At 94 miles, roughly 3 in the afternoon, it is over for Pate. He appears, weaving in our windshield. Willett pulls up beside him. Pate's face is rimmed with dirt.

"I'm pretty much done," says Pate.

He looks up the road.

"If I'm not in the money, tell me," he says.

Willett says nothing.

Pate will ride to the finish in a support vehicle.

Creed is having an exceptional day. Riding guttily, he tops Kenosha (10,001) and Red Hill Pass (9,993), catching the lead pack.

Willett, who to this point had issued orders with a general's detached professionalism, hoots.

"Mikey! You're the man! If you have the legs, go right through them!"

Two riders stand up in their pedals and sprint away. Creed lets them go. Beginning the final climb to 11,547-foot Hoosier Pass, Creed begins to unravel. Man and bike, still one, begin to wobble. Creed shakes his head like a rocked prizefighter.

"He's in the hurt locker," says Willett bluntly, though not unappreciatively. "His whole body is a wreck. All he can do is keep moving."

Willett falls quiet. This is a race his team had sorely wanted. Willett's radio crackles. A lone rider, Chris Wherry, tops Hoosier Pass. Wherry had lost his father to leukemia three days earlier. His father's wedding ring strung on a necklace pressed to his chest, Wherry whips down the final descent to Breckenridge and victory.

Creed follows nine minutes later. Seven hours and 18 minutes of pain earns him ninth place and $1,300.

Seated on the back hatch of a team station wagon, head bowed, Creed mutely eyes the ground.

Willett crouches in front of him.

"Well, you didn't pass out this year," says Willett.

Creed doesn't respond.

Willett taps Creed gently on the knee, and stands.

"You'll get another chance," says Willett.