By Stuart Rocky Mountain Wolf Kroonenberg
I assembled a experienced ultra cycling crew. Terri Gooch and Richard Kondzielaski were my on sight crew and they worked closely with George Thomas via the phone throughout the race.
I dropped my chain during the parade start then proceeded to catch three red lights before the turn to SF canyon. I thought to myself that maybe this will be a blessing in disguise. I was racing with great group of very fun yet highly competitive cyclists through FC. (Spider Monkey, Lemur, Puffin, Saluki, Sloth, Springbuck, Scorpion, Fennec Fox, and Tasmanian Devil) Anyone that wanted to pass me, I simply let them go by while staying focused on riding my ride. I was having so much fun and the miles went by quickly.
We had incredible tailwinds and crosswinds for the most of the first 200 miles. However, the right turn onto hwy 190 at the base of Townes Pass brought the headwinds and I was immediately forced into my granny gear. Using both hands I tried in vain to re-zip my skin suit as I crested the top of Townes Pass, but I simply could not get the zipper to budge. My bike was incredibly stable allowing me to obtain a maximum speed of 66.2 mph as we plunged down the pass almost exclusively in the aero bars.
The all out war with the wind began with the right turn onto Badwater just past the FC time station. It was simply snowing sand in spots. My $3 clear protective eye shield glasses from the Home Depot did an amazing job of keeping the sand out of my contact lens. I remember seeing White Buffalo walking this bike on a flat road in Death Valley. (A Pronghorn team rider told me, he had to stop his bike just to take a drink of water.) You know the Kostman logo with the cyclists towing the western carriage? I had this constant sensation of towing my support vehicle. I continued to keep a steady pace as I had done from the start, but now I was starting to devour the competition. It took 7 hours, 17 minutes to make the 73.6 mile journey to Shoshone, but I passed over ten competitors in the process. My most satisfying meal on my journey to Shonshone was definitely the tasty Chicken dinner on Salsberry Pass.
On my way to Baker, I was able to make quick snacks out of a sleeping Python then a sleeping Landshark. At the base of Ibex, I re-passed White Buffalo, while still laughing inside at the thought of him previously walking his bike on a flat road in Death Valley. I was having too much fun to feel sleepy or tired.
Climbing on Kelbaker road, my crew for the first time the whole race informed me about my race status. They told me that I was in forth place, but that the Chicken was only two miles back and Landshark was about 30 minutes back. I simply did not know how to react to the news. I want to celebrate being in forth place, but I simply could not do that as I have a huge deal of respect for the two rider coming up behind this Rookie. Then out of nowhere, I started to go into a funk, but my crew saved me with a “magic peppermint.” They were right this peppermint was magical and it cleared my mind and my pain, instantly. The crew and I then worked on increasing my pace. Later, I began to projectile vomit multiple times at the top of the Kelso climb but stayed on my bike, out of fear of the two racers that I knew were trying to hunt me down. I lost time during this time station, but I was so happy to have an empty stomach. At Kelso, Chicken had closed to within 10 minutes and Landshark had closed to within 20 minutes. The crew and I again worked on increasing my pace. Several miles from the top of Granite Pass I passed Crain, who was off his bike and in his support vehicle. His support vehicle soon went around me. My crew tried to tell me that he DNF’d, but I was paranoid that he joined the others in hunting this Wolf down and that he had simply sent his support vehicle to the top to compute the time gap. At the Top of Granite Pass, my friends from Team Falcon informed me that Chicken was hurting but that Landshark was charging. My crew implored my too stay focused. I went into TT mode. I increased my lead over Chicken to 27 minutes and Landshark to 34 minutes by TS#7 near Amboy. I did not stop to get lei’d at the TS, because I was racing hard to build my time gap.
However, climbing Sheephole I found myself sliding into a funk, my legs were simply losing power. The crew never let me get too down and they kept me on the bike. Nonetheless, half way up Sheephole, Landshark passed me then next thing I know the Chicken passes me at the top of Sheephole. That hurt dropping from 3rd to 5th in one relatively short climb. I never saw Landshark again. The Chicken remained in the horizon, my crew wanted me to chase. I was having an internal struggle as to whether I had anything left to chase or if I simply would be lucky to survive to the finish without give up anymore places.
The next thing I know I am I emptying my stomach again all over Amboy Road. But I managed to stay on the bike and ever-so-slightly pick up my pace as my crew implored me to chase down the Chicken. For some reason, I asked the crew to research the sprint line rules just in case I could find one last source of energy to get me past the Chicken with only 15 miles to go. I thought I had caught up to the Chicken at the turn onto Utah Road, but was disappointed to find out that it was the two-man Basenji team. The Basenji rider was kind enough to tell me that the Chicken was 3/4 of a mile up the road. I was unsure if I could possibly close a gap of 3/4 of a mile with only 5 3/4 miles remaining in the race. I picked up my pace just in case it was possible.
I completely hammered up the short but very steep hill entering Twentynine Palms and as I crested the top, I could see him; the Chicken was only a few blocks up. But, how was I going to get any closer without him knowing it? The flashing hazard lights on my support vehicle were sure to give away my position. But he continued to plot along and I sprung into action and quickly began to close the gap.
The Chicken was caught completing off guard until I pulled up next to him for the pass. Then the quite little town of Twentynine Palms broke into mayhem. As I passed the Chicken his crew start yelling, my crew was yelling, I was pedaling as hard as I could, the pain was overwhelming and he remained right on my tail.
We came up on the finish line hotel so fast they did not know what was happening. I saw people running from all over to watch. Two guys were still unwrapping the finish line toilet paper when I came slicing through just barely ahead of Chicken, still wearing that start line skin suit with the broken zipper .
Chicken and I enjoyed several great hugs over such a fantastic finish.
I knew Richie, Terri and George were the greatest crew, so I listened to my experienced crew and stuck to our pre-race strategy, even though it was very tempting to hammer the first 200 miles with the favorable winds. I stayed on the bike, only getting off for quick restroom breaks. Total time off the bike was 40 minutes. The lead group hammered from the start to the top of Townes pass. They simply had nothing left to battle to winds leaving Furnace Creek. Now, I sure am glad I dropped my chain during the parade start!!!