The Brialee course was a rocky, muddy, rooty mess, just like last year -- aka "real mountain biking" -- the exact opposite of the Farmington Autobahn. I knew it was going to be fun time when someone posted on the Root 66 message board:
it stinks...the worst course I have ever seen...obviously they would rather have atv's use it than bikes
He was right about the ATVs, they had torn up and mud-bogged some sections of that course pretty well. Crazy thing about a mountain bike, though, you can steer it and huck it around, and some people might actually call that part of the race, so pretty much anything you can get an ATV through you can ride a bike in... so shut up and ride.
What I'm trying to say is that this course was technically demanding. Whiners should note that Sean Cavanaugh won the pro race on a rigid singlespeed (by one second over TP&HASS) so... stop whining.
I rolled up to the start line with my newly-built Cannondale Scalpel. Thanks to my inability to measure steerers I had to cannibalize the Sid front fork off my hardtail, but it was well worth it for a softail on this course. I try to avoid getting too worked up about equipment, but after the hardtail punishment at Winsted Woods, this bike was a SICK ride through the rock gardens and all-around awesomeness. I'm starting to think that "train hardtail, race softtail" might be my new mantra.
Anyway, the race got started with 17 guys and I was at the back, off the back even. I yelled some stupid stuff at spectators I knew while slowly ramping up to race speed in the first 2 minutes. I missed the chance to stake out my position at the aggressive end of the race, sure, but I also missed the chance to get that awesome gut check when you realize you're blowing up on lap one. In any case, people were bobbling around on the awesomely technical course soon enough and I started moving up.
For "strategic purposes" I kept a count of how many people I passed. A couple times people tried to pass me back but I was scared of losing count so I was pretty aggressive about shutting them down. Finally, we got to a super-gnarly mud/root/rock/off-camber zone of extreme death and I got hung up trying to ride two inches behind someone. Oh no! I'm off the bike, running, losing places... one... two... ok, so I was ahead of six people... so now it's eight.. er four? Yeah, four. I realized If I had to take the SATs while bike racing I would probably not get into college.
Somehow I managed to pass ten people or so on the first lap, I say "or so" because double digits were more than my brain could handle. At one point I was trying figure out what 8 + 2 was after passing two guys and I almost went over the bars. So I never figured it out, but anyway, I knew I had passed like half of the field so things must be going decently.
I was feeling strangely good. I kept passing people. Near the end of the second lap I passed the guy in the series leader's jersey, and while I didn't know what the count was, I figured that was a sign I was getting near the podium.
Wait, near the podium?? Oh crap, that's one of the goals. I had a long (for a race) chat with a semi pro I caught and he confirmed that only one expert had passed him so far... meaning I'm in second!
At this point I was fairly giddy with excitement. I'm halfway through an expert race, I still feel good, my bike is perfect for the course, and I'm solidly in a position where I will get my entry fee refunded. This is old news for Linnea (she won again) but for me, it's terrifyingly exciting.
All I could think at this point was, "man I hope I don't break my bike somehow"
I had a developing problem -- multiple trips through the hub-deep watery/mud mix had rendered my front brake useless. Not pull-to-the-bar useless, but squeeze-as-hard-as-you-want-you-ain't-stopping useless. Contaminated pads, I guess. The downhills were getting very exciting. My tubeless tires were providing a super-sweet 32 psi ride over the sharp rocks -- but I was hitting the rim occasionally. And now that I had no brakes, I was hitting the rim a lot.
You can tell where this is going, right? About a third of the way through the last lap, I felt the back end squish funny.
The tire was already low. Crap, I didn't bring any C02... wait... what would Thom do???
I held my breath and listened.
Where's the leak? Find the leak! Crap!!!
There's the leak. Spin the tire so there's a nice puddle of Stans on it. Start pumping! Crap!
Pumppumppumppumppumppump gasp pumppumppumppumppump.
The gash was too big, plus I had some grit in the bead from riding a soft tire through a mud pit, I think, so it was leaking there as well. Crap.
Run! Just freaking run!
I started running. It's a slow course. Maybe I can run to the finish?
Three minutes later, my legs are on fire. I threw the bike down to see if I could get the valve stem out (to change the tube)... nope... still panicking! I kept running.
The most disappointing thing was how long I ran before I lost 2nd place. And then third place... and then fourth... off the podium, I stopped to walk.
I remember that series points go ten deep, and that they give out serious cash money if you make top three in the series.
I started running again.
30 minutes after flatting, I finished. I ran probably three miles over hilly, muddy ground while pushing a bike. Looking at the results, I think I "only" lost 10 minutes, thanks to how difficult the course was. I haven't run that long in probably two years. Today, my legs are incredibly sore from stretching it out on the downhills and leaning into the uphills. It was all I could do to keep from doing the drama-queen bike throw when I crossed the line.
But I hung on for ninth.
A far cry from podium girls and envelopes of money, but a step above 11th place and zero points. See you next week.