What I remember the most about the 2016 Paralympic Games road race is the hills. The road course consisted of three laps of the 15K time trial course before we headed out for a 30K-ish loop with grueling hills and a twisty descent.
The race itself started out relatively calm. A couple of the women tried to attack before the three flat laps were completed, and one break stuck for less than a mile before it was pulled back somewhere along the third lap. Once we reached the end of the time trial loop, instead of u-turning and coming through the finish for another 15K loop, we headed straight to go around “the rock.” I knew by the second lap, Sarah was going to make her move on the first climb of the race. And sure enough, on the first climb Sarah took off, shattering the group. As a result, the descent didn’t provide any reprieve as the rest of us were left to pick up the pieces. By the top of the second climb, 30 seconds later, I was sitting in sixth with gaps to everyone in front of me.
I went through the cobblestone section, immediately following the second decent, along the paved bailout chasing people down. No way I wasn’t going to put up a fight! Trying to pace back up to those up the road, I reached the next climb – the hardest one with a 22% grade thrown in – with our legs loaded with lactic acid. “Okay, here we go. In your zones,” I reminded myself seeing Kerstin from Germany, Nicole from Canada and the girl from China in front of me at different spots up the hill. “So much for getting to this climb not already in the red.”
I remember looking down at one point in the climb and seeing my speed at four miles an hour and my heart rate at 198. It felt like forever before I reached the top. I used the scary, winding descent to catch my breath, going down it very cautiously. I knew there was four miles after the climb I could use to make up time as long as I made it to the bottom unscathed. When the girl from China went down in front of me, I took it even more cautiously.
Mariela from Argentina caught up to me as I caught up to Nicole on the flat valley road following the descent. Having crashed on the descent, Nicole didn’t stay with us for long. A short time later Crystal from Great Britain caught up to us. We rode together to the highway climb, a steady five- to six-minute climb, still trying to catch up to Kerstin, who was sitting in third.
About 300 meters from the top, as I started losing ground on the girls, our follow car with Creed, Ian and mechanic Vince, rolled up. “You gotta fight, Sammy.” “Come on Bosco.” I was able to dig a little deeper, and right before the crest I stood up and accelerated to get over the top of the hill, making contact with Crystal and Mariela again. We used the descent to catch Kerstin. I was now in contention for third place.
That was with about four or five miles to go. And by the time we finished the loop and we’re making our way back to the finish line, it was evident no one wanted to play nice. Knowing I didn’t have much left and how the girls were racing up to the this point I thought I could catch them off guard and attacked with just about 2K to go. It didn’t work and, when the women caught back up to me, I couldn’t get myself off the front of the group by the 500-meters-to-go sign. I still tried to sprint with everything I had, but fatigue finally got the better of me as everyone rolled away from me 200 meters before the line. I was left to roll in for sixth.
And while it wasn’t the result I was hoping for that day – another medal would have been nice, let’s be real – I was happy with my result. It was one of the hardest, if not hardest, race for me to date and I survived it. And my first Paralympic Games.