When the sun rose in a cloudless sky this morning, I could tell it was going to be hot. I don't think I have seen it so clear for the start of stage 1 in my four years here, and I ended up being right, it was the hottest year that I have experienced. Keep in mind that it is only my fourth year, but some more seasoned veterans that I spoke to agreed.
We started right on the beach in front of the hotel which was pretty cool, and had a little longer stretch of neutral riding before hitting the dirt, about four kilometers later. Once we hit the climb, the race heated up right away and before long there were about 12 guys together. I managed to stay on the back of the group, but it was no easy task as it was already pretty warm and humid. It's pretty weird to be pouring sweat like that at 6:30 am!
The pace cooled off a little on the rolling terrain heading over to Carara, but as soon as we hit the first main downhill it was on once again. There were a few guys at the front pushing a super hard pace, and right about the time I was wondering if I should back off I took a poor line and stuffed it in to a mud hole and packed up my tires with tons of sticky orange mud. It was hard to get going again and the front of the race went up the road. I was solo, but I think it was a blessing in disguise. I was able to pace myself and ride my own rhythm. Last year I went a little too hard trying to keep the pace in the jungle section and paid the price later.
I just kept at it and soon enough began passing people. I came out of Carara in about 10th place and by the finish had moved up to fourth. I drank a ton and was able to eat a lot, too. It was brutally hot, my SRM said 95 degrees (Fahrenheit) at one point, and if there's one thing I am not, it's a hot weather rider. I am pretty stoked with how I rode and don't think I can hope for much more in that kind of heat and humidity.
I think staying hydrated played a big role. It's nice to have the SRM to keep track of not only my power, but my cadence and heart rate. Power numbers don't lie and will tell you if you are having a good day or bad. It was encouraging to see good power data, as well as be able to keep a high cadence and heart rate. Good pacing strategy was key to that, and a lot of the guys who had gone too hard early on were completely cracked by the time I caught up to them.
After finishing, I learned that third place Rom Akerson had been DQ'ed due to receiving support outside the designated aid stations on multiple occasions, even after being warned. I've always said I don't care one way or another if they allow outside support, as long as the rules apply to everyone and are enforced. All I ask is for a level playing field. So that bumps me to third overall going in to tomorrow's volcano stage 2.
I may have to throw pacing out the window and just lay it all out there to try to hang with the lead group and maintain my third place. I have to give it a shot anyway!
Thanks for reading.
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Alex Grant, 31, is one of America's top endurance mountain bike racers. Sponsored by Cannondale Factory Racing in 2012, Grant juggles racing as a pro with managing an outdoor gear consignment business called Gear Rush, which he co-owns with fellow Utah cyclist and racer Bart Gillepsie. This season, look out for Grant on the podiums at major endurance and stage races. For variety, you may also see him on on the start line of some super Ds, cross countries and short tracks.
In 2011, Grant finished third at the Leadville 100 and eighth at the US cross country national championships while also logging top 10s at the super D and marathon nationals. He finished fifth in the Downieville Classic All Mountain Overall and seventh at La Ruta de los Conquistadores. For the third year in a row, he won the Park City Point 2 Point.
In 2010, Grant made headlines with his second place finish at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, the Breck Epic and the Trans-Sylvania Epic.
When not on his mountain bike, Grant enjoys backcountry skiing, snowboarding and hiking.
Grant is from Richmond, Vermont, and he presently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Follow his 2012 season in this blog on Cyclingnews.
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