new fire in me. I was so stoked to see them and honored that they would head out in the dirt just to cheer us on. Awesome! I pressed on and again and passed another guy and then caught back up to Luke. He was charging it and I was possibly blowing my race at the pace I was pushing but I just went with it and just kept pushing to the peak. I was in the zone! I passed a few more people and rode with Doug Andrews for a while on the last part of the climb. He told me we were at a sub 6 hour pace and I was trying to keep the excitement down. I remember seeing Dougs name in the results and was still kind of shocked that I was in the lead pack and feeling so good.
After some tricky snow navigation through the fire road we dropped into Upper Holy Jim Trail. This marked a big milestone in the race with the majority of the climbing and miles behind us and a rest before the last push up the hike a bike. Most people would consider Holy Jim either a super fun trail . . . or scary. I absolutely loved it ;-)
Three or so turns into the trail and I rolled up on two riders ahead of me fixing flats. I took a bit more caution for my tires and worked my way down. Before long I had Nate Whitman on my tail so I let him by around a wider section of the trail and was stoked to follow. This was probably my favorite part of the race! We had now reached Lower Holy Jim Trail and were floating around the corners and whipping through tight singletrack foliage. The conditions were perfect! Nate and I got hung up on a few rocky corners and he offered me a pass but I told him "you got it bro". There were plenty of hikers heading up the trail and Nate was doing a superb job of clearing the way for us. It was just under 4 hours when we rolled into the next aid station.
Keevin was supporting me all day and I was so grateful for all my friends out there! He handed me my "BOMB" bottle, shoved a GU flask in my pocket and I was off. I didn't even have to stop peddling! Heading out from the aid station, I was in third place but I was headed for the most grueling part of the course. Somewhere on the climb I started cramping. Crap! I was not taking any E-Caps and only had one bottle of nuun up Blackstar. I was likely low on electrolytes so I started searching though my pockets for something, anything. I found another nuun wafer and thought I would just chew on it and try to keep riding. Big mistake! My tongue and entire mouth felt like it was on fire... I spit it out into my water bottle (where it should have gone in the first place) and tried to stretch out my cramping hamstrings. I had two riders pass me but there was not much I could do about it...
By the time I reached the hike-o-bike section I was beat. It is quite the kick in the nuts after racing for hours to climb, push, grit up a 25% incline. I ripped a hole in my sidewall of my front tire on the approach and had a continuing leak spitting stans juice. My cramps were manageable and I was trying to stay positive. The hike was actually a good time to be able to hold my front tire sideways and try to plug the leak...So glad I dumped some extra sealant in my tires before the race! By the time I reached the main divide it was holding air and I could see Nate again up in front of me.
The final push. Cranking up Main Divide to Trabucco I was giving it all that I had left in me. This is what it is all about...snot running down my face, fatigue deep in my lower back and the taste of the finish line. ha!! I saw Alison and Justin who had rode up to cheer us on and that was a huge lift for me. I dont even remember what I said or what they said...but I will never forget them being out there.
I made record time down Trabucco. I held back for about 20 seconds to feel out my front tire and then just let go. . . I was right back on Nate's tire about half way down and was back in that place of feeling like a weekend ride with my buddy ripping through singletrack. After all VQ is not a race right? Nate was once again clearing our way as we had racers now heading up the trial to us and I was content to follow him in to the finish. He had done an awesome job all day and I must say I had the best time following him on the downhills. I didn't want him to think I was going to draft him and try to make a pass at the finish line so I was going to tell him I would follow him in....but then I didn't have to. Just as I reached to pull out my ear plug from my ipod I caught a rock, twisted my bars up and went over them. Ha ha... See you need 100% concentration on these trails!
I picked it up and headed down the fire road to the finish and by bike was on its last leg. When I went over the bars my rear tire landed on a rock that snapped one spoke and bent two others. My bike was making a whack, whack, whack from every revolution of my rear wheel where the spoke was slapping the frame. My bottom bracket busted and was clunking with every pedal stroke. My front tire was swooshing like a marshmallow and I was just trying to land this thing across the finish line! That fire road felt so long... I made it across in 5:54 and was so stoked to finish in 5th place!
Monique made all the cut offs and finished the biggest race of her life (yet) and I am so proud of her! watching her and Marius (who rode his cyclocross bike!) at the finish was just as rewarding as crushing myself ;-P
Luke had an amazing race also and dropped 2 hours off his time from last year! I know he has some big races this year and he is going to be charging it! James crushed it at the Counting Coup taking a 4th place overall finish and that was following a 4th place finish at the US CUP last week and some major training during the week! I am looking forward to some future training rides with these guys.
Next year? The only thing I know for sure is that I will not be riding the Alma next year....or even next week. It is going to be stripped of all but one gear so I dont have to worry about that derailleur hanger anymore and now I am on the hunt for a reliable ride. Until then I have some time to rest up and take it all in...It was a long fun day!