Stage racing is the real deal; no wonder the road scenes crown jewels are the grand tours. We lined up is a grand mess with no regard to category for a neutral start with a police escort up the pavement until we hit the trails. This should have spread the race out a bit, but there were a lot of nerves urging many people to sprint. After a flowy descent (stuck behind a team of guys who insisted on zipping ahead of me as we approached the trail but didn’t have the descending skills to match their enthusiasm) the real climbing began on two track and the field finally spread out.
My plan for day one was to stay in the middle of the open women, to copy their pace and learn how they managed aid stations and working with other riders. However, with a mass start I didn’t even know how many women were in my category, let alone know who they were; so I relied on an even pace I knew I could sustain all day (which had me walk a few loose hills I could have ridden but my legs would have been on fire) and forcing myself to consume 100 calories every 20 minutes and electrolytes on the hour. I took my time at the aid stations to restock my supplies and devour a banana.
I felt strong and was breathing with ease as I crested the last big climb and had been informed at the last aid station I was the first female! I was STOKED, the day could be mine. And then I flatted on a relatively smooth fire road. My tire had a double puncture. A nail? Who knows. I took my time and put a tube in after sealing the inside of my tire with a Gu packet. The race is long, it is better to do things right instead of making a flustered mistake and getting another flat down the road. (But I did realize my rookie mistake of not having a back-up tube and CO2 cartridge in my drop bags – I will remedy this for tomorrow.) But as I was putting my tire back on I heard a whoosh. Oh no! I was confident I repaired my rear tire correctly. It was not my tire but my rear shock decided right there to loose it’s seal and release all of it’s fluid. No rear suspension – just a fully squished shock. Nothing I could do about this but ride gently the remaining eleven miles to the finish, which was mostly downhill. I rode smart: a bit slower and more conservative than I would have liked but I got to the finish without a hitch.
Somehow I finished in third place today! I’m thrilled to be on the podium, and think not having the pressure of the leaders jersey will be an advantage tomorrow. SRAM generously spent the afternoon “fixing” my shock (fingers crossed) and fortunately I ride for Rolf Prima so I have a back-up set of wheels to ride tomorrow. I now know I have what it takes to do well in a stage race, and success will come from being patient and sticking to my own plan. Can’t wait for stage 2.