The 2015 HammerFest was an excellent example of Texas Bike Racing, complete with fantastic stage challenges, a healthy mix of athletes and categories. And, of course, epic views and terrain.
I need to provide a few caveats before beginning the breakdown of the weekend the biggest being my fitness. Bike racing in Texas is pretty small, and we all know each other to some degree or another.
However, this is my first race in-state since February of 2012, and my first since relocating my cycling studios to new locations. I was completely void of any real degree of fitness and entered the weekend with a wattage threshold about 60 watts below my prime. Additionally, my body weight is about 3 to 4 kilos heavy.
For me, doing this race was strictly for the benefit of the camaraderie found in racing. The challenge of the venue, and as a service to the new promoter, who, like many, continues to pour her heart and soul and resources into this sport we all know and love.
The weekend turned out to be perfect, weather-wise, as about 100 of us made the trek to the Big Bend area. Racers were spread out among hotels, and B&B’s in the triad of Ft. Davis, Alpine, and Marfa. Registration, rollout, and even the finish line were all within 100 feet of the ubiquitous Limpia Hotel on the main strip. Categories were combined for racing; although they were scored separately, in a Points Race format.
There were three stages - the first, on Saturday morning, to the summit of Mt. Locke, the second, a point-to-point out on the Scenic Loop to the park of Crow’s Nest, and the final stage on Sunday morning. which either performed the infamous complete Scenic Loop, or did an out-and-back along the Stage 1 route and beyond.
My wife, Tracy, and I, brought along professional videographer and cycling aficionado, Dean Markham, With him, we used about five separate cameras, on handlebars, saddles, helmets, and in follow vehicles, to capture the essence of the races and its’ participants.
I know we were not able to get everyone interviewed or get all categories reviewed, and you know how things always end up on a cutting room floor when editing, but I assure you - we tried. Expect a promotional video in the next few weeks, and longer videos and video segments on our YouTube channel as time allows and Spring progresses.
This was Tracy’s first time racing out there, and there was a healthy audience of over a dozen women, from all around the state and beyond. She is much more competitive these last few years than me, and while I considered it my goal just to finish each stage, she was ready to compete a little.
Still, our combined focus on coaching and running a startup these last two years have taken their toll on her as well as me, and she was unused to the altitude and gradients this race provides. That didn’t stop her from having a blast, and it didn’t stop me from enjoying her races and stories as much as my own.
We both finished out of the money but left with enough experience and enthusiasm to ensure that upon our return next year, we’ll both be better prepared. Sometimes you have to experience a race, just to experience it, rather than attempt to race it.
The Racing: Stage 1
The climb out to Mt. Locke started out a little chilly, as expected, but it quickly warmed up about halfway through the route, and I was dropped early on the first real climb, thus making the effort a quiet, solo affair.
The second climb, the longest of the three, was just beautiful, as I rode within my limits and focused on good posture for the sake of the camera on my head. Unfortunately, right at the transition from climb to flat, where there is a good chicane in the road, I derailed. An awesome helper in a trailing vehicle was kind enough to help me get the thing back on for the final assault.
I was well over 15 minutes behind the leaders but managed the climb, and then waited at the top for Dean and then Tracy. Client Paul Konrad also made the assault, and it made me proud to see a rider who had put so much time in at the studio, perform so well! Our descent together was a blast, and ALL of it was videotaped, so expect to see some significant action from that segment soon!
The Racing: Stage 2
Stage 2, held midafternoon, was another point-to-point, this time held out on the first part of the Scenic Loop. Traditionally, Ft. Davis suffers from increasing winds as the afternoon wears on, and Saturday was no exception. The racers formed tight packs, played defense, but the riders with teammates sent rabbits up the road for the rest of us to reel in.
I was quickly dropped, along with a rider from El Paso, and together we took turns pulling until we reached the finish, a few minutes back from the leaders. I then went back down with some of the riders, this time enjoying a great tailwind along with the descent, and pulled over to rejoin Dean, who was filming the women’s race.
Now I need to note -- THAT was a great display of racing. Watching the ATC women dominate by sending a talented cyclist off the front, and then holding back the rest of the pack like a tight champagne cork, while finally sending another rider off, to dominate the podium, was just artful. The other riders and teams never stood a chance.
An interview on camera afterward only confirmed my thoughts - these were true amateur professionals. They thanked each other, congratulated each other, displayed consummate sportsmanship to the other competitors after the event ended and were cheerful and humble throughout. They credited each other, and I later learned that they disbursed the winnings equally through the club. THAT was incredible!
Dinner at Marfa’s famous Jett’s Grille, at the Paisano Hotel
Dinner that evening was in Marfa’s famous Jett’s Grille, at the Paisano Hotel. We were engaged by Dean’s stories of his cycling adventures in the 80’s and his return to the sport through our studio just a year ago. He’s since lost over 40 lbs and purchased a new road bike, and he’ll be eagerly anticipating the local rallies and events that we travel to this year.
The Racing: Stage 3
For me, Sunday’s race, covered the Scenic Loop while Tracy’s event was an out-and-back along the Stage 1 course and beyond. Once again, I was reminded just how incredibly fun the course is, as I rode with the group the first 20 miles.
I rolled off the front a short bit on the back side to get some excellent camera footage, and then rejoined the pack until the base of Bear Canyon, the first steep climb in the race. After that, I was solo, and I made a point to focus on cadence, staying hydrated, eating on a good schedule, and enjoying the challenge and the beautiful, mostly windless day.
On the ride into Ft. Davis, two Cat 4’s passed me, and they both had that eager, assertive look as they chased each other into town. I was running on fumes by that point, but reminded myself that there WILL be a next year for us, and we WILL be bringing more people with us to this unique event.
Ft. Davis’ Hammerfest is back, and everyone including TXBRA racers should embrace this classic stage race. There’s something for everyone, regardless of ability or experience, and it is worth the trip. Call it a pilgrimage, but it is just a fantastic way to see Texas, experience three great rides, and make plans to improve your fitness and enjoy the results.
Thanks to Peri and her hard work making this possible, and the citizens of Ft. Davis, who volunteered.