Warm temperatures, clear skies and seven miles of new trail greeted the 850 riders participating at the 2017 version of 12 Hours of Mesa Verde hosted at Phil’s World in Cortez, Colorado.
Weather conditions for this year’s race were a far-cry better than those experienced in 2015 and 2016. The 2015 race was cancelled by 10 a.m. after an early morning snow storm made the course an unrideable quagmire. The 2016 race was punctuated by cold temperatures and intermittent rain showers.
Gusty afternoon winds proved a mixed blessing. The dust laden swirls that tore at camper’s sunshades and tents provided some cooling for riders while on course.
Organizers introduced a new 18-mile course, approximately 2-miles longer than previous years. The new kinder and gentler course was welcomed by soloists like HDB’s Matt Hoyt. Matt, competing in his first 12-hour solo event, completed a total of five laps.
I raced the Geezers 3/4 race – average age 50 years older or more – with teammates Rose Haack of Sports Systems/505 Racing and privateer Chris Ziomek.
Course pre-ride times indicated our team, Rose and the Old New Mexicans, should complete eight laps. This meant two riders would race three laps and the third only two. Chris, our Number One rider, was guaranteed three laps. Because Rose and I are closely matched in ability we needed a method to determine who between us would ride the remaining third lap. Being competitive types we decided to settle the dispute on the trail. The rider with the fastest second lap would win a third lap.
As expected, Rose and I rode competitive first laps with me nudging her for fastest lap by 1 minute 30 seconds. Rose is known for her uncanny consistency; literally riding lap times within seconds of each other. I can’t claim consistency as a strong point. And, my second lap is usually my worst. If she rode a consistent second lap I was likely out the third lap.
At the start of my second lap my legs were noodles. I expected them to recover by mile four. By mile nine, still nothing but noodles. At mile 10 I downed a gel pack. Within five minutes my legs began making power in response to the little 1.1-ounce caffeine and sugar shot. I crossed the finish line at 1:39, three-minutes slower than lap one, and handed the baton to Rose. Because I had waited too long to refuel I could only hope Rose didn’t have one of her patented laps.
Back at camp I began recovery operations as if I were going to ride a third lap and talked last-lap strategy with Chris. He had taken a hard hit on his rear wheel during his second lap, breaking a spoke. Since he didn’t have a backup wheel he planned to ride a sedate 1 hour 30 minute lap to insure he didn’t further damage the wheel or himself if it did fail. At that pace the lap would also be fast enough to preserve our fifth place podium. Assuming Rose completed her second lap as expected, returning about 4:25 p.m., Chris would also be able to just beat the six o’clock cutoff for last lap.
At 4:28 p.m. Rose completed her second lap and handed the baton to Chris. Blustery afternoon winds had pushed Rose four minutes behind my second lap time. I had won the third and final lap. However, Chris’ margin to make last-lap cutoff had been shortened from five to two-minutes. Any miscalculation or mechanical and I would lose the lap.
I returned to the exchange area at 5:45 p.m. found a seat, downed my last gel pack and began my worriesome wait for Chris. I reckoned with a clear course he might abandon caution and rip off a fast lap. Better to arrive early and insure I didn’t miss the hand off.
At 5:55 p.m. the announcer began his countdown to last-lap cutoff. 5:55, 5:56, 5:57 no Chris. At 5:58 p.m., as punctual as a Japanese bullet train, Chris entered the exchange area. I received the baton, stuffed it in my jersey pocket and was off.
I’ve been lucky enough to ride the final lap at a few 12 and 24 hour races; 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Pemberton Dawn to Dusk and 12 Hours of Mesa Verde. Thinking about it, I don’t understand the almost euphoric state I enter when I ride the final lap. Maybe it’s having a clear trail ahead or knowing I’ll be one of the last competitors to cross the finish line. Maybe I’m just happy to be done. Or maybe I overthink the question and the answer provided by my inner five-year old is most appropriate. Cause it’s just the best.
By 7:36 p.m. I was back at the exchange tent. Chris and Rose met me with smiles and fist bumps; we had preserved our fifth place spot. Even better, Matt greeted me with 12 ounces of Ska True Blonde; perfect choice. Another race completed it was time to celebrate. A good time was had by all.