Sunday found me at the end of a predictably unsuccessful rest week, having just gotten my legs eaten for lunch by Matt M on a 2-hour MTB beatdown Saturday. Yes, you read that right, a guy who rides his mountain bike once a month (at best) thrashed me all over the woods behind his house. Despite my claim that I didn't want the ride too go "too fast" I managed to put in over half an hour above 170 bpm... for reference, my max at Putney was 183.
But it's all good because that was just an "opener," yeah, that's it. More importantly, after 2 hours of fighting my hardtail around singletrack at near race pace I realized that my current style is just incompatible with that bike. It's fun to ride, but when I get some lactic a-flowin' I start to lose my ability to bike handle with it, I ride poorly and get more tired because of it. So the hardtail is officially off the bikes-I-race list, and I switched over to the Scalpel for Sunday's race.
We rolled up in Thom's paaaahty caaaah with George and Mo along for maximum gas-money defraying and general company. I tried to get George to take his first hit of chamois cream, but you know, it's really hard to describe what it is and what it does in an appealing way... so I failed. Maybe next week.
The course was the same as last year, which went ridiculously badly for me. After a preride lap with the Garmin I finally figured out why, freaking Putney has 800 feet of climbing per 4 mile lap... that's more climbing per mile than Pat's Peak. Combine that with lots of fast double track descending and nonthreatening singletrack, and you have a climber's course. Which as I'm sure you know by now, is exactly the roadie-favorable type of thing I love to whine about.
We started with 15 guys, and despite my best efforts I could not secure the DFL spot off the start. Things were going so... differently... that I was up to 11th as we entered the first singletrack. I wasn't even going that hard, so it was a very strange feeling. Did we all just realize that winning the first 5 minutes means little in a 2 hour race? I hope so.
Luckily my bike knew that last place was where I needed to get to. Four pedal strokes into the singletrack I slid off an off-camber rock, and the sound it made was a little too loud to just be slipping knobs. 10 seconds later I could tell it was unusually squishy back there, yep, I burped it, so off the bike and digging for the CO2 I go. Four guys pass me, and now I'm in perfect position! Sweet. 30 seconds later I'm on it again, in last.
A minute after that I hit a bump and my front brake sounds like it's shredding itself. I can't tell what's going on except that it's grinding super-loud and has no power. Um, bike? I'm already in last, you can stop malfunctioning now, really. Everything looks ok from the top view, I'm out of breath, I can't tell what's going on... crap crap crap!
Take the camelback off, again, get the tools out, whatever is wrong, I guess I can just loosen it up... I get down there and my stupid brake cable got sucked into the rotor! Ok, well that's an easy fix, too bad I unpacked everything first. Turns out that the wheels I stole from Linnea's bike (thanks, btw!) have these nice rotors with big slots in them, unfortunately big enough to fit a brake cable into. This has never been a problem with my rock-solid, super heavy BB7 rotors, but now I know to cut that cable a lot shorter.
So by the time I got my act back together the singlespeeders came by, letting me know that I had spotted my entire field a two minute head start. Most excellent! I stomped after the singlespeeders and chased them around for the rest of the lap. Since they are generally wicked fast dudes, they provided some good pacing, although I did notice that if they would only get some gears and suspension they could totally smoke me.
Anyway, while they were cranking up the 800 feet I was spinning like a madman. I've suffered enough on hilly courses in the past, trying to stay out of the granny ring, and I've finally learned my lesson -- don't turn 50 rpm when you can do 75, especially when the climb is 2 minutes long, just don't look down at that 22-tooth ring you're turning and you can preserve some pride.
Things kept going pretty well and by the end of the first lap I had actually picked up one guy from my category. Midway through lap two I hit the jackpot, there were like six guys all racing mostly together (Miles, Sean, Keith, and a bunch more), so when we got to Heartbreak Hill (you know it if you raced, 180 vertical feet at the midpoint of the lap) I laid down the girly-man-spin and suddenly had a very respectable race going on.
Even stranger, I was still feeling good, save for my stomach which was a bit perturbed by the 7-month-old-gel-that's-been-through-the-wash-twice that I had just fed it. But still, better than I usually feel after an hour. I just kept granny-ringing it and next thing I know I can see Tim D in the leader's jersey up the next hill.
Side note: Tim keeps showing up to these races and beating me. My plan of "keep finishing and you'll get the jersey when he DNFs or doesn't show up" is utterly failing.
I could tell I was starting to lose my edge because it took me most of lap three to close the gap to Tim. As soon as I got there I made an attack into the longest, fastest downhill, because I was worried he could easily hang with me based on how long it took me to catch him. I opened up a small gap, but then halfway down I hit another bump and there goes my brake again!
At least this time I knew what to do so it was a quick fix, still though, he got back ahead of me and led to the end of the lap. I clawed my way back and did the attack-entering-the-downhill again, and this time it worked. Alone finally, it was time to spin out the last lap and go home.
Or was it? Out of nowhere I saw Nate Pepin on the singletracky switchback section, he was only 15 seconds up with half a lap and three big climbs to go. Sweet, I thought, I am totally catching you, dude!
Unfortunately he also though "crap, he is totally catching me," because when we got to Heartbreak Hill again he had somehow put 10 seconds on me in a minute of descending. That guy can ride downhill... or maybe I can't.
I still thought I might be able to take care of business with all the climbing, but he had more than enough gas left to hold me off. Despite my best efforts to stay off the brakes and attack the hills, the gap went nowhere and I rolled through, 18 seconds back in 3rd.
Not that I'm complaining, that was probably the best race I've ever had on a non-technical course. I'd like to thank Matt for beating on me Saturday, and my bike for breaking on me Sunday, for making all this possible!
After the race we hung out to eat Curtis' BBQ (they had a truck on site!) and watch George throw down in the sport race. After an hour the heavens opened, blowing tents over and drenching racers. We huddled under the stablest tent (which isn't saying much) and watched people suffer. It was great!
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