The first real XC mountain bike race of the year has some kind of stupid allure that gets everyone pumped up, so pumped up that they can't even think straight, certainly not straight enough to realize they're about to race a frigid mudfest. Somewhere around 400 people showed up the the Root 66 series opener down at Hopbrook, and all of them left with a bag of destroyed clothes and a near case of hypothermia. It didn't start raining until we parked the car; then it didn't stop until we started driving home. But hey, it's April, LET'S RACE BIKES!!
The course was the same as last year, bit of pavement, lots of doubletrack/1.5 track jeep road, with a fair number of short singletrack sections connecting it all. As all of New England racing was brimming with enthusiasm, the 19-29 Expert class drew nearly 20 guys, starting behind a 25-rider pro field led by your friendly local road pro. There were over twenty guys in the 40+ race, including most of the A Masters cross scene, hell there were even ten women in the pro race, most excitingly Lyne Bessette, making her local-mtb-scene debut, along with some girl who lives in my room.
I'm just saying, it's not often you get people with their own wikipedia pages showing up to Root 66, so this was a BIG DEAL.
It was raining steadily, but the course wasn't soaked already, so it went straight to super-greasy-death mode. Cary and I headed out to do a quick recon and try to generate a little heat, right away we were climbing and my rear wheel was hooking up about as well as the average MIT undergrad. Awesome. My late-night decision to not put on something more burly than a semi-slick was immediately regretted; I'd love to complain about how much this ruined my day (standing up was out of the question, as was staying on the bike at all sometimes) but it appeared that a full 50% of the field had gone with the "ah, screw it" approach to tire selection.
There's an actual race report in here somewhere, but the preride drama wasn't over; we went into a greasy, rocky descent back to the finish line and Cary put the hammer down, despite his brand-new mud tires sitting back in Boston. I was like, wow, is this really the same guy who couldn't ride a bike downhill to save his life last year? Right as I finished that thought he laid it down on the derailleur side and broke his hanger off. Two minutes into the preride.
He was all smiles about this development, and while I assumed his day was done, he was able to first borrow a bike from the Scott tent and then locate the guy who made his bike and get a new hanger on the spot. Nice save. Bad warmup.
At some point I ditched the rain jacket and showed up to the start line super late, leaving me with a choice of flipping out at the gun to get to the front or playing it chill and figuring I had 90 minutes to get my act together. Yeah, which of those do you think happened? The video shows that I was thirteenth on the first singletrack, which is actually better than I thought I was doing at the time. However, Eric Carlson and Matt Green had already put a bunch of time on me there, and apparently they got REALLY FAST over the winter because that was the last I saw of them-- they went on to a 1-2 finish.
Just ahead of me were Cary and Ben Corbalis in a group of five guys, and it took me a surprisingly long time to close this ten seconds, probably because every time we got to a straightaway I'd see Cary's head go down, elbows go out, and he'd get all roadie on it. Having just seen him "get all roadie" on the preride I figured disaster would catch up with him eventually.
That disaster happened right after I caught onto the group, on the biggest climb out there, I moved up to second, the racing line went over a big off-camber rock, and suddenly I heard the unmistakable SLIP-SLIP-BAM of tires losing traction and a frame getting smacking down on a rock. Cary conveniently blocked everyone behind, sending Ben and me off on our own up the trail.
The mud was packing up in my front tire, and my back one was useless to begin with, so what little confidence I had went away as soon as the descending started. It's one thing to do a two-wheel slide under heavy braking, it's another to find both wheels sliding and zero turn happening any time you so much as touch the brakes. I was not comfortable, but then again, I don't think many people were, save for certain former motocross national champions who were in the process of beating me by six minutes.
Anyway, I was being a total roadie, getting gapped in the technical sections, spinning out on climbs, and then hammering like a madman on the flats to make up time. The crazy thing was, it was working, and starting lap two I'd moved up to fourth, even passing last year's series winner Timmy D. It's possible that this "training thing" is "paying off."
Despite my roadie-tastic big-ring-jamming antics I could not close down the gap on third place, however, who was persistently dangling 20 seconds up the trail, apparently putting out some watts of his own, or perhaps not spinning his tire twice as many times as normally required to get up each hill. In any case, I rode two whole laps within sight and closed exactly zero ground on him and the last podium place, which is a great way to leave an event with a really annoyed taste in your mouth.
On the last lap my desire to close that stupid gap started to get overshadowed my by desire to figure out what the hell was happening to front wheel, which was making a crazy buzzing sound whenever I torqued it in one direction, or hit the brakes at all. It was pretty obviously being caused by the tire tread rubbing on... something... but there was clearly an inch or two of clearance between it and the fork that one time I looked, and come on man, I'm trying to race here, I think I'll just ignore it until the race is over. Except it was getting really distracting going down hills hearing a violent buzzing coming from the front end, yeah, that's probably why I didn't catch third place, and that probably why Johnny Bold and Kevin Hines came smoking past me on the last climb right after I finished patting myself on the back for not getting caught by the 40+ guys for once. Yup, totally the crazy buzzing. It's even distracting me from finishing this race report cleanly, CRAP.
Anyway, I crossed the line fourth, threw my bike in the lake (a popular choice) and discovered that if your front quick release is wide open, then every time you brake the tire will deflect into the fork and make a crazy buzzing sound. How about that!
Linnea then proceeded to break my heart by coming up 8 seconds short of 3rd place in Pro Women, earning a big fat $0 payday despite a totally excellent ride (only two minutes behind Lyne Bessette!). The only reason she rides is for the benjamins so she was also pretty bummed, guess she can only afford to eat rice and beans this week. Being hungry is pro.
So, the first race of the season is in the books and I did exactly the same as last year, but I can't remember my excuses from last year, so I feel better about this year, because I have many excuses that I didn't even mention here. Sweet!
Next weekend is open, I think I'm the only person in New England not racing THE BATTENKILL, look for me at Fells opening day with Thom P and the rest of the IBC Elite MTB Team. If you liked the schizophrenia in this race report should definitely go read whatever Thom writes, if not, you should get back to work until you're bored enough to find this funny.
Update: Oh crap, this was loooooong.
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