Stage 1 of the American Mountain Classic was a 53 mile point-to-point race. It was entirely above 9,000 ft, and much of it was above 10,000 ft. It started with a short descent down a dirt road that was so dusty I couldn’t see the ground five feet in front of me. The road turned uphill for a while, which cleared some of the dust, but didn’t make the riding any easier. Then it turned downhill again.
It was a long downhill. And fast. The picture above is of me keeping the pace with Tinker Juarez, (he's on my right in the green and black) which, admittedly, didn’t last long. Twice on that descent I whacked rocks hidden in the dust with my back wheel. One of those rocks jettisoned one of my water bottles. It was twenty miles before the first feed zone. I was a bottle behind for the rest of the stage—always just a little thirsty.
Next we stared climbing to the rim on some single track. I stared to feel my back rim clunk against smaller and smaller rocks. Then it was making a thud with every downed tree branch I crossed. I was getting a flat, but thought I could ride it until I got to the feed zone. Then I came to a switchback.
The tire nearly rolled off the rim. I stopped to air it up; thinking my sealant inside would plug the leak easily. Instead my Big-Air valve broke the barrel screw off of the stem on my wheel. I would have to replace it with a tube.
I installed my tube and started to air it up, but in the process broke the barrel screw off of that valve stem too. I searched through the weeds where it landed but never found it. I needed yet another tube.
About that time Aaron, my teammate, came by. He gave me his Big-Air canister and his spare tube—he was going to have to ride on faith to the next feed zone. I installed his tube and tried to air it up, but the valve stem was too short to protrude out of my deep dish Reynolds wheels. I didn’t know who to curse; the wheels or me for leaving my valve extender back at the room. I wasted the entire Big-Air trying to get air into the tube. And failed.
I stood there looking helpless for a while. Its funny how many racers will ride by and ask if I had everything I needed, but would keep on riding when I said “No, I could us a pump and another tube.” Finally, and this was at least twenty minutes after I initially stopped, one guy actually stopped and gave me his spare tube and a pump.
I promised him I would catch him and return the pump and he was on his way. I was on my way too, after a couple minutes spent installing a third tube and pumping with his tiny pump. I spent the next 40 miles chasing down my group. Oh, and I whacked my helmet on another low-hanging tree, but Reed Wycoff wasn't behind me to tease me this time.
I caught and passed a few of the elite men, but I was over an hour behind the winner. My time was 4:48, but for the record, the guys I was riding with when I flatted finished in about 4:15. Could my flat have cost me half an hour?