“If you haven’t ventured over to NM for one of their road races, I highly recommend it.”
—Joey Iuliano, an Urban Planning student, on Facebook. Joey came from Tucson for this race–the only road race in the Southwest with a summit finish–and brought three friends. Joey was in the breakaway all day. Way to represent UofA Cycling! Please come back again Joey.
This was my third Sandia Crest Road Race. We had great conditions this year. The forest is moist from all the Spring rain and snow so we didn’t have to worry about forest closures or severe fire danger. We just had to worry about the winds pushing against us and our bicycles.
I got up early at 5am and had four eggs and red quinoa. The race course is about 57 miles and takes about three hours so you need a good base of fuel stashed away for endurance. I had four hours to digest breakfast before the race start at 9am. Maybe I ate a little too much because I was feeling lethargic all the way up to the point where the race went fast.
I didn’t have any teammates in the race so it wasn’t going to be easy executing strategy. The race ends on the 12 mile climb up the Sandia Crest so you know you absolutely must conserve energy for that. After the race start near Central and Tramway in ABQ the first series of attacks went about three miles into Tijeras Canyon. A couple riders chased and then everyone started to follow. When the regrouping occurred a few riders put in a new series of accelerations and I decided to carry my momentum forward and link up to them. As we crested the rolling hill just before the I-40 underpass at mile 4 we had a gap and decided to work with it. There were four of us in the break. It is a risk going in a small group like this because you are going to have to do more work comparatively to the larger peloton where the draft is greater and there are more riders to share the load pulling at the front. The advantages of the break include a steadier pace and a more cooperative spirit, plus the feeling of freedom you get being off the front in a small unit. It was an interesting dynamic because all the breakaway riders except me had teammates back in the peloton, so their personal chances for success were hedged by the reserves behind them. So maybe they were a little less motivated to work than me. But I’ve got to say everyone did their fair share of pulling and did a professional job of balancing the shared work with their roles on their respective teams. This made the break quite cordial, with no wasted energy.
We had about a minute or two gap at the most and carried that over Heartbreak Hill. But on the way through Cedar Grove the gap started to come quickly down and I realized we would be caught. Well, I thought, this is probably what everyone had planned, to get me out there working and tire me out some. I was OK with my choice because metering the throttle out front is a much more active way of racing than minding myself in a large peloton that is not motivated to chase down a breakaway (if I wasn’t in the breakaway there is no guarantee that anyone in the peloton would be motivated to chase it, lest they basically assist me by bringing the whole group me included back up to the race front). Still, getting caught is a tough mental struggle. The legs felt tired and I was reminded how psychological racing can be. The opposite was true earlier, when I was excited to be off the front and the legs felt stronger than they actually were. Our breakaway was caught somewhere on Frost Road. Thankfully the main pack had splintered in the chase so not everyone was there. But those that were threw down some mean accelerations. I had to react to each one relying on instinct to time it. You want to close the gaps in a quick fashion so you’re not sitting in the wind too long, but the snappiness of the moves strained my already tired leg muscles. I’ve got to hand it to the New Mexico peloton. They made this race very interesting and super challenging. I was just hanging on by the time we reached the base of the Sandia Crest climb.
When we hit the slopes of the mountain I felt steadily better with the rhythm of the tempo and the cramps that I had started feeling settled down. As we climbed higher I felt better. On the climb riders and teams impressed. The Zia and Nero teams won over our admiration for their depth, sacrifice and shear strength. Cooper Shanks from Alamosa, Colorado put in some nice pulls. Chris Brennan, an old school racer from Telluride, Colorado put in quality work. And most notably young Greg Albright from Carlsbad, New Mexico performed courageously on the entire climb. Greg is at the USA Cycling talent ID camp in Flagstaff the next few weeks so let’s wish him luck! I would vote for him as the most exciting young rider I’ve been privileged to ride with since Ryan Geiger, who is one of the best mountain bikers in the Southwest and based in Flagstaff, Arizona. I’m reminded of what an honor it is to simply participate. The whole race was one continual stream of a beautiful and very challenging bicycle ride. The determination it requires to stay focused in race mode for three hours rewards you with a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. It is this process of pursuing excellence in the sport–the great balancing act of cooperation and competition played out in the landscape of mountains, long roads, and fatiguing winds–that brings out the best in us. What we learn from it and how we apply it is the key moving forward. I simply want to keep being a part and share the joy of cycling. Thank you everyone for giving me the chance to race and focusing on safe and honorable riding. Racing is part of the good life.
A big thanks to my partners at Caruso Cycle Works for keeping me rolling with precision, confidence and simplicity, and to the family at High Desert Yoga for the last minute boost. Thank you to Earl and Robin for the peaches. Thank you James and colleagues at the Trek Superstore for all your help since I’ve moved to Albuquerque last October. And a deep bow of respect and silent thank you for the race promoter who works consistently hard year after year and to the welcoming and dedicated bicycling community that imbues New Mexico Cycling with the spirit of family. Let’s keep encouraging more cycling, New Mexico. Thank You! –Mark