"We don't take stairs..."
"We don't take stairs...." The Finale
Stage 7 of the Transpyr
by Scott Penzarella
The final stage, stage 7 of the Transpyr, couldn’t have come soon enough. The week has been hard, and by all accounts one of the hardest endurance events of my life. In the past 10 years, I have alternated between local road racing (comparatively easy but not…) and mountain bike endurance races. I have done the Leadville 100 (acquiring the BIG buckle by finishing under 9 hours), the BC Bike race (another, but easier 7-day stage race) with a kiwi partner, a solo high-altitude “death” march in the 6-day, Breck Epic mountain bike stage race in Breckenridge, Colorado, and several other endurance events here and there. The Transpyr, however, elicited a new degree of pain, mental and physical, to a whole new level. If you have been reading the previous 3 posts, I trust you now have a sense of how hard this race has been.
The morning of the final stage in this year’s Transpyr 7-day mountain bike stage race --traversing the Pyrenees from the Mediterranean to the Cantabrian Sea –required one further degree of suffering than I was accustomed to experiencing. As I woke Saturday morning, the simple sounds of a heavy downpour nearly cracked me. We had traversed nearly the entire Pyrenean range with relatively good weather, only experiencing some rain at the end of Stage 6, a stage that I had one over my rival, Johan, by over 6 minutes. Today was a new day, however, and in so many words, it seemed to be “Belgian” weather and Johan, who happened to be in the same hotel as me, was smiling at breakfast. Talk about intimidation factor, this was a total psychological game and he was playing his best hand.
As we all stood in the entrance way of the hotel, about 15 of us, watching the rain fall and waiting for as long as we could before it was time to arrive at the start shoot, I played a card of my own: excusing myself as I swiftly moved through the small group of riders, I said good luck and rode off into the rain towards the starting shoot with an air of confidence and excitement for today’s stage. I knew that I needed a big day, and 20 minutes back in the overall was a big gap, but with inclement weather and two notable descents gave me a bit of an advantage, especially with dual suspension Pivot Mach 429SL that had given me greater confidence than any other mountain bike than I have ever ridden. Starting at km 30, the time section ended at about 62km. It was not a huge segment. But I was undeterred and my strategy was to put pressure on Johan, attack at any sight of a descent and make him uncomfortable.
The strategy was working. At km 42, the trail headed down hill, though not precipitously. I attacked and he followed. At km 48, it went down again, and I repeated this approach. At km 55, however, the course started up again and I had gained nothing on Johan. He was tired, as he didn’t counter which up until today was his strategy. At km 58, however, I knew it was now or never. I hit the gas hard on a very technical, rocky descent and immediately pulled away. I knew this was my best chance and I, in the midst of heavy rain, thick mud and scattered rocks, flew downhill. My gap was immediately significant and when I could look back I was solo. I hit the gas harder, in hopes that his panic state would force him to error or flat. As I pulled further away and began a relatively flat section, I noticed that something was wrong: in the end, it was I who flatted. The front tire went soft and at first I figured I could ride it out but then decided it was too dangerous and might cause a crash. Broken, but not beaten, I pulled over and quickly aired the front tire in hopes that the sealant would seal the hole.
As I remounted my bike, I realized that Johan, nor any other rider, had passed me while repairing my flat. I was still in first place. I drilled it, riding hard over the risers and coming into the end of the timed section with the best time of the day. I won my third stage of the Transpyr.
Today’s win wasn’t enough, however, to take the overall. I gained over 10 minutes on Johan but fell short by 11 minutes. Yes, 11 minutes. After 7 days of racing, 500 miles, and over 60,000 vertical feet climbed, I lost by 11 minutes. The stage results looked like this:
Stage 1 – 5th overall, 1 minute ahead of Johan. We sat 3rd and 4th respectively.
Stage 2 – 1st place. 1 minute and 50 seconds ahead of Johan.
Stage 3 – 4th place. Lost 21 minutes to Johan who won the stage.
Stage 4 – 2nd place. Lost 6 minutes to Johan who won the stage.
Stage 5 – 2nd place. Lost 3 minutes to Johan who won the stage.
Stage 6 – 1st place. 6 minutes ahead of Johan.
Stage 7 – 1st place. 11 minutes ahead of Johan.
At the end of the day, Johan won 3 stages and I won 3 stages, but each battle won was only a small part of winning the war. The war was won on stage 3 where I lost nearly 50 minutes on the main climb at km 90. As discussed in my previous blog, my knees asked for mercy and I nearly abandoned the race, having gone simply too hard, too quickly on a relatively new bike with a position unfamiliar to my roadie body. I was foolish to think my body would simply respond to such a high level of stress, change and abuse. I guess I am not 25 anymore. I made a number of mistakes and I am now paying the price. We can’t simply jump on a new bike and think we can ride/race hard without consequence. It was a good reminder of how important fit is to success in cycling.
The week had gone long and simply walking up and down stairs became incredibly difficult and painful. The familiar quote by many a pro cyclist, “we don’t take stairs,” never seemed more relevant and true than now. Seven days of racing had taken its toll. While I was all smiles to have finished, my body was telling me to sell my bike, buy a small fishing shack on the Basque coastline and start using my upper body to catch fish! It was an incredible adventure and an experience I will remember for years to come. I have ridden across the Spanish Pyrenees, made new friends along the way, and finished on the “podium” for the first time in an endurance bike race. I will treasure this experience for time to come.