The Cholla Challenge was sponsored by Red Rock Bicycles in St George. The course was a ton of fun for an early season race- no brutal grades, no really sustained climbing, a bit of slick rock here and there, some gravel washes, a few sand traps, plenty of cactus and red rock to please the eye and ease the mind.
The temps were ideal (70s and breezy), given that it was 80 plus during my preride the evening before and immediately after the race the winds picked up to an excoriating 25MPH.
Since I had an unfortunate endo during my preride, I looked and felt a little battered during the line-up. But, just as Mike the Hammer Driver said it would, all the pain ceased about 1 mile into my first lap. I was surprised- as I often am- at how hard the women were pinning the first couple of miles, but I hung with the lead pack until it all blew apart toward the top of the initial climb. Then, as per usual, I lost sight of the leaders ahead of me and the rest of the pack behind me and I fell into my own ride.
I got my second bottle handed up by Kristy as I finished lap one and felt ready to go pick someone off...but, alas, all the pain that had evaporated in the first mile of lap one caught me right between the shoulder blades and lap 2 consisted of a lot more soft pedalling than it should have. I dug deep, rode smart, safe and consistent and actually managed to pick off two of the now defunct lead group- at least one of whom had clearly gotten tangled up in one of the many loose sketchy stretches and crashed (this was not a hard course, but it was not forgiving of lapses in concentration).
I nearly blew up on the crappy climb to the finish line and was spinning the Granny Gear as I passed Kristy again- she gave me the what for I needed to crank it up and turn the pedals for a strong, powerful and dignified finish. Third place- on the podium- for my first race of the year!
Got to cheer Mike on to a great mid pack finish in his second ever Pro Race and headed back to the ranch for a Super 8 poolside recovery picnic. In bed by 8:00, I slept in listening to the wind blow the white plastic pool furniture into the water. Coffee in bed while I scanned the radar loops, stalling until it seemed the moisture bands had moved east toward Colorado.
The wind was still whipping 20-25 icey MPH when I loaded the car and as I pulled into the staging area for my planned recovery ride. Last night's snow clung to the redrock peaks. I pulled on the leg warmers, the long sleeve jersey, the windbreaker and considered bagging it all together in light of the 5 hour drive ahead. But, this I know to be true, it is always better to ride than to not ride even if it is for half an hour. Turns out, my recovery loop on the JEM trail could not have been more perfect - a crushing tail wind for the 7 mile rambling climb, during which I saw not a soul, followed by a 7 mile swoopy, mellow desert descent back to the cliffs along the creek with a crushing headwind to keep me spinning the pedals. It is hard to motivate and leave Fruita to ride - unless, of course, we are headed up to Routt County to ride- but my wheels are turning and we will be hatching a plan to get back down here and get after more of this Utah singletrack goodness be it to race or to just recover...