This past weekend was a hotly anticipated but sadly abbreviated Hammerfest Stage Race in Fort Davis, TX. Holland Racing deserves credit for both revitalizing the sagging Hill Climb, TT, RR format with new stages, and making the tough call to cancel the final stage when wildfires encroached upon large swaths of the route. With David seeking glory on the national stage, college exams, and family duties, Super Squadra made the most of the opportunity to bring out the young guns in Alec, Kevin, and Michael with only myself (Phil) for senior leadership. A timely pre-sunset arrival on Friday and posh digs at the Trueheart House, allowed us a brief but productive spin over to visit the lovelies working the Holland Racing reg desk (shouts; Chrissy & Holly). We made it to dinner at the Bistro in town in the nick of time as the reservation-only restaurant was closing. Our wide-eyed nature probably garnered us some sympathy with the bar keep and we feasted on mediterranean pasta at world’s smallest bar table.
The uphill time trial, stage 1, kicked off at 10:30 from Prude Ranch. We were all a bit nervous about the difficulties of the hill climb but were armed with Durata Training’s pacing strategies to have a little gas left after the rolling run-in to the base of the mountain. Despite the attempts to race within ourselves, we all looked and felt pretty awful after the time trial. When we finally saw the results of the time trial, it confirmed we were going to have to temper our GC ambitions and make our own opportunities to steal minutes (!) or a stage win.
With a combined field of category 1,2,3,4 riders, the majority of those readying for the second stage were filled with something not too dissimilar from dread. The second stage would start again at Prude Ranch, head out back up and over the principle climb from the morning but instead of turning up to the observatory would continue across and down into a valley until the turnaround was reached for a total of 47 miles. This meant, by altitude, the pain of the return trip would equal that of the outbound trip.
When I attacked the rollout and found myself with two other companions, I knew we wouldn’t truly be safe until we made our final descent in the last 5 miles; we would need to ride flat out until then. Unfortunately after our initial ascent, I found myself alone and no longer in the company of a teammate of the 2nd placed GC rider. The only thing to do was put my head down and keep riding hard. The route is beautiful and though it’s dangerous to spend too much time enjoying scenery, I found it difficult not to. After hitting the turnaround, I would have a good idea whether I was going to pull off a solo victory. When the field came into sight, it was clear the gap was pretty big. I think the spectacle of a rider as large as myself with such a lead on that terrain must have caught some off guard as I received some bemused encouragement from the fellow competitors. Over the next 23 miles, I rode as hard as I could but never felt like I was going to get caught. On the finish hill, my inner quadricep finally cramped up a bit and my planned enthusiastic finish was pretty muted. I waited for the rest of the team to finish and they seemed tickled by the result, as it was in such contrast to our underwhelming time trial results.
We were invited to dine with Chris Trickey on food that his father, Tim, had prepared. The meal was delicious and the company was great. We didn’t know the last stage was canceled yet so spirits were very high. We headed to sleep with a lot of questions about whether the flames were being stoked in the distance by the typically high W. TX winds, whether they would spread as quickly as last years flames, and whether we would be lining up or packing up the next morning. When we woke to news of the stage cancelation, we had the fact that skies looked grey with clouds but not smoke and that at least for now, Ft. Davis was going to be a-ok—and hopefully for years to come.