|The Colorado Classic was certainly one to remember, one that has impacted me far more than any race before. I was lucky enough to have the time and opportunity to get to Colorado nine days before the start of the race, and boy what a difference it made. Not only had I trained harder than ever before to be in peak form, but I had the advantage of being almost completely acclimated to the altitude, and my performance across the four stages proved time and time again how invaluable the acclimation period was.
Stage 1 – Vail Circuit Race.
What an exhilarating race this turned out to be. There was a steep 8% DIRT climb, a fun descent, cobbles through Vail Village, and part of the course even went through a reasonably dark tunnel – that feature was a first for me. I felt incredible going up the dirt. I had been practicing dirt climbing on training rides and this prepared me well because I had no hesitation tackling that section. It was pretty hard packed the entire way up too, which also made for more manageable conditions. I was amazed by how easy it was for me to fly by other racers. I’m tempted to say effortless in order to convey how smooth I looked on the climb, but nothing is effortless in a race when you have to go full gas. Now if only I had good positioning going into the hill… I pretty much started at the back of the pack each time we approached the dirt and had to weave my way through the group and burn more matches than necessary in order to catch up to the riders who were gapping the field. On the third lap (the second time we “raced” up the climb since the first time was neutral), the gap was especially prominent, as it was the first QOM lap of the day. Had I been close to the front at the bottom of the climb, maybe just maybe I could have contended for the QOM points. I only say this because I’m currently tied for the QOM on the Strava segment, which has to count for something. That being said, on the third lap I really had to fight to catch onto the wheels of the six or seven riders who were chasing down two other racers slightly up the road, but I knew this moment was do or die. I either muscled my way to make contact with the break right before the descent, which meant time to recover and just draft off of them on the downhill, or I would get swallowed up by the main peloton because I knew I couldn’t carry enough speed on the descent to hold them off. Holy cow. Somehow I managed to get on the sixth rider’s wheel right as we crested the climb and I let out a sigh of relief, an inaudible sigh of course as I had no breath to spare. But you know what this meant? I MADE IT IN THE BREAK. We spent a decent amount of time off the front, and I later read on the app’s race updates that it was thought to be the one that would stick. Long story short it didn’t, but being caught almost didn’t matter because I had made it into the break with the best of the best and couldn’t be happier. We went one more time up the climb on the fourth lap all together. Things were looking great, I felt great. Until with less than 3K to go I found myself on the ground with one other rider. A little shocked, I was immediately devastated thinking my race was over. But because I was so close to the finish, as long as I crossed the line I would get the same finishing time as the front group I was with at the time of the crash. With my bike’s shifters completely obliterated, I hopped on a much too big of a bike with electronic shifting, very foreign to me, and I made it. I finished the first stage of the Colorado Classic. Sure with some scrapes, bumps, and bruises but I felt that I performed to the best of my ability.
Stage 2 – Vail Pass TT.
There isn’t much to be said about this stage other than that preparation, tenacity, and the privilege to race with Amy’s TT helmet catapulted me to the finish of this tough uphill time trial. Everything added up to make for a phenomenal race, arguably my best performance in cycling to date. I had pre-ridden the course so I knew what to expect, I was acclimated, and right before I started warming up Des handed me Amy’s helmet and encouraged me to race my heart out in memory and honor of Amy. I laid it all out there, as evidenced by the fact that a volunteer at the finish line had to push me for a good bit up to where the team cars were parked. I have never crossed a finish line more exhausted and more proud of my performance than I did that day. The pain, heavy breathing, and immense fatigue were all validated when the announcer exclaimed that, “Maddy Ward wants to keep it under 33 minutes. And she did! She crossed the line with the 3rd best time so far.” What an overwhelming feeling it was to hear those words because I knew I gave it my all, which itself is beyond gratifying, and all while wearing Amy’s helmet. It couldn’t have been more special.
Stage 3 – Denver Criterium.
Rain. Slick pavement. Hot dog course with a 180 degree turn. The conditions made this race more than just a little tense in the peloton. This 50 minute plus 5 laps race seemed to last forever. Luckily the rain did subside, but this did not alleviate the potential for mishaps. With 5 laps to go I went into the 180 corner on the inside line. I ended up in a position I did not want to be in and had to maneuver my bike in order to protect my front wheel. Proud of my handling skills, I rode on before getting yelled at by a racer behind me. This shook my confidence, so I spent the remainder of the race at the back of the pack until the finish.
Stage 4 – Denver Circuit.
I went into Sunday’s warmup uncertain that I could get on the start line. I was still discouraged from what happened the day before during the crit and I found myself questioning my abilities. But I had to race, I had to finish the four stages of the Colorado Classic. The circuit was fast, it was technical with plenty of corners, and the road surface was not to be admired. There were quite a few bottles lost to unfortunate encounters with pot holes. Anyway, these were not necessarily the best circumstances for a considerably rattled rider. With help from Katheryn’s pep talk, I rallied, focused, and convinced myself that I had the courage to toe the line. Waiting at the start I was feeling generally optimistic, but then when the gun went off and I was in the midst of a large field, I cowered. Had it not been for my incredible teammates who protected and encouraged me and most importantly fought to get me in good position, I don’t know if I could have finished the race. Their selflessness inspired me to keep going because I could not let all their hard work go to waste. Hayley, Lisa, Jasmine, Ellie, and Clio: thank you so much for your support during the race. I could not have managed an 8th place in GC without you guys. I can’t express enough how grateful I am.
Having the opportunity to race for the Amy D. Foundation was unbelievably humbling. Katheryn, Des, Scott, and Dan: you provided the team with the true pro experience. There are no words for the level of appreciation I have for all you did over the entire course of the Colorado Classic. I’ll never forget it and I am proud to have joined the ranks of all the women who were lucky enough to go through your program. What you do for female cyclists is inspiring, moving, and worthy of endless thanks. My experience with this team and the Amy D. Foundation will continue to impact me for years to come and I will draw on what I’ve learned through this program all throughout my cycling career. So, thank you all very very much.