The 30 mph crosswind gusts for most of the first hour let me convince myself that drilling it was a good idea.
Careening over the red dirt prairie at record speed, working the relentless push of the wind, I attacked again and again, hoping to soften up the contenders ahead of the decisive sections later in the race. The crazy tailwind for most of the second hour kept the pace high enough that the group was down to 12 by the halfway checkpoint, with no chance of anyone catching back up.
Finally, the group found some cohesion as we steered into the brutal headwind at mile 51, but the pace was labored, everyone desperately trying to conserve their remaining energy for the long road ahead. A few attacks from Nico Roche flew suspiciously close to the end of my pulls, but we were content to let him dangle, knowing that the wind would keep him from getting very far.
The miles ticked off excruciatingly slowly until we approached the crucial single track section at mile 89. We all jockeyed for position, with McElveen snagging the hole shot just ahead of me and then Werner, who passed me after the first swooping section of hairpin turns. McElveen had to part the sea of short course riders (who were all generously quick to pull over for us), allowing me to maintain contact and chase down the experienced off-road racers once we were back on the road with a sizable gap to the rest of the group.
McElveen hit the gas, looking dangerously fresh, dragging a reluctant Werner as I somehow managed to battle through piercing cramps in both legs, hanging on for dear life over the last few draining hills. A couple more miles of flatter, headwindy roads gave me a modicum of shelter to take the edge off my aching legs, and even gave me a hair of confidence for the sprint.
But the wind had shifted to our backs by then, and our uphill finishing stretch would be a drawn out drag race, the only useful tactic being the timing of the initial jump. McElveen went early, with 600m to go, and I gave it everything I had. But after 25 seconds, we were still 2 blocks from the line, and my legs seized up with cramps. All I could do was watch and grimace as he rolled into the champagne shower with time to post up.