Since I started to race the Wilderness 101, the size of the group reaching the top of the first large mountain is increasing. Three years ago, I remember the group to be only 7 or 8 strong; this year must have been 30 or so.
We had to be patient and wait for the climb right after aid station #1 to have a significant reduction in size of the lead group. This is where Drew Edsall pushed the pace. At the top, the selection was made and we stayed together until aid station #2.
I guessed that Jeff Schalk would be my fiercest competitor, especially after his display of strength at the Breckenridge 100. Sometimes I have a slight advantage in the climbs; it was a long shot but I went to the lead and start to make a fast tempo up the largest ascent of the day.
I did not manage to shake off Jeff Schalk but everybody else came unglued, unfortunately that included my two teammates Chris Beck and Brandon Draugelis. So it was down to the two of us. Once more Jeff’s superior downhill skills gave him a 40s advantage going down the rocky and rough Croyle Trail: a gap that I closed on the next major climb.
At some other occasions, Jeff would distance himself in the rough trails and each time I would bridge back thanks to an intense effort on the climbs. We were riding hard nonstop: no rest time, anytime!
At a couple of occasions, I had a 40s gap on Jeff as he was experiencing some drive train minor problems (tangled chain) but he was bridging back incredibly fast on the flat dirt roads. Eventually, we arrived at aid station #5 together but he was able to leave with a 20s head start.
Strange how I could match (or even challenge) Jeff’s speed on the climbs but was unable to do anything on the flat portions. To my demise, the roads after aid #5 are absolutely flat; an opportunity that Jeff used fully.
The last downhill, in the hike a bike section, I had a close encounter with a huge rattle snake! I heard the strange noise, look closely at the trail and finally notice the snake. His head was fixed in my direction. I thought I could force him to move by throwing a stone. That did not worked at all! Leap over? Don’t want to get my chance and die on the trail if it is quick enough to bite me while jumping…. I just went thru the bushes and left a good 12 ft all around the snake.
At the finish, I told Jeff that he would have preserved his lead even without the dirty tricks of leaving a rattle snake in the middle of the trail! We had a good laugh! Him too had to go thru the bushes to avoid the snake.
Jeff and I are now tied for first place with 3 wins and 1 second place… the battle for the N.U.E. championship just got hotter…. Next stop for me: the Fool’s Gold 100