Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Like A Weight Off My Neck

Part One

The Inner Challenge

The week leading up to the Ultimate Challenge doesn't lend itself to the best training regiment. I've often said before a big race, "It's not what you do the day before, or the week before, a competition that brings positive results, it's what you did a year, five years, ago that really matters."
And this yearly race tests that statement. The Ultimate Challenge comes at the end of the week of the Tour of Utah. Training suffers with my attention split between my event and the experience of the week long pro race. Having to spend days in hotels, and at friends and family's houses, nutrition deteriorates as well. I have to have confidence that my previous training is strong enough to overcome a minor dip right before the race. Those are known problems that can be worked around. 
Other episodes can't. 
It hit on Friday. Nine days before the event. 
And it came with fury. 
Clinical Depression doesn't have a schedule and can care less about yours. 
The difference between being depressed (feeling sad) and suffering from Clinical Depression is like racing on a BMC Time Machine and switching to a Huffy. If you've never had the pain or pleasure of riding either then understand it's like night and day. 
The depression affects all aspects of my being; from personality, to mental capacity, to physical capabilities. I had been training for this race for a year, and looking forward to the pro race for as long. They're interconnected. And as if a switch had been flicked in my brain, almost immediately I didn't want to go, I didn't care if we went, I couldn't justify going. 
Due to the traumatic brain injuries that have caused the depression, I have trouble having conversations so I retreat from people. I understand what is being said, I know how I'm supposed to reply but the words become trapped between thought and sound. And so my M.O. is to hide, or ride away from the frustration. 
At the Tour of Utah I would have to face hundreds of people who don't understand Aphasia. 
And the depression brought another debilitating factor: I couldn't hold down any liquid and very little solid food. Over the course of eight days I dwindled from 68kg (149lbs) to 63.5kg (139lbs). I knew I couldn't put my body under the stress of the toughest one day amateur race in America if I couldn't drink or eat during it. 
There are many times when I'm riding up a steep mountain that I repeat over and over- just one more pedal and you can quit...Ok, just one more pedal and you can quit 
And so it is with depression,  just one more battle and you can go hide in your bike room... 
Bambi is a master at encouraging when I have no desire. And so she coaxed me into the car, north to Cedar City, a little farther to Panguitch, held my hand up to Lehi, Ogden, Layton, Salt Lake City... until we were unloading my bike at Rice Eccles Stadium. 
An hour before launch I didn't know if I was going to race. 
When the crowd started building, I was certain I wouldn't. 

Part Two

Uphill All The Way

One last set of instructions to Bambi: 
See you in 6 hours and 45 minutes 
I'll text you at the bottom of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Understood between us is that "6 hours 45 minutes" is how long I've projected the race to take me. I've ridden most of this route before and analyzed all the data I could attain and have predicted it will take me 7 hours. I've subtracted 15 minutes for her so she'll be looking for me early. We've decided that I'll text a heads-up text from the bottom of the last climb that will give her ample warning, but it's understood anything that resembles a text like I'm trying to say I'm at the bottom of Little Cottonwood Canyon will suffice. I'll be tired and riding so I'm hoping to get out something that resembles "LCC".
I push off toward the starting line looking for a place to hide from the 400 other cyclists arriving in waves. 
I've set my bike up the night before. Race wheels covered with matching race tires. The tires are front and rear wheel specific, designed to work together to produce the optimum speed, maneuverability and power. Inside are matching inner tubes built specifically to work with the tires and wheels. 
Tucked in the bottle cages on the frame is 40 ounces of fluid: 20 ounces of water in the front bottle, 20 ounces of a mixture of Diet Pepsi, sodium, potassium, and magnesium in the rear bottle. I'll only stop once to refill the water. 60 ounces of fluid for 7 hours of strenuous exercise in the Utah high altitude summer sun. 
I'm smart enough to know the difference between thirst and dehydration. I'm wise enough to see through the myth of "8 cups of water a day" that the bottled watered business has pushed on the American public.
Absent on my bike will be a saddle bag, placed under the back of the seat to carry extra gear in. I wouldn't be caught dead in public wearing a fanny-pack, I wouldn't ask my loyal steed to wear one either. I'll carry everything I need in the three pockets on the back of my jersey. My phone, covered in two baggies (in anticipation of the crazies waiting on Tanner's Flat), 2 extra tubes, 3 air cartridges, a pump head, and one tire lever. Although I'll burn 8,000+ calories today I'll only carry 900 calories in the form of simple glucose. The body can only digest a maximum of 100 calories an hour under this level of duress. I'll pack a little extra than needed to appease Bambi, knowing I'm carrying 200 extra calories as dead weight in trade for a smile of relief from her. 
My shoes are white and red, my sock are black, they match the color scheme of my bike. My helmet is silver and orange; my sunglasses are white and gray to match the colors of my jersey and shorts. It's planned out for aesthetic purposes. Everything below the seat matches and flows, everything above the seat must match and flow. The two levels can clash between each other but everything above and below must match. Etiquette demands you look good and proper in order to not ruin other people's photos. 
Around my neck is the familiar chain that holds two dog tags. The older of the two is a reminder from when I crashed out of this race 4 years ago. I've worn it, without fail, every time I've sat on my bike. It haunts me to never quit, never give an inch, never look back. It's been with me for 80,000kms (50,000 miles) since. 
The other tag is a medal from crossing the finish line first, three years ago. 
It haunts me just the same.
As the clock ticks towards the start time, the confusion and excitement building around me begins to overload my systems. I contemplate riding home to Vegas. It's only 450 miles, give or take. And mostly downhill. 
My defense mechanism drapes a curtain around my senses. I can see everything, hear everything, feel everything but I become numb to those surroundings. It begins to close in on me.
I feel tight.
It physically hurts.
The ringing in my ears gets louder.
I need to get on my bike, ride away from everything. 
I look down at my bike computer and plead for it to read 6:00am

Part Three 

The Ghost Called "George"

The race starts off with a left hand turn out of the stadium parking lot and begins with an immediate 19 kilometer (12 mile) climb through Emmigration Canyon up to the summit called Little Mountain. In the dark of the west side of the Wasatch Mountains before sunrise we'll miss the view of some local iconic restaurants, the Hogle Zoo, and the "This Is The Place" monument but the solitude of  pre-dawn will bring my mind some enjoyable peace. 
I've made this climb before, a year ago. Back then it was in a race that included one of the greatest cyclists of our time. And in the dark of this new day my mind's eye removes the commotion of the real cyclists around me and replaces them with the memory of that race last year when I held my own against a legend. For the next 30 minutes I'm no longer racing in The Ultimate Challenge, I'm chasing a ghost called George Hincapie and trying to hang on to the shadow of his wheel. 
A struggle brews inside me between trying to duplicate a day that a pro was trying to drop me and I found out exactly what 100% effort feels like, and knowing this is the easiest of the four major climbs of this day- cook myself on this mountain and I don't see the next three summits.
At the end of that race last year I asked George for an autograph to which he added "Eric, you covered my a**"
I think he would have wrote the same thing this morning.
Over these first 19 kilometers we've gained about 396 meters (1,300 feet) in ascension. Not the most difficult climb, but the shock of having to do it at the beginning of a 172 kilometer race, coupled with the high pace, and the peloton that was 400+ strong 34 minutes ago has dwindled to around 30.
As we crest the summit of Little Mountain there's a quick reprieve from the pain of pushing the pedals against gravity but no real time to rest. The group breaks the compactness it held up the mountain and fans out some for safety as the speed  increases from 18 mph to over 35mph. At my weight I have to use all my technique and form to keep up. 
As someone once commented about me "You can't expect to go down like a bowling ball, when you go up like a feather."
But as the sun begins to reveal the high mountain scenery around us my eyes are focused on what's quickly approaching.
This year's course traverses road I've never been on. It's called Big Mountain. The local cycling community calls it "Kill Hill".
I concur.
It looks brutal at first sight.
At second glance it looks just as brutal.
I look down and focus on my bike computer to distract my fear.
Slipping to the back of the group I begin sizing up the other cyclists. It starts to intimidate me just as much as the climb growing ahead. These guys are mountain goats! They all look slimmer than me from the neck down to the knee and bigger than me from the top of the calf to the ankle. These Utah boys are bred for climbing.
I don't belong here. I'm already tired. I can't do this for 100 more miles.
I have to remind myself: We're all tired. None of us belong here. There are actually a little less than 100 miles left.
I'll use their knowledge and strength to my advantage. I ease my way into the middle of the group and ride nonchalantly, as if this is where I'm supposed to be.
One hour and 16 minutes of climbing , 29 kms (18 miles) into the ride and we've summited the second of four categorized climbs. As I crest "Kill Hill" I reach into my pocket and pull out some food. 100 calories every hour, a sip of fluid every 12 minutes. 
I've been in my easiest gear for most of the ride, my legs feel tiny but my confidence is growing. 

Part Four

A Perfect Day For A Bike Ride

Big Mountain is an unusual mountain for cyclist in one main aspect. Especially in the western United States. Most mountains have a long grueling side contrasted with a shorter steeper side. It's basic geology. Big Mountain is strikingly equivalent. The recognized climb on both sides is listed at 5.3 miles with an average 5% grade. The 5.3 mile climb took just over 34 minutes, the 5.3 mile descent off the back side will take 10 minutes.
The reason we struggle to get to the top of the mountain is so we can fly down it.
As we reach the bottom of the descent and begin to fall into a regular speed, regular cadence, regular rhythm I take some time to assess how I'm doing and draw a more accurate prediction of a finishing time. The weather can only be described as ideal. It's not even 70 degrees yet, and clouds to the east are keeping the sun's rays at bay. My pace to this point is faster  than I'd predicted. It's a little past 7:30am. My average speed is higher than I had guessed but because of the cooler temperatures I've consumed far less fluid than planned. I begin to recalculate my supplies and start wondering if I can save a couple minutes by not stopping to replenish my water.
The weather couldn't be better for being on a bike. Unfortunately, that will come back to haunt me down the road, as we start passing cyclists not in the race, but just out enjoying the nice weekend weather.
My bike computer is constantly scrolling through 40 different points of information concerning my the bike and my health. Over the next 50 tedious miles I'll engulf myself in the flow of data and continually readjust my speed, energy output and food intake accordingly. My focus is on the ever-changing numbers although my senses are mindful of the other bikes, cars and other obstacles around me. I become immune to the unnecessary scenery winding past me and barely notice that we pass to the left of Echo Reservoir, the right of East Canyon Reservoir, the right of Rockport Reservoir and through, no less than, four photogenic small Utah ranch towns. Except I do notice that one small town that smells like a Zombie cow ate a dead cow and belched immediately afterwards.
I'm a "numbers guy". I relish in all the numbers that are flowing through my mind. I can't always rely on my brain to give me an honest opinion on how I am doing but give me my heart rate and cadence and I know exactly how it's going.
Over the full race my heart rate will average 151 beats per minute and top out at over 200bpm's. I'll rotate my pedals 34,472 times. I'll reach a top speed of 62mph and pass a car hindered by the maximum regulatory speed of the road and at one point slow to a crawl of 4.2mph and seriously wonder if it would be faster to  get off my bike and push.
Through this stretch of the race my "total distance" passes 53 miles and I reach back into my jersey pocket to retrieve my phone. Bambi and I have agreed that I wouldn't text until I got to the bottom of the final climb but I figured I could text her here and let her know I was at the midpoint. Riding without hands, I pull the phone out of the two baggies and push the button to power it up.
Horror and fear follow.
The phone battery is dead. Not only can't I text Bambi now but she won't be receiving the agreed upon text.
We have a saying to cover this possibility and now I pray she'll trust it. "No news is good news."
If she doesn't get a call from a random hospital, it must mean that I'm still right side up!
I've been on the bike 3 hours and 35 minutes and that was all just to get to this point. It's all about to get real.
At 62 miles we make a hard right-hand turn on to Brown's Canyon Road.
There's a debate about where the climb up to Guardsman Pass begins: right before Park City, right after park City, on Marsac Ave?
I believe it starts here, at Brown's Canyon Rd.
The pain will last over 2 hours, the struggle will end 20 miles later.

Your legs are never the same after Guardsman Pass.

Part Five

Deja Vu

I'm not a big fan of the road between Brown's Canyon and the top of Guardsman Pass. While it's a beautiful area full of rivers, picturesque ski resort towns and mountain scenery it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 
It's nothing but bad memories.
Last year it was over this 21 mile stretch that I suffered a complete bike meltdown that included 8 punctures and finally forced me to abandon the race. I wasn't looking forward to riding through it again, even though this section of race seems designed for me. It begins with a long gradual climb to Park City where it pitches up through the town and ends with one of the most challenging climbs in Utah. But my focus was on my bike, not the course.
Every strange sound that originated from underneath me alerted my heightened senses.
And then just after the 12km climb through the canyon a new sound emerged that gained the attention of all my senses which were frantically trying to decipher the noise and feel coming from beneath me. A metal on metal sound is never good with any working machine. 
Click, click, click, click, click...
I fell away from the rest of the cyclists and began a visual survey of my bike: pedals, chain-ring, chain, cassette, brakes, everything metal. Nothing immediately noticed as I continued to roll along. 
The clicking persisted.
I stood up on my pedals and coasted. The sound continued, which was a good sign. That meant it most likely wasn't coming from the drive train. I reached down and pulled the levers on the brakes that opened them wider. Nothing there. 
And then sheer disbelief!
As I slowed down to make the hard right turn out of the canyon and onto the road that would take us to Park City, I slowed down.
No, no, no, no, no.
The clicking slowed with my speed. 
The noise was coming from the tire.
I came to a stop as fast as I could, and before I had completely stropped I was dismounting the bike to remove the weight and pressure.
Not here! Not now! Not again!
Sticking out of the rubber from my tire was half a safety pin. The other half was hidden inside.
I started in horror. 
Anywhere but here!
I pushed on the tire. It was still holding air. In fact, it seemed like it hadn't lost any.
But I couldn't continue riding with a safety pin embedded my rear tire.It would have to come out, and I was losing precious time. I pulled on the pin as if I was holding a hand grenade.
The sound that followed was shocking.
It should have sounded exactly like air rushing out of a pin hole powered by 119 pounds per square inch.
Instead it sounded exactly like nothing.
My race wheel set-up had stood up to the test.
Not knowing how long it would last, I jumped back on my bike and started chasing lost time.
As buildings and signs began announcing the arrival of Park City I made a calculated decision: I was going to have to stop for water. Racing this course and this distance on just 40 ounces of fluid was a silly pipe-dream2 hours ago. The sun was out now, the temperatures rising and the course was getting tougher.
Guardsman Pass was looming.
And then I could sense a car crowding into me. It wakes you up in a hurry. But almost immediately it was apparent the driver was trying to match my speed.
"Need water?" The passenger yelled out of the window.
"Yeah!" I said in relief.
A hand extended out of the window holding a bottle of Heaven.
So much for stopping. I smiled as the anonymous car sped forward.

Part Six

What Goes Up

Guardsman's Pass.
8.2 miles and 3000 feet of elevation change
Hors Categorie (Beyond category)
I wouldn't drive my car up this thing.
1 hour, 10 minutes of your legs constantly screaming to stop with every rotation.
Deer Valley Road turns into Marsac Avenue turns into a goat path somehow passed off as Guardsman Road.
613 commandments can be found in the Bible. I'm pretty sure I've broken 572 of them on this climb, including 9 of the Big Ten.
I'd describe the scenery on this mountain but all I've seen is my shoes, pedals, handlebars and asphalt. 
Oh, and the jaws of Hell.
Over the next hour+ I'll live at 186 heartbeats per minute or higher. Each and every pedal stroke is a battle to get to the next rotation. A battle with your lungs screaming for more oxygen. A battle with your body for more carbs. A battle with your mind, with empty promises of great rewards if you just quit. The sight of other cyclists stopped, off their bikes, looking defeated adds to your minds argument that just two minutes of rest will help. The smell of burning brake pads is a constant reminder of the gradient. 
The death suffered on each of the 5,040 pedal strokes is reborn as Gravity lets lose her grip as the summit rolls under your transformed legs. 
You haven't won the race, but you've defeated your doubts.
The reward is a 13.1 mile, 3,500 foot drop at speeds reaching 58 mph back into the Salt Lake Valley. 
Unfortunately the perfect day for a ride would throw a wrench into the fun 1 mile into the descent.
This is not a closed race course.
As I came around the first sharp turn of the slope I came upon a couple cyclists, not involved in the race, just out enjoying the great weather. Equally unfortunate was that they'd stop to take some photos of the view.
No time to stop.
Instinct and experience took over as I intentionally  laid my bike down in a controlled slide for my safety and theirs. 
Road rash and a damaged saddle seemed to be the stock of the initial inventory. My iPhone had broken my fall, and looked broken in the fall.
I was alive and the bike seemed intact.
I stood up to mount it.
Pain shot down my leg. I couldn't put any pressure on it.
No worries, I wouldn't need them for the next 12 miles. I'd coast to the bottom of Big Cottonwood Canyon and go from there. 
After all, "Time heals all wounds..."

Part Seven

Catching The C-train

Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon are separated by about 4 miles. It's quite possibly the most demoralizing stretch of the entire race. As you slow down at the bottom of the descent off Big Cottonwood your mind invariably starts thinking about the climb up Little Cottonwood, but you've still got to get there, and these next four miles makes it tough. There are 7 and 8% pitches and the entire stretch probably averages 3%, no easy ride, especially after 99.5 miles.
I had noticed that as long as I was on the bike, my injured hip wasn't bothering me. It only hurt when I was standing on it. The rest of my body sure hurt. I was spent, no way around it. I was about 15 minutes ahead of my projected pace and that included lost time checking my tire and hitting the tarmac. I was excited but concerned that I'd pushed too hard.
But every once and a while, life tosses you a preserver.
As I slowed at the light at the bottom of the canyon and started making the right hand turn onto Wasatch Blvd the Cannondale Cycling Team was heading up out of the valley and making a right hand turn onto the boulevard. I timed the turn perfectly and swooped in behind the big green bus headed for the finish line. Safely tucked behind it, I veered to the left just enough to make eye contact with the driver through his rear-view mirror. It was all he needed to see. A quick gesture of his hand and I dropped back behind his bumper.
Drafting behind a bike or two can save 12% of your energy, that's magnified greatly behind a Greyhound-size bus. For the next two miles I had as free of a ride as you can get, saving what I would guess was 30% or more energy by sitting 18 inches of the back of a bus driving through the Salt lake Valley. Not for the faint of heart.
As the line of cars stacked up behind us, the driver finally had to get back up to the speed limit and began pulling away. Not only was it one of the funnest things I'd ever done in my long history of this race but it also got my mind off the inevitable.
I was now about one mile from Little Cottonwood Canyon.
I knew there was a neutral aid station at the foot of the climb and I knew I better get some more water.
The neutral aid stations in this race are above any I've ever seen. The people manning these stations are enthusiastic and helpful beyond expectations. I only needed fluid and I knew I wouldn't have to stop. The volunteers would be standing alongside the road handing it off. I grabbed a water as I went by.
It was here.
I'd made it.
The only reason I'd traveled to Utah.
To stare down this climb.
In races I place a piece of Blue Painter's Tape to my top tube. It's a "cheat sheet" for the course. Usually it contains distances to climbs, aid stations, and other important information that I can access with a quick glance down.
Today it simply read:
Make it to Little Cottonwood  Canyon The Put The Beast To Sleep!

Part Eight

The Beast Called "LCC"

Little Cottonwood Canyon, or "LCC" is located on the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. It's mainly used as a route to get to Snowbird Ski Resort. With an average gradient of 6% it is, by no means, the toughest climb of the Wasatch Mountains. I can easily name five other climbs in the area that I would list as harder. It does contain stretches at the top of 16% and 14% but those type of grades are nothing for a road in Utah to brag about. 
But after more than 160 kilometers on a bike, at race pace, you have very little left in your legs or mind to tackle something like this. 
I have this road commited to memory. Each pitch and bend visiting my dreams on a regular basis. I know after the aid station at the mouth of the canyon I have 6.4 miles to the finish line. About a half mile away from the aid station I look down at my computer as it reports the "Distance Traveled".
104 miles.
I look up to get my bearings.
I look back down.
104 miles.
I reevaluate my location.
I try to do the math.
It continues to add up to 110.1 miles total.
I was promised 107.5!
I'd made a fatal calculation flaw before the race. The pros will race 107.5 miles but that is after a 2.6 mile neutral "roll-out". The amateur begins at the stadium and will not contain a "roll-out". Throughout the day I'd taken my "Distance Traveled" and subtracted it from 107.5. Now I'd have to add 2.6 miles to my total at a place I didn't know if I could give that much more.
My legs started to protest.
The Beast called "LCC" had just won a serious mind game.
I wanted to cry.
It's going to take just under an hour to do these last 6 miles. a mile up LCC I'm out of gears, my jersey is unzipped trying to cool my body, I'm deciding how to ration my water. And immediately a battle begins to rage inside me just to survive the next pedal rotation. Each pedal stroke is a new battle between body and mind. There will be times over this next hour that I'll slow to 4 miles an hour which will justify the nagging suggestion from the legs to just get off the bike and rest, just stop for 2 minutes. 
The mind knows from experience that the odds of getting back on, after succumbing on  difficult terrain like this after almost 6 hours is close to zero. There's nothing positive 2 minutes off the bike can give you.
You trick yourself to keep going with empty promises as much as your body tries to bribe you to quit with the same.
Just get to the next bend.
Then, just get to the next sign.
Then, just get to that rock in the road.
And then when it seems like I can't find anything close enough to coax my body too, it happens.
The higher up you travel, the more people appear camped along the road. They're there to watch the pros and are staking the best viewing spots, but now, here, they're my fans.
The cheers belong to me.
The applause is mine.
The cowbells ringing.
The cowbells pull you up The Beast.
And when you reach them, there's more up the road.
Just make it to the next cowbell!
There's no need to stop on this climb, on this day. No need to ration fluid. If the fans aren't holding cowbells they're holding fluid; water, Gatorade, whatever you desire. 
Someone hands me a Diet Pepsi. Liquid Manna.
And then the sign beckons me. The sign I've been looking for all day long. In the belly of The Beast is Tanner's Flat. For an amateur cyclist in America there is no other experience like Tanner's Flat in The Ultimate Challenge. 
It's The Tour of Utah's version of "Dutch Corner" (Google Dutch Corner Alpe d'Huez)
The craziest fans of the week have been camped here over night in anticipation of seeing the pros suffer here. But they treat the amateurs the same. For the next 4 minutes I'll feel like the pros on the Alps during the Tour de France. It's the half mile that makes the other 109 worth it.
I've prepped for this. Everything that needs protected is covered. It begins as soon as you make the left hand swoop onto the stretch of road, and there's nothing flat about Tanner's Flat. The cowbells are deafening. The people crowd the road and make it so only two bikes can ride next to each other. You're squeezed through a maze of insanity. People are dumping ice water on me. Offering me fluid of all kinds. I have to tell a few, "no thanks I don't drink", as alcohol is thrust into my limited view. Superman offers to push me. I decline, I'm going to finish this under my own power. A gorilla offers me a banana. I've always assumed that if a gorilla offers you a banana you take it so as to not offend said gorilla. I guy in a Ghillie suit offers me cash to quit. A giant fly encourages me to fly. That seems logical. 
Two years ago I was so tired, and shaking so bad, I could hardly stay on my bike at this point. This year I'm ready for this. I've planned it out. I've trained for it. 
Halfway up Tanner's Flat I get out of the saddle and begin powering my way through the climb. The fans cheer appreciatively. 
Ten seconds later I realize it's the dumbest thing I've ever done on a bike. But now I'm stuck standing. To sit down will bring more jeers and mocking than standing brought cheers. 
At the top of Tanner's Flat my legs are shot. Stupid move. My heart rate is over 200bpm. My breathing is labored. I'm dizzy. I don't need the myriad of warnings beeping from my computer to tell me anything. It's bad and I know it. In cycling lingo "I've cooked myself."

With a mile left in the race I have to accept that I might not make it.

Part Nine

Like A Weight Off MyNeck

I'll set a Personal Record on the climb up "LCC" and crush my best time through Tanner's Flat. Over the last six and a half hours I've pretty much rewrote my personal record book over the areas I've rode in the past. I'd projected a 107.5 mile time of 7 hours. I'll beat that by over a half hour and finish the 110 mile race 22 minutes faster than 7 hours. I'll average over 16mph over the course. I'll spend less than 5 minutes off the bike.
But none of those accomplishments mean anything right now.
The only thing that matters are the signs on each side of the road that I'm passing.
                                          1 KM to FINISH
1000 meters left.
I remind myself that I really only have 500 meters to go. The final 500 meters drops downhill into the Snowbird parking lot. If I give all I have for these next 500 meters my dead body will roll the rest of the way down to the finish line.
But first things first.
There's a proper way to cross a finish line. I pour the the last of my water on my head and toss the two bottles to some kids watching. Everything comes out of my jersey side pockets. The middle pocket holding only a tube, lever and canister of Co2. Sunglasses come off the eyes and are placed upside down in the air vents of the helmet. I sit up and zip the jersey to the top. Check to make sure my socks are at even height. 
I drop down into the final chute and zero in on the Kill Zone; the last 200 meters of a race. Although I'm by myself and the race has been decided already, I'll sprint through it to cut time.
At 300 meters I spot Bambi. She is in charge of the finish line, directing racers to the post-race tent, food and other needs. But her back is turned, she's not expecting me for at least 20 more minutes. She might miss my finish.
200 meters left.
And then it happens!
I hear a pop around my neck.
Then the sound of metal hitting the asphalt below and bouncing behind me. Something has fallen off.
I look down, searching for what's come loose just in time to see the second of my two dog tags falling to the ground. I reach for it but miss. Inexplicably my necklace has snapped!
For a brief time I panic and weigh their importance verse the finish line. 
They've been around my neck for the last 80,000km of my life. One for a near fatal crash in this race; one for a victory in this race.
They've driven every pedal toward a quest for the, unattainable, perfect race.
A haunting reminder of the constant nightmares that winning, and losing this race brings.
I'll neither win or lose today. 
That thought brings a peace to my soul.
I look back up. Bambi has turned around and is screaming. Her smile as wide as the finish line.

Let them go...

Thank You For Riding Along With Me