What do Oprah, JP Morgan and Tom Cruise all have in common? The answer is they all have property in or near the Gray Head development in Telluride, Colorado. Please let me tell you it is amazing. For those of you not familiar with the Gray Head development, it is across the valley and above the airport. You can see the homes as you descend the hill from Mountain Village. The view is spectacular. Mt. Wilson, El Diente, Sunshine, Lizard Head and Wilson peak are dramatically exposed. Just to the North is the Mount Sneffels wilderness area. It is also mountain biking heaven. I experienced all of this on Saturday the 17th of September during the Gray Head Gold Rush Mountain Biking Race.
Christina, my trusty manager and I woke at 5:00 A.M. to reach the race venue. We had to allow time for a proper warm up, which is critical, as any racer will tell you. After two and a half hours of driving we reached the staging area where the coffee, fruit, power bars and racers gathered. This was to be my first attempt at the Gray Head Gold Rush Mountain Bike Race. I asked one of the course marshals to describe the riding. He smiled and said the pro/expert racers – me – must ride three 7-mile laps that involve 1400 feet of climbing – oh boy. For those of you wondering, I was a little shocked after receiving this information. I looked at Christina and felt very nervous. We walked back to the truck. I knew it was Zen meditation time. I gathered myself, put my jersey on and filled my stomach with so much sugar I almost puked. My next objective was to spin my legs to warm them up.
The race director called us to attention at 8:55 A.M. to describe the rules and regulations of the race. Once he finished, the official timer set his watch and shouted “GO”. We were off. The pack of riders was tight during the initial climb. I decided that I would ride the first lap aggressively, even though I had no idea what lay ahead of me. I pulled in to third place following the steep Forest Service road climb. The single track section contained our next obstacles. The trail was steep, rocky and full of switch backs. My legs began to burn. Usually, because of the lactic acid build up, I would be very worried at this point – would I make it? I decided to forgo the concern and ride as hard as I could. My timing was impeccable. I could see the downhill section – phew.
Talk about fun! The downhill was fast and furious. Furthermore, it lasted for quite a long time – 1400 feet of climbing HA! I banked and sprinted hard to gain distance on fourth place. As I approached the end of the downhill, my sense of fun faded. In front of me was a wall; a huge climb. At this point, I felt nervous again – calm down Thompson. I lowered my head, switched in to my lower gears and took the hill with passion – I want to win.
Now, here is the interesting part. I only carried one water bottle. You might think that this was a bad idea. However, I had a plan. And, my plan was simple. At the beginning of the second lap, Christina was to hand me a water bottle filled with my special sports juice mix. The rush of electrolytes would fill me until the final lap, where she would hand me another water bottle – makes sense, right?
I finished the nasty climb and pulled on to the road where the racers lapped. I was tired, but determined. I saw Christina. I yelled her name. I yelled again. However, Christina’s head was down. I yelled her name louder. I started to pass her. I screamed her name. All I heard back was “GO PUMPKIN.” There was no water bottle in my hand. I was at a loss – what the hell just happened? I looked at my water bottle. It was very low on fluid – nervousness, again. I pressed on…
Each lap was progressively harder than the last. However, I still felt a sense of calm. I felt fluid on my bike. Many athletes have described the “zone” – dehydration might do that. As I passed the finished line, I heard the race director say that I placed 2nd in my class! I was so excited. I pulled back to the starting line and gave Christina a big kiss then asked her what went wrong during the water bottle thing. She said she was busy cutting the cheese – WHAT? She decided to volunteer with the après race snacks, which included cheese and bread. What a race!