A neutral car led us down the main drag and we soon turned onto Sawmill Cutoff Rd where we would hit the dirt. The truck pulled off and the pack of almost 200 riders took off. I knew I wanted to try and be with the front group so I notched up my pace heading up the first climb. I managed to catch them just as they crested the top and promptly watched them disappear at the bottom of the descent when an aggressive patch of washboard bounced my chain off. Back to chasing.
The next portion of the Tuffer course features a very sandy bit of rolling terrain where I got the fast group back in sight. I lost them again down a fast sector of degrading, paved and not-so-paved road that was part of historic old highway 395. The pace on this section simply intimidated me as potholes, sand and other land mines seemingly appeared out of nowhere between the intermingled beams of sunlight peaking between the pines. I played it safe and wagered I’d reconnect on the next short climb.
My plan worked out and I managed to reconnect with the front group. After settling into an easy pace on a flat dirt road for a few miles I jumped into a doomed two-man breakaway that lasted for 15 miles. We were caught at the bottom of a paved 3-mile climb and eased back into the pace of the group hoping to save some legs for later.
At this point we were a little more than halfway through the race and almost at our first aid station. A five mile dirty descent led us to our oasis and most of our group refueled as we marveled at the epic backdrop to our suffering. One rider simply turned around (this was an out-and-back portion of the route) and rode back up the hill never to be seen again. He would go on to win by 8 minutes.