Todd Branham is one fantastic race director. When he says he’s going to put together one of the toughest stage races in the world, he means it. When he says that the winners are truly going to have earned their prizes, he means it. When he says that tomorrow’s stage is going to be easier than today’s, he is lying. Big time.
Stage 4 was just like many of the other stages. It started with a brutal climb and covered some of the East Coast’s most technical trail networks. The difference was that there weren’t fire road sections connecting one part to another. No, this stage was about 95% single track, which means that we had a tremendously slow average speed and took a mental drubbing to boot.
Before the stage started, everything was fine. Here’s David signing in, as was our morning ritual:
Then the gun went off and we started out by riding the finishing stretch of each days’ stage backwards – straight up Black Mountain.
After pedaling uphill for about 30 minutes, the trail really kicked skyward and we were forced off our GT Sensor 9rs (along with everyone else).
Up, up and away we went, to start what became the longest stretch between aid stations we had all week (over 2 and a half hours). David drained his Camelbak. Then we worked together to drain mine as well. By the time we came down the “stairs” to the first aid station we realized we were in for one long day.
We then had to tackle Squirrel Gap backwards (relative to the direction we rode it during stage 2). This was so mentally taxing that at one point, I fell off of the side of the trail, quite literally. Luckily, David was there to pull my bike back up onto the trail so I could climb back up myself (there was a bit of a drop).
About the only way to find inspiration out on the trails was to have 2 guys screaming and ringing cowbells in your ear, and luckily 2 local residents obliged on what they called “Hell Hill” (a nasty little climb that you had to power through if you didn’t want an earful from the cowbell-ringers):
After a mere 7 hours and 30 minutes we crossed the finish line (since we rode “only” 38.27 miles today, that gave us a scintillating 5.1 mph average speed). Many riders behind us missed cut-off times on this stage and everyone agreed that it was the most physically and mentally challenging stage of the race so far.
How do you recover from something like that? Well, for starters, we split an XL “party size” pizza with numerous toppings and washed it down with Fat Tire Ale.
Following the podium presentation, we watched Ride the Divide, a documentary about the ultra-endurance Tour Divide Race (it runs from Canada to Mexico) which features 7-time champion & Chapel Hill native Matt Lee, seen below introducing the movie: