My own Teva Games challenge |

My own Teva Games challenge

Special to the Daily/Courtney JohnsonAndrew Johnson grinds uphill during a mountain bike race in the Teva Mountain Games in Vail on Saturday.

The Teva Mountain Games were in Vail this past weekend and with it a perfect opportunity for me to push myself over two days of bike racing. While the games have the Ultimate Mountain Challenge – a competition including kayaking, mountain biking, trail running and road cycling up Vail Pass – I made my own challenge.

I decided to enter the mountain bike race, taking place on Saturday afternoon, then race up Vail Pass on my road bike on Sunday morning. I briefly considered running the 10k trail run as well, but I came to my senses before I signed up.

On Wednesday, I made a short trip to Vail to ride the mountain bike course, hoping to get some advantage on my competitors. With the course not yet marked I was only able to get a vague idea of what I was facing. The route began in Golden Peak, had an immediate tricky steep section and continued to climb up relentlessly along the Liondown Trail before descending back to the start via Hank’s Hideaway and Mane Lane. After finishing my first exploratory loop I knew I was in for a tough two days in the saddle.

Saturday morning, I learned my challenge would be even harder since I would be doing two laps, not the one I expected. This changed the way I looked at my personal challenge. What first seemed like a tough two days quickly changed to surviving the weekend.

Lining up to start, I felt nervous, particularly about the start. A hard right turn followed by a harder left hand turn was sure to cause carnage. Looking at the other riders it was hard to tell who was racing and who was out for fun. At 3:52, one minute early, all 52 of us were off.

Heading into the first turn, I was in a good spot on the outside, three riders back. Unfortunately the front rider bobbled, and suddenly I was hopping off my bike. I quickly remounted only to have the same scenario play out 20 yards down the trail. Finally we were all through and I found myself somewhere between between 10th and 15th place.

The rest of ride can easily be summed up in one word: brutal. Climbing up what I usually ski down, my heart was at its limit, a fine brown dust was coating my lips and teeth, and my legs were begging me to turn downhill. Even when I was using gravity to my advantage, the ruts and bumps bounced me around, jarring my hands and shoulders. The sound of riders grunting and gasping for short breaths was replaced with the rattling noise of chains slapping, suspension being pushed to the limit and squeaking brakes.

The second lap was much like the first, except I was able to ride the tricky corners I had to walk on the first lap. Pain, dust and a singular focus on the five feet in front of me became my world.

At least I had a better knowledge of the course.

As I rolled through the finish, I had nothing left to give. The professionals had done three laps in less time than I had covered two, a fact that I still have trouble with. I was happy to be done and got off my bike as quickly as I could.

Immediately my thoughts turned toward recovering from the effort. Unfortunately I left my recovery drink in the hotel room and I couldn’t stomach any real food. I was constantly drinking water despite plenty of free beer and wine available at the media events I had to attend. It wasn’t until 9:45 p.m. that I sat down for some real food – a quesadilla and all the chips and salsa they would serve.

Sunday morning I woke up sore, stiff and still tired. It was now time to switch the fat tires for the road bike – oh, and tackle the 10-mile time trial up Vail Pass. The course started in Golden Peak, took the frontage road to the bike path and up to the termination of old Hwy 6. In an effort to hyper-caffeinate and find some extra energy, I drank four cups of coffee.

For this race, riders would start individually beginning at 9:30 a.m. I was slated for an 11:07 take off. Spinning around to warm up, my legs were protesting by pedaling in squares rather than fluid circles. Eventually the coffee kicked in, my legs started to feel better and my motivation was rising. The wind was cooperating, and I would have a tailwind going up.

Soon it was my turn to roll up the starting ramp. A volunteer held my bike upright by the rear wheel while I clipped both feet into the pedals. I got the “10 seconds to go” command, took a deep breath and was off.

The course rolled along the frontage road before turning under the highway and onto the bike path. Having no dreams of victory I started conservatively. Or maybe I was just worried about actually making it to the top.

Since the course was constantly uphill there was nowhere to take a break. I was constantly putting effort into the pedals. My lungs were searing and my legs asked me to turn around and coast back to town. Thankfully there were sporadic crowds along the path cheering us on. This helped to drown out the constant sound of my gasping and grunting in effort.

Again my world came down to the five feet in front of me. At least there wasn’t any dust in my eyes this time.

As I neared the finish line, I mustered up a last small effort only to be passed in the last 10 yards. At that point I didn’t really care and just wanted to stop pedaling. The race officials at the finish had some water, sports drinks and gels waiting for us. I downed two bottles of water and headed back down the path. Of course, what was a tailwind was now a headwind and pedaling into the wind along the frontage road was a small kick in the teeth.

After the race, I met up with my wife and some friends. We strolled through the village, stopped for a well-earned lunch and beer celebration. Looking back I was happy with my effort over both days and I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year.

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