I've heard a fair amount of hype about this race, so with a yawning chasm of four non-Root 66 weekends to navigate, I decided to head up to Manchester and see what the fuss was all about.
In retrospect, the 1-hour drive explains the popularity -- people will give you all kinds of silly reasons for why some events are big basically it goes like this: turnout = proximity to major cities - competing events. Nothing else was going on and Concord, Manchester and Boston were all nearby. The place was packed. Word on the street was over 300 racers.
The trails ultimately failed to live up to the hype, at least for this technical specialist. It was basically the same type of course as the Fat Tire Classic, albeit with a bit more singletrack and a much longer loop, but still just zero-recovery big ring blasting for 90% of the lap. There was lots of fast and smooth singletrack, which looked pretty but wasn't any more technically demanding than the wide open doubletrack. Probably more fun to ride in a non-race situation, actually.
Still though, close to Boston, I'll do it next year. Can't beat the short drive.
I ended up racing the "Expert Senior II" category (yes, EFTA splits seniors into two categories for some silly reason) because they had been threatening a 39 mile Elite race and my knee has made it abundantly clear this week that 3 hours of race pace is still a bad idea. 'Twas a serious turnout with somewhere around 20 dudes taking the line, including Kevin who ended up in the same category as me for a change thanks to the different age group.
Predictably we went scorching off the line and my zero-warmup plan was immediately painful. Kevin and an NEBC guy went off the front and I was sucking dust and lactic acid back in sixth or so. In retrospect, some spinning on the road would have been smarter than wasting twenty minutes to put on some hot pink OURY grips:
On the plus side every time I looked down at my bars I was like, "awww, they look pretty!"
Kevin's domination came swiftly to an end when he separated his Eggbeater pedal body from the spindle and ended his day after only two miles (ASK ME HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE EGGBEATER'S DURABILITY, I DARE YOU). So that was a nice ill-deserved place. Unfortunately I was still redlined (hopefully just like the guys around me) so I could do nothing but progress steadily toward exploding, as recovery sections were nonexistant.
Eventually I caught the NEBC guy, who heckled me for not running the seat cam, and we picked up two more guys to become a sweet four-man, 20-mph, singletrack-smoking train. As you might imagine trying to stay a foot off someone's wheel in singletrack leads to some excitement, and it only got more "exciting" when the lead Vet racer caught us and started trying to get through the line. Somehow it all sorted out without a crash (although plenty of feet were put down) and I ended up on the front of the group after the Vet guy got away and used my race smarts to pull everyone as hard as I could for five minutes.
Then I got tired, another Vet racer came by, and the dude who had been on my wheel jumped across to him and was never seen again. Whoops.
At the end of the lap I finally found the one legitimate mountain biking section on the course and went careening from rock to tree to rock down it, getting repeatedly bailed out by my super-hot, brand new Trek 9.8 (available now at IBC! Yes, that was a sponsor plug! But the bike is awesome!).
At the bottom, back on the double track, I had a chat with Derek Brinkerhoff (sp?) about our ages, he was like "I'm 23, I'm not in your category," and I was like "oh yeah, my racing age is 27 now" and then John Mosher comes screaming by us and says "and I'm 48!"
That's when we realized we were not actually that good at racing bikes.
The second lap was actually where the course grew on me, because all I remembered was suffering on double track from lap one, so every singletrack section was like a Christmas present I forgot to open. On one of these sections I found Dylan M, who had gone over the bars and "hit a tree at 20mph" and "maybe bruised his heart." He went to hospital and was fine, so now I can say HAHA DYLAN CRASHED HIMSELF OUT, WHAT A ROADIE!
The other awesome thing about lap two is that EFTA runs the sport and novice riders behind the experts, so you lap the everloving crap out of them. It's impossible to be too down about how your race is going when you're literally passing people at double their speed, and they are cheering for you like you're Adam Craig and not just some moderately good local expert racer. At one point I was chasing after one of the Vets who passed me earlier and three novice riders stopped, got off the trail, and then cheered "yeah, get him!" as I roared past. I rewarded them by going totally anaerobic up the hill, closing the gap, and detonating once out of sight. It was glorious.
I spent the whole lap chasing the Vet (Brian Currier) and finally closed the gap coming down the legitimate mountain bike trail at the end of the lap. I got onto his wheel just in time for the stairs and I was giving him zero space, so when he endo'ed there was nothing I could do but grab a ton of front brake and endo as well. We picked ourselves up to the amusement of the crowd, ran down the stairs and then hammered stupid-fast for ten more minutes to the finish.
Brian started one minute behind me so there was no reason to sprint it out, which is the perfect scenario for me to win a sprint! Off the last turn he put in a cursory sprint effort, but I went for the full-blown "sprinting like my life depends upon it" approach and beat him to the line by a fair margin... for no good reason.
Finished up with 3rd in my category and some elusive bragging rights over Hill Junkie (who admittedly had done the Waterville Valley TT Saturday), so I was stoked to be that respectable on such a roadie-friendly course.
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