It’s now a few days after the race and I’m not going to lie it’s all still a bit blurry. Counting Coup is the reason I wanted to start racing, everything leading up to it was a part of my training. You have to understand my mentors/friends are all a group of well-known women in the industry… each has been riding for 10+ years. These are the women I look up to and ride with on a regular basis. For the last year and a half I have been chasing their back wheels and learning as I go. They all have made me better for that and ladies… I thank you. Counting Coup to me seemed like it is a “rite of passage”. I wanted to be a part of that and I wanted to test my limits and experience something I know not everyone can do. My goal was to accomplish it within my first year of riding but due to closures it had to wait a few more months. So here we go!

This whole season I never really experienced nerves before races, I just went out and gave all I could and was having fun just being out there. That was not the case the morning of the Coup. At the start I asked myself all kinds of negative questions as to why am I here and am I ready. The only way to find out was to pedal. The race started in complete darkness at 5:30am. I have never ridden in the dark before so I knew that would pose a challenge in itself. However the temperature was perfect so I knew overheating would not be an issue. Before the race I was worried about being in the darkness by myself, again… that was not the case. It was the coolest thing to see the whole length of Blackstar lit up with lights and hear the bells along the way. I most certainly was not alone. Riding in darkness for me was easy! Even if I looked up I couldn’t see what was ahead so it was just pedal, pedal, pedal. I actually had my fastest time to Beek's that morning. I had a new seat issue that whole climb. The post kept slipping because the collar wasn’t tight enough, so I actually had to stop twice to re-adjust. Which in all honesty was a bummer because I had the lead woman in my sights until I had to get off the 2nd time. The sky was getting some light as I reached the Doppler Ball. That sunrise ride along the ridge was EPIC! I was witnessing it happen over 3 counties. 

I knew the stretch of Main Divide to Motorway was packed full of steep climbs and more steep climbs. I was hoping to make it to the bottom of Motorway in 3.5hrs. I have only done that stretch 1 other time and that was my pace. I not only wanted to make the cutoff of 9:30 but I wanted to give myself enough time to use Maple Springs to recover before the 11:30 cutoff time at 4 corners. The Main Divide was hard but I felt good. There were about 4 male riders that were constantly around me and the company was nice. It helped me realize where I should and should not push myself. I broke the familiar places down into sections which helped A LOT!

The Main Divide was full of focus and getting nutrition in. I knew if I fell behind on eating and drinking that could potentially end my race. A couple of times I chatted with the guys and other times there were people randomly placed along the way cheering us all on. I was thankful for those little perks. The last stretch to Motorway was a guessing game. As I have only seen it 1 other time I was playing the “this is the last climb to Motorway”…. I said that at least 3 times but then finally it was there. I looked at my Garmin and realized I am ahead of my projected time so I descended MW and again set a record for myself on the way down. I was at the checkpoint in 3hrs. I managed to beat my previous time by 30 minutes! I was very pleased. At the check point I had Monica and a friend waiting with proper food and fresh bottles. As I approached they informed me that the leader female just left about 3 minutes ago! I took advice, food, and water as fast as I could and headed off. I was tired and wondered if I could put the whole second half together. However knowing she was right ahead of me… wondering if I was going to make it, didn’t matter anymore… I was going to finish and try and close any gaps I could. 

So began the 3 miles of cement on Maple Springs… two words, PLEASE END! Once the dirt came I started to feel a lot better. Until I didn’t. The last mile and a half of Maple Springs was what felt like the never ending trail of pine trees. MS is not a hard climb to me and it’s gorgeous but I think the whole first half of the race was finally catching up to me. I had my small group of male riders that I caught because they didn’t stop at the checkpoint. I made a quick stop and ate some more of my pb&j, a banana, and took in some caffeine. My mistake was waiting too long on the caffeine. I trucked on at what seemed like a snail pace and made it to 4 corners right around 10:15am. I was thrilled to rest my legs even if for only a few minutes. I was once again greeted by some friends and they aided in filling my bottles and cheering me as I moved on for the last haul. They informed me that I was 4 miles from the peak and now 5 minutes behind the leader. Which normally, 4 miles would be something to rejoice about but I knew what type of terrain was ahead. Shale, rocks, rock formations, and long painful climbs.  I also knew I wasn’t closing the gap as I was hoping. I was surprised by the amount of vehicles that were up there with me and welcomed any company. Please note, that when others are driving in vehicles passed you and say “you must be nuts to be on a bike”, you start to believe them! The first 2 miles weren’t bad I rode sections that have challenged me before. When I came around the corner of Modjeska Peak I finally saw it! Santiago Peak was right in front of me. Chills, excitement, joy, all types of emotions overwhelmed me because I knew “it’s happening” I am going to finish. I did my best on the next 2 miles of climbing to not roll over anything weird and potentially get a flat. Those last 2 miles was where my limits were tested. I couldn’t escape the sun, the hunger wouldn’t go away, my caffeine didn’t want to work, nor did my legs. I spent the last climb transferring from walking to riding, walking to riding. I just had this last climb! It went on for what seemed like days, but then I approached the towers and the way down. I have never seen that part of the Main Divide; we were warned about a few “craters in the earth” due to vehicles spinning their wheels out. THEY WERE HUGE! After those it was just easy fire road leading me to lower Holy Jim. 

Holy Jim, I love you. HJ is my favorite downhill, so needless to say I dropped my seat and just had fun. I knew I did it; I smiled the whole way down. I was greeted by my teammate Tim who was waiting to take a few photo op’s while I was coming through the few creek crossings. We both rode out to the HJ gate and I was greeted by another friend. Both were there to ride the wash with me, so excited. I told them to get ready to pedal because I’m hauling in ;) and that I did! I had this crazy burst of energy and did not let off the gas until I crossed the finish. There was my feather, and everyone to greet me. It was the hardest and most fulfilling thing I have ever done. 7 hours and 17 minutes. I can’t wait to beat my time next year! Cheers!

Tim VanGilder

mission viejo