Among the first to cross the finish line in this climber's-friendly race was Telluride's own Pete Dahle, whose second place finish turned out to be the best result of his so-far unpredictable season. It was also a highlight of his professional road bike racing career.
"There's nothing like doing really bad to make you appreciate doing really good," Dahle said of the race, in which he posted his first top three result of the 2006 racing season. Dahle's last racing result, a seventh place finish at the Sandia Crest Road Race earlier this month, followed on the heels of a string of disappointing finishes during the spring and early summer.
"I was getting killed all spring, but I've continued to work really hard at it and have tried not to get psyched out," he said. "I think it's finally coming together for me."
The TP to TA Hill Climb proved to be Dahle's forte. A member of the Paragon Racing Team, Dahle proved himself a race contender early on in the event, separating himself from the rest of the pack along with two other riders. His plan of attack, which entailed simply staying ahead of the racing masses, proved effective.
"It became apparent throughout the race that there were three of us that were climbing better than the rest of the field," he said. About 65 miles into the race, and within miles of the finish line, one of his riding mates attacked but Dahle managed to stay "on his wheel," (in bike race lingo that translates to tucked in tight just behind the forward rider).
A concerted effort by that rider, eventual third-place finisher Dan Doombos, helped pave the way for Dahle to make his own attack late in the race, during which he blew past the guy in front and carved out a place for himself in front of the sprawling pack. The third rider in the forward group, whom Dahle thought he had dropped during his own fierce attack, played his cards just right. While Dahle was doing all the work pulling the weight in front of the field, Team Sol's Damian Calvert was catching his breath. Within spitting distance of the finish, Calvert made his move, passing Dahle "at about 100 miles an hour" and putting a 100-yard gap between the two contenders.
"I was just so excited to be out in front, it didn't matter if I finished first or third," Dahle said.
The victory tasted especially sweet, considering many of the riders in Saturday's 20-man field had "raced circles" around Dahle earlier in the season, specifically at the Tour of the Gila stage race in May.
"What it has come down to for me is just persevering," he said. There were moments during last Saturday's race when he felt like quitting, he said, and moments when he felt like he didn't care about his result because the physical toll was so much that he "just wanted it to be all over with."
"I've begun to realize that in racing at this level, there is not much difference in the group between those riders that are winning and those that are losing," he said. "It's all really close, but you just have to stick with it."
Tonight, Dahle will have another chance to test his legs as he joins other road racing fanatics, as well as recreational riders, in the first annual Lizard Head Hill Climb, part of the Telluride Bike Week event calendar and open to any rider.
"I'm interested to see how it comes out between Daniel and I," Dahle said of fellow Paragon Racing Team rider Daniel Murray, who has so far posted an illustrious racing season and will undoubtedly give Dahle a good race this evening.
On a related note, Murray smoked the semi-pro competition in last weekend's Wildflower Rush Cross Country Mountain Bike Race, the grand finale of Crested Butte's Fat Tire Festival. Look for a story on Murray's win in Friday's Telluride Watch.
A number of local sponsors have gotten behind the Paragon jersey this season, including Alpine Lodging and Cindy Bread, for which Dahle offered his appreciation. The next big race is the Mt. Evans Hill Climb at the end of July, in which Telluride consistently delivers strong contenders.