#TSEpic Stage 4: The Search for Dan Chabanov's Wheel
The "road stage" at Transylvania can be one of the hardest days of the week. It starts on a climb, there is a definite holeshot into the first enduro section, and if you F it up, there are no watts on this earth that will get you back to the lead group. My goal, obviously, was to be ahead of the inevitable separation, and hang on to Timmermans seatpost for as long as I could.
But like I said before, if I was any good at this shit, none of you would read it.
The start was actually not terrible. Thanks to some good advice from Coach Al, I warmed up pretty thoroughly beforehand. I would like to point out that few things feel as wrong as warming up for a 47 mile mountain bike race.
I managed to stay in the first few wheels until the hard right into the first enduro. I got boxed out of the obvious line, and now filled with panic and incoherent rage, I dismounted and went for the non-obvious line.
Which was non-obvious for a reason.
I went into the first enduro last. With like 28psi in my tires (ROAD STAGE!).
I valiantly worked to maintain my status of "worst enduro guy ever" by bouncing sideways off every single rock, stump, fallen log, and occasional fallen rider in my path. There were a few guys pulled off with flats, one dude with what looked like his chain in his hand, and (I think) a pair of legs sticking out from a cluster of bushes. Luckily, my crappy riding was only hurting my self-esteem. Unsurprisingly, I was caught by Matt "the opposite of worst enduro guy" Timmerman near the bottom.
I pulled onto the road with no one in sight, dumping frustration into my creaking bottom bracket in a desperate attempt to limit the damage. It was no use.
They were gone.
It took a few minutes of furious, open-mouthed hammering to come to my senses. I looked around. Timmerman was towing a group back down the road, with a few other lost souls and a not-at-all lost Vicki Barclay.
Sighing, I sat up and waited.
We had a reasonable cast of characters: Andy Gould, Matt, a guy in an Oakley kit, and Vicki. We rotated through well enough (though Oakley kit seemed content to let us hang on to his pockets for the most part), and at length I spotted a dangler up the road.
I had to make a decision: Stay in the warm embrace of Oakley Guys wheel-teat, or strike out onto the cold, unfeeling gradients of Pennsylvanias forest roads.
I did not "attack." I did not have any sort of resources I could devote to "attacking." I simply rode very slightly harder, distancing Vicki and Matt, but towing Andy.
Turns out the dangler was on Aaron Oakes, another New England regular and reliable producer of watts.
This group was good.
We came up to the second enduro, but our little transmitter-things did not beep. We stopped, looked around, went back to the transponder, waggled our bikes at it, shrugged, went to keep going, didn't see any arrows, doddered around for a few seconds until Oakley Guy SCREAMED past us at Mach 5.
Game on, then.
The descending off the first climb was bananas. Super fast, wide open, and with a bewildering assortment of ways to flat one or both of your tires, it called for a level of attention that I was very close to being too browned-out to devote.
We regrouped at the bottom, smoothly resumed our pursuit, picked a few riders up, dropped a few riders off, and readied ourselves for The Climb.
The Climb starts at mile 16 and gains about a thousand vertical feet in about 3 miles.
I was tired. I was still pissed about missing the front group. I was running out of tactical options that could get me un-dropped. All in all, I was feeling pretty rough.
And then it started to rain.
I managed to leave the group behind on the climb, hitching on to one of Colts Colorado Kids and prying open a gap that served only to burn out the kid, leave me dangling, and allow Aaron to ride back up to my wheel.
On the way down, we were joined by Mr. Cody Kaiser, who was serious about his enduros.
So we let him through when he wanted to hit the next section free of any high-poster shenanigans.
It turned out to be The Longest Enduro In All The Land.
After a fair bit of descending, the trail kicked up sharply, and we ground our way-overgeared machines zamboni-like up the rocky slope. At the top, Kaiser looked to be pushing the same amount of chain as we were. Another descent, and we entered Bizarro Enduro World: where descending is climbing and loose, wet rocks jump out of the long grass to rob you of any momentum you manage to chop out of the strangely upward-striving hill.
We could almost hear an enraged Cody Kaiser cursing from 20 seconds back.
Long after we forgot that we were enduro-ing, we reached the end of the segment.
We let out a brief, deflated cheer and resumed throwing soggy watts at the ground.
We lost Oakley guy again on the next climb, and I saw the distant blue outline of Dan Chabanov against the grey road and the grey sky. That was the back of the front group. We made it.
Now all we needed to do was close the gap.
Unfortunately, Dan's scrub sensor was set to maximum, and he continued to climb like squirrel being chased by a dog. We weren't making progress, and my legs were - by this point - very, very angry at me.
Unbeknownst to my mutinying thighs, I was about to give them something to really gripe about.
The roads we raced on today were not paved, but covered in a marble sized crushed rock overlayer with hard dirt underneath (or just pointy goddamn rocks). When the road is more or less level, this is barely a factor.
At 20+ miles an hour into a hard corner, they behave exactly the way a dumptruck full of ball bearings left on the off ramp of a highway would.
I went down - hard - on my right side (the inside of the turn), and because my momentum was to the outside I bounced back up over my bike and skidded (ground) to a halt on my left.
I also had all of my things strewn all over the corner. I found my glasses and Selenes GPS, made sure nothing was broken, and jumped back on.
Just in time to get passed by Oakley Guy, again.
This dude was the fucking crocodile from Peter Pan.
I limped back up to Aaron and Oakley, and immediately took a turn at the front to spin out my legs (and assess any damage). My hip was super sore - I crashed on exactly the same spot yesterday - and there was something grinding in my knee.
Chabanov was out of sight.
I was seriously beginning to question the series of life-decisions that led up to this moment.
At length, the fuzzy outline of a rider appeared in the distance. Thinking it was Dan (I really, really just wanted to hang out with Dan), I gave'r what little I could, gapped off my group, and pulled up to Chris Jackson. Not Dan, but also quite strong. Sadly, he looked to be paying for his early enthusiasm. That's one of the weird things about this kind of stage - when you catch someone, it's because they have been blasted off the lead group. Usually in spectacular fashion.
When you catch one of these partners-in-droppitude, you need to be able to asses in seconds if the guy is only mostly dead, or very actually dead.
I held my pace.
And saw Dan.
Slowly, painfully, I closed the gap down to about 10 seconds right before the last aid station.
Where my bag was apparently nowhere to be found.
At a complete stop, I waited for my bottle. Dan was gone, and in the few moments I stood there I lost all sense of direction. I needed to be told which way to exit the feed zone - proceeded to almost crash myself out uphill - but kept it upright, swearing oaths to dark and terrible gods regarding my relationship with the tall grass and low rocks of Bald Eagle Forest.
I acquired Dan on a stretch of blasted-out doubletrack about 10 miles from the finish, and found in him an ideal pace-partner. The next few miles, though by no means easy, were made significantly easier with someone whos tempo matches your own. Of course, there is always the small mental victory of catching the back of the front from the back of the back.
We kept it together, only separating briefly when he was leading down a rocky decline and sending hand-sized chunks of granite whizzing past my face.
A few other stragglers came and went, most notably a freakishly talented high school kid that Colt brought down to shame guys with 10 years of age, training, and experience on him.
At the finish, I found out that Oakley Guy is named Jon Burgess, and is a really nice guy.
I also found out that the grinding I felt in my knee was a chunk of gravel that embedded itself under a flap of skin when I went down earlier.
We had covered a little over 46 miles in about 3 hours.