While prepping for this race, I realized that I hadn't done a proper xc mountain bike race since Mount Snow back in July. What was that, six weeks ago? I didn't mean to semi-retire from the Root 66 series, but I guess I did. I even started to entertain thoughts of giving up on the mountain bike season early (since my wheel was still dead from the Darkhorse) and just heading to Bedford to race cross.
Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and I eventually got myself mildly interested to race the Landmine Classic/GT Golden Bike Series Finale/Root 66 Virtual Series Finals*. Cary and I went down Saturday for a preride, which got cut short by Cary's freehub exploding. While packing up to leave, though, Golden Bike Guy showed up to scout the course. His accent made it clear that he was "not from around here," and since it was currently pouring rain onto a very rocky and rooty New England course, two things happened:
1) I realized Kevin Hines was going to win the Golden Bike.
2) I became very motivated to race my bike.
I generally hate people who put their "my region is betta than yo region" attitude in your face, but I have to admit, I really wanted to beat this guy.
So I went from almost not racing on Thursday to losing sleep over it Saturday. That's a good thing, believe me, with 3 months of CROSSCROSSCROSS coming up. So I flipped out all morning (just ask Linnea, it was ugly) and then lined up with 16 other locals, plus GOLDEN BIKE GUY, in the Pro/1 race.
It was the same old fast Wompy start that's not representative of the rest of the course, but after feeling the burn big time in the latter half last year I was considerably more relaxed this time. Not quite a reverse holeshot since there were spun-out singlespeeders involved, but still, hanging at the back.
On the first real technical section it was madness (as always) with guys dismounting left and right in traffic. I managed to stay on, while using the energy I was saving to heckle Mike Rowell about running. The leaders (including GOLDEN BIKE GUY and Kevin Hines) were long gone already -- such is the price of the reverse holeshot. But let's not pretend I have a chance of riding with Kevin, I was just hoping Golden Bike Guy would get off his bike and cry at the first rock garden. No such luck.
After things stabilized a bit I ended up rolling around with James Harmon and another rigid 29er guy for several miles. Since I was riding a dualie with gears, I felt like I should probably be doing a lot better than two rigid singles, but then again James basically owns me, so maybe the equipment difference was the reason I could keep up for once.
I dropped James at the first feed zone, but no sooner did I congratulate myself for this than I discovered a large object bouncing off my thighs. Initially I assumed it was my large and manly testicles (did I mention I was beating James Harmon? YEAH!) but further inspection revealed it was just a broken seatbag. So James caught back on while I addressed that, and now I had a seatbag wedged in one jersey pocket.
I dropped him again on a long fireroad section (dude, gears) and then we hit some pavement so I took out my seatbag and started distributing its contents among my pockets so I could throw it out. When I finished, I looked up and realized that I was not on the course any more.
I can't tell how I knew, but somehow, I knew that the course had turned right back there. Instead of backtracking I headed across the many trails in the campground, trying to find it. I came to another road I recognized, freshly spray painted with course markings. I headed down it, and then had the sickening feeling that I might have just cut the course and ended my race. I turned around.
I was about to start retracing my steps when good old James came around the corner! I have never been so happy to get caught by a racer in my life. If James is here than I didn't cheat and I can keep racing!
So off we went again.
Eventually the toll of riding a rigid bike at Wompy took its toll on James, and I dropped him for good around mile 12. This made me feel like a rockstar, but then I remembered feeling great until mile 16 last year. The second half is much harder than the first.
Soon I heard the telltale clang of chainslap through the woods and picked it up bit. After several more miles of hammering I discovered it was Mike Joos I was stalking, and that I was closing on him very slowly.
We had many more miles to go, so I eventually made contact. After riding behind Mike for a while I realized that he was going at about 99.9% of the speed I wanted to ride at. obviously the thing to do in this case was to ride with him and try to beat him at the end.
So when he made a tiny bobble at mile 17 I decided to take the lead and start riding at 110% of how fast I wanted to ride. For one whole mile I was kicking his ass by like, 8 seconds, until the effort caught up with me and I started riding into stuff. He easily caught and dropped me, and I decided that I officially wanted the race to be over now. Oh well. At least I made it two miles further this year!
Mike was quickly out of sight as I dealt with the consequences of my stupidity. Two gels, two miles, and a coke later, I felt like racing bikes again. Well, kinda. I would not have objected to the finish line secretly being moved to mile 20.
There was a two-way section near the end and I saw Kevin Hines going the other way on it. Initially I through he was only 6 or so minutes ahead of me, but it turns out he was twelve minutes up on me and seven minutes ahead of Freye and Foley. At age 48. If I hadn't seen him do stuff like that before (on a less technical course, too) I'd have sworn he cut the course. His time was insane.
The last two miles of the race are pretty fun because you end up on a very technical section of the beginner course while the beginners are finishing. It was littered with people walking their bikes... almost as good as spectators! I got so stoked by how many people were out there racing (and watching me ride stuff they couldn't... don't pretend you wouldn't have felt the same way) that I found a second wind and started legitimately hammering again. In the last thirty seconds of the race I even spied Mike Joos ahead of me, but a very slick wooden bridge and some beginners prevented me from launching a ninja attack on him.
GOLDEN BIKE GUY ended up 4th, behind only two pros and Kevin. Pretty legit performance from a guy who must not race this kind of terrain very often, but hey, that's why he's got THE GOLDEN BIKE and I don't. I was actually the third Cat 1 (8th overall), so if Kevin and Ted both get struck by lightning during the offseason, I would get to defend the Golden Bike at Sea Otter next year. Can you imagine how badly that would go?
So I definitively didn't suck, in fact, this was probably the best mountain bike race of my life. Linnea didn't suck either, as she was second behind Alessandra from Poland, which she described as "almost like winning."
Thus, it can be concluded that if you race almost every weekend from April to mid-August and then take a few weeks off to have an active vacation... you will ride fast when you come back. Shocking!
That, or the New Zealand food is full of EPO. Either way I might have to go back next year.
* - the last race of the series was moved to Mt Snow (on the mountain). It will be the third time racing there for many competitors. I'm skipping it in protest.
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