Yes, it is as fast as you’ve been led to believe. It starts fast. The hardest, and fastest 5, 10, and 20min marks were all in the first 5, 10, and 20mins. Also, the race is long. 80k (or, 50 miles), so that fast start primes the field for explosions later on in the event. Mix in darkness, thousands of enthusiastic fans, my entire family as spectators, and a large iced coffee at 8:30pm, and you have a race that is a total sensory overload.
After a great start, I tucked in 20-30 wheels back most of the night. Leading into the event, Austin pro rider Andrew Dahlhiem, advised me on how to approach this race. “Be ready for anything in the first 20 minutes,” he said. So, I was, and it was a smart use of speed to stay near the front. It kept me safe and out of trouble in a race known for riders getting sideways. Speaking of—tip of the day—practice crossing wheels on grass. This is a skill that saved me twice in the first 40k of the race, full on rim to rim riding with my front wheel pushed hard against the rider in front of me going in the other direction. Regardless of who is at fault, if you know the skill, the crash can be avoided. Back to the race, which was going fast enough, 28-29mph, that nothing was getting a serious gap in the first hour of racing.
My race more or less began at the half way point. After seeing a few groups get clear, Mountain Khaki’s Ben Zawicki got a good gap, and the field sat up in turn one and turn two. I took a hard line on the inside of the group leading into the back side hill, then made the bridge to Zawicki about a half lap later. I didn’t think a two rider move would work, but I did think a group would eventually come across. So, I kept the pace high as we split the work and soaked up some primes.
Being off the front at Twilight is an out-of-body experience. With the rowdy crowd cheering (and jeering) us on while we stayed off the front, I never thought about my pace. I just went hard, and did not feel any of the normal sensations an athlete feels riding at their max. Everything felt in control, and I could actually go faster as the move drug on. Eventually Garmin U23 rider Adam Leibovitz (also a 21st birthday boy at the race), made it across just as we shut down the break. I stayed near the front for another 3-4 laps before a good counter attack got up the road. This sent me back 20 riders, and stuck in a pile up. I was fine, bike was fine, but my rear wheel needed to be re-centered in the dropouts.
Heading back to the pit, I was furious. Why was I riding in such a stupid spot? Why am I missing this counter attack? I got back in the field towards the back, calmly picking my way through the field and into 20-25th wheel with 6 laps to go. Time to fly! I spent most of my night on the right side of the course, the inside for every corner. For the last few laps, I could move up more on the outside through turns 3-4, so I went on the left. Coming in hot, passing riders grabbing brake into the last turn with three laps to go, I made an error. I had a clean line and for some reason I let self doubt control my nerve response to the left hand. I grabbed front brake, then rear. Stupid.
I didn’t grab much brake, but enough to straighten up the bike so that it was going straight whenI needed it to turn right. I kept going further and further off of my line, eventually slowing to a near stop and tapped a hay bail, having to restart just as the back of the field came past. I sprinted, like a standing start sprint, for the back wheel, and made it on as riders jettisoned off the back. It was time for me to sit up as I wasn’t going to make a difference in the finish of this race. Save it for the next six starts.
Overall, the race was exciting and something I’ll always remember. Having my family there to share the evening with me made it all the more special.