The Lyle Pearson 200 is a one-day road cycling race that leads participants from Boise to Ketchum via Idaho City, Lowman and Stanley. In only its second year, the race drew a full slate of 52 teams comprised of four racers and a team manager. The race is broken into nine stages, and teams can send out as many as three riders at a time with the exception being the final stage, in which the entire team is allowed to finish together. The only restriction placed on the makeup of the teams limits the cumulative amount of expertise to no better than a category 11. That gesture means that this is intended to be a more inclusive race, despite the daunting task of going 200 miles through mountainous terrain in one day. And to my pleasant surprise and immense relief, the organizers at George's Cycles and Lyle Pearson pulled it off.
Three triathletes were under the mistaken impression that I was a competent road cyclist, so they asked me to join their team. I was under the mistaken impression that they knew I was an incompetent road cyclist, so I accepted their invitation. Once the truth became apparent, they were gracious enough to keep me on the team, and I was dumb enough to embark on a three-month training and indoctrination regimen. I bought a cycling computer and monitored my times up Bogus Basin. I suffered through interval training and 80-mile solo rides. And early on, I began to see results: acne where my helmet rubbed my forehead, carpal tunnel syndrome where my wrists rubbed my handlebars, bursitis where my feet rubbed my bike shoes, and most troubling of all—an edematous perineum where my butt rubbed my seat. But with all my training, there was still something (besides being slow) that kept me from feeling like a real racer: hairy legs.
Racers provide a variety of reasons for shaving their legs, like decreasing wind drag or easing the pain from road rash, but I never believed any of it. A couple of female racer friends of mine let me in on a little secret: Guys' legs look better shaved. Needless to say, and with a little help, the legs got shaved. I was ready.
The race began at 6 a.m. at Kessler's Cafe in Bown Crossing. Teams took off every few minutes, with the highest ranked teams starting last, as late as 8:30 a.m., guaranteeing that most teams would finish within an hour of each other. I was surprised to see a number of familiar faces, including Boise Weekly editor, Shea Andersen. Both his team and mine were ranked the same, with four category-five (non-licensed) racers, and we each started two riders at the same time. Unfortunately, Andersen developed a flat tire during the first stage, which gave us the early lead in what would turn out to be an all-day battle.
The route wound up towards Idaho City with riders battling a stiff headwind during the first climb to Hilltop. The support vehicles drove ahead to the designated transfer stations where the racers for the next stage were preparing. My first stage was from Idaho City to Moores Creek Summit. At the transfer station, Andersen pointed me out to his teammate, whom I also happened to know, as the guy to track down on the next stage. The trash talking had begun. I was so nervous during the 3,000-foot climb that I spilled water all over myself the first time I took a drink, dropped a water bottle twice and got a packet of energy goo everywhere but down my throat. But we stayed ahead of Andersen's team, and I managed to even feel the rising sun warm my exposed arms. I was met by words of encouragement from people I didn't even know at the summit, which surprised me, and felt really wonderful. I got a lump in my throat and promptly hacked up the goo I had attempted to swallow a half-hour earlier.
The race progressed on toward Lowman, which included a spectacular descent and a wolf pup sighting. The climbing stage to Grand Jean summit was grueling, and Andersen's team passed us, which was a bitter disappointment. But any lingering doubts I had about entering this race faded in the face of the Sawtooths as they emerged off to our right. And as we descended on a tailwind into Stanley, I heard loud cheering and saw supportive waving from a passing vehicle; it was Andersen's team. By this time, some of the elite teams had begun to catch up, and they were easily identified by their outfits, bikes and, of course, their speed. It actually felt a bit intrusive after riding all day without them, but I couldn't help but admire how fast they could go.
As our team turned toward Smiley Creek, the heat was on, and a headwind was up. We drove ahead and again noticed our nemeses in their now familiar red jerseys. We yelled encouragement, and made our way to the transfer station at the base of Galena Summit where I waited impatiently and Andersen circled on his bike. Emerging out of the blur of my distant vision, white jerseys appeared first. We had passed the guys in red, and I took off up Galena Summit. Two riders passed me on the way up, but Andersen wasn't one of them, and as I came over the summit, I thought we were ahead for good. To my shock, Andersen went screaming by me on the descent, and his team had the lead heading into Ketchum. In this final stage, each team was in a pace line with all their riders, and we swapped leads three times as rain began to come down. I was oblivious to a wolf that was on the side of the road, lingering around a dead deer.
After 10 hours of riding, Andersen's team beat us by less than two minutes. The scene at the end of the race was low key—hot dogs, beer, no big awards ceremony. The winning team finished in just over eight hours. One group had a 55-year-old rider—and he was the youngest. Two of their riders were 68-years-old, and the eldest cyclist was 80!
Our private battle with Andersen's team made what was an incredibly fun race through some of the most beautiful terrain in the country even better. The organizers did a masterful job of creating a race that was challenging without being intimidating to the uninitiated. I'm no bike racer, but this event made me feel like one for a day. Later that evening at the Sawtooth Grill, I had just finished chatting with all the members of Andersen's team, when one of my teammates came by and asked, "Who were those guys you were talking to?"
For more information visit http://georgescycles.com.
Editor's Note: Shea Andersen was a mere fill-in for a team expertly managed by Derek Risso and starring Christopher Hess, David Varner and Tim Maguire.