Punisher Race Report:
Saturday was my last big race of 2017. At 116 miles and around 10,000 feet of climbing The Punisher lived up to its name. The course was pretty straightforward: climb up over the mountains between Huntsville and Woodruff, come back over the same mountains, and then simply ride up to Powder Mountain Ski Resort. Those who participated in this event now know this, but the final climb up Powder Mountain is one of the most difficult climbs in the US with an average grade of 10.5% over 6 miles and long stretches of road where the gradient doesn't drop below 16%. No one actually likes this climb, not even the climbers. Like those death pepper hot sauces given as white elephant gifts but not actually intended for human consumption, it's more like a course novelty than a climb.
Anyways, to this point my year had been... "okay" but a little frustrating given the lack of upgrade points towards my goal of upgrading to a Cat 1 before I "retire" to the Masters 35+ field in a few years. Despite the strong field I was optimistic given my familiarity with the course (essentially in my back yard) and my ability to suffer up climbs like Powder Mtn. I dared to hope for a top 3 finish and knew I would be terribly disappointed if I fell outside the top 5.
My teammates Gavin and Rob attacked from the gun as planned and tried to establish a breakaway. Only Gavin was able to get away, and even though he ended up paying a steep price, he ultimately created the break that took the 2 strongest riders in the field off the front much too early to succeed in a near-perfect scenario for me.
Rob pulled the field along for the next 45 minutes or so to keep the gap to the leaders where it needed to be and hold everything together. Eventually the grade got steep enough that we lost Rob, but the rest of the field worked really well together for the next 50 miles to gradually reel in the break.
There were some minor splits in the field on the return climb up over Monte Cristo, but everything came together at the top. Even though no one was up the road at that point, the field continued working together in an efficient pace-line, presumably to get the race over as fast as possible since it was only going to get hotter as the day went on.
Once we got back into Huntsville the cooperation died out as riders started to prepare for the climb and gauge what was left in their legs for the final assault. Another teammate of mine, Darrin, pulled the field for the next several miles to keep things moving and steady instead of leg-sapping surges and that kept everyone together until we were delivered to the base of a special kind of Hell.
Once we hit the climb it was every man for himself and a practice in pacing and controlled suffering. The lone out-of-state rider (Chad Hall) started riding at a brutal pace and took the top 4-5 guys with him leaving me something like 6th place on the road. I knew that I had no chance of holding that pace for the 30+ minutes it would take to get up the climb; so I let everyone go and hoped that they would blow up trying to keep up with Chad's pace. Side note: Chad had just competed in the National Championships Hill Climb up Pike's Peak, riding to a 2nd place finish AHEAD of last year's champion and just behind a recently retired World Tour Pro... so yeah, I'm not going to beat that guy.
Luckily, my pacing paid off and I was able to catch and then pass every rider in front of me except Chad. I ended up almost 3 minutes behind him, but just under 2 minutes ahead of the next rider who is a stronger rider than me but was suffering thanks to his several hours in the 2-man break with Chad.
Given the strength of the field that showed up and how my year had been going prior to this point, I'm thrilled with a 2nd place finish!
My nutrition strategy was the same as it always is. Eat eggs and toast for breakfast, drink 1 bottle of my custom Infinit mix per hour, and finally transition to Jet Fuel (high caffeine & sugar) Infinit for the last bottle and a half. I never had any stomach issues or any kind of a bonk, and I never have when using Infinit. I've also started using BeetRootPro prior to racing and I feel like that gives some additional blood to the legs as well. FYI, I was able to stomach down a few servings of generic BeetRoot powder, but after trying out BeetRootPro I don't think I can go back to the other stuff; it's just nasty. I hate beets with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, but BeetRootPro is almost enjoyable... almost.
Another little piece of equipment I've been trying out this year is VeoStrip. A dorky-looking plastic strip that channels the sweat away from your eyes. Normally in a hot steep climb like PowMow I would be blinded by my sweat and have abandoned my sun glasses and soaked through my jersey and gloves trying to wipe the sweat out of my eyes, but on Saturday it was hardly an afterthought and the VeoStrip performed wonderfully.
Given the final climb, I chose to run my Enve 3.4 Tubulars; nothing beats the feel of lightweight tubulars when you're going up. For gearing I ran an 11-32 cassette and a 52/34 combination up front, and even though Shimano doesn't list it as a possible combination it worked flawlessly with my DA-9000 Di2 derailleurs.
I have to say thank you to my awesome wife and 4 boys who were there to cheer me on. Can you believe my wife let's me ride upwards of 10+ hours a week, almost 6,000 miles since January, while she's left with 4 very busy and very fun boys to watch while I'm gone??? I can't wait to start training more and racing with my boys in just a few years!
Also, my sweet parents drove up from Salt Lake City to help with bottle hand-ups and moral support. They were exactly where they needed to be and kept me fed and hydrated throughout the race when I'm sure I otherwise would have had stomach issues from gels or bars or bonked due to lack of calories. I included a long-ish video my Mom took that shows how sweet she is; I may not have won, but my Mom sure thinks I'm great