A long, long time ago I was a lost soul in Florida, carrying out a failed experiment in the video game industry. After 12 of the
I had the fitness you'd expect of a man coming off a year of 70-hour weeks, but I lucked out -- halfway through the race, the heavens opened, and the course turned into one of the slimiest, slickest things you'll ever try to ride across a hill. I couldn't pedal hard to save my life, but I could still drive the bike like it was 1999. I turned in a surprisingly respectable performance, had a great time, and raced pretty much every weekend between then and now.
And then, for reasons unknown, I never went back.
We ended up with pretty similar conditions to '06, it wasn't raining, but it was foggy with about 95% humidity, which is the same thing from a traction standpoint. The course was narrow, rocky and slick, it was a bike handler's dream, if they had only not stuck 700 feet of climbing per lap into the damn thing I would have had the best finish of my life.
But all that climbing makes it legit. Seriously, this is the most, best, legit-est mountain bike race, ever, if you're gonna win here you need to be good at everything. Even sprinting, right Matt?
Before we can get to the race report, Thom P has been guest-reporting for cyclingdirt, and decided to pre-race interview me while I pumped gas. And ask me leading questions about my competitors. It went "well":
Alright, race reportage. Huge elite field (30+) because the course rocks and everyone knows it. So big I actually felt compelled to make an effort starting out, and I hit the woods in 20th place or something, a far cry from my reverse-holeshot standards. I went too hard for a little while, tried to get on Chris Gagnon's helment cam, and eventually ended up right with Thom and Sweens, which was just fine with me.
Suddenly Thom realized he was surrounded by scrubs and took off like a man so crazy he would glue pubes to his face. I assumed I would never see him again, but before the top of the climb Kevin and I managed to bridge back up to him. We hit some doubletrack and K-Sweet took off like he was afraid Thom was going to glue pubes to his face. I ignored him because he was working really hard, and I'm not into that.
I got around Thom before the big descent started, and regained Kevin's wheel on the descent as he was waiting on some slow traffic. As soon as I was riding behind him he flatted because that's just what he does. So that was cool.
At the bottom of the hill I caught up with Alec Petro and Jon Bernhard, and I had just enough time to think "hey, that's pretty cool" before they dropped me climbing. I used my "race smarts" to get dropped, er, ride my own pace, and somehow it actually worked! I caught them at the top and decided to go up to 110% of race pace to hit the downhill first. Oh man, I'm gonna drop these chumps!
I put all of 5 seconds on Bernhard (and like, 15, on Petro) before my mad descending skillz smoked my rear derailleur straight into a rock. It stayed in one piece, but bent in a way that lost me my top two gears. Just a flesh wound!
Jon advised me that Brian Wilichoski was up the trail, and holy crap, did I want to race against THE WILICHOSKI. I bombed the rest of the descent and caught him just in time to pass him on one of the last sketchy sections. OH MY GOD I'M AHEAD OF THE WILICHOSKI. This is a big deal. Ask Kevin.
Passing Brian Wilichoski is a bad idea. I do not recommend it. It only angers The Beast. He passed me on the next climb so fast his wake almost knocked me over. I attempted to use my lap 2 strategy of "climb at your own pace" to catch him at the top. It did not work, not at all, because Bernhard and Petro passed me climbing, too.
I noticed my legs were threatening to cramp, and I knew exactly why, because I had been climbing over my head for 90 minutes now, and I still couldn't keep up with the guys I was racing.
Another breakneck descent (sorry, Sport racers I may have been "assertive" with) got me back ahead of Petro and in contact with Bernhard, Wilichoski, and Brent Mellen, just in time to start the final lap. 35 minutes to go, let's do this.
Unfortunately my legs had other ideas. My quads were nice enough to keep firing while they turned into blocks of muscle on the first pitch of the climb, so I didn't fall over... I just climbed very slowly. Petro immediately caught and passed me because he doesn't get slower, at all, ever, under any circumstances, even if it's the 6th day of the Iditabike and the blisters on his feet have turned his socks into bloody rags*. The other 3 were quickly out of sight.
I was at a crossroads, I could give up and ride to survive on the climb, and roll in for a totally decent finish place... or I push the cramps as hard as dared, on the off chance I could keep the time gap small enough to make it a race on the downhill. I asked myself, "what would Jonny Bold do?"
Spoiler alert: Jonny Bold would do whatever was harder, kick your ass, and write about it. I rarely have a chance to do anything Jonny-Bold-esque so I had to take the opportunity.
I climbed really hard, which still wasn't hard enough to keep anyone in sight. I alternately growled at my quads and asked sport riders to get out of the way really pleasantly. I'd be like "excuse me, passing when you get a chance" and then "arghhh eeeeeeeyow arrrrrrrrrr" when the next cramp hit.
The problem with cramping up the entire climb is that when you hit the descent... you keep cramping. Little moves like "weighting the outside pedal while cornering" had a 50-50 chance of freezing my leg in place. And I didn't have time to be patient with sport riders anymore, I had no idea what the gap was, but I didn't just climb through cramps for 20 minutes to sit in traffic. This is a LOCAL AMATEUR BIKE RACE. IT IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. YOU NEED TO MOVE. Please, sir.
Unbeknownst to me, Bernhard and Wilichoski were using a strategy they learned from Kevin and I, called "crash out your teammate," to slow their descent. With time running out I rounded a corner to find a bloodied Wilichoski in sight. My adrenal gland kicked into post-iced-coffee levels and I put the hammer down, rewarded for this with more cramps. I kept them at bay with some dramatic growling.
Obviously Brian doesn't care about beating me as much as I care about beating him, so he didn't crash me out when I went for an extremely cheeky pass on one of the last technical spots. I yelled "sorry" over my shoulder while cramping again.
We hit the last section of double track and Petro and Bernhard were right there. I discovered that my bent derailleur couldn't get into the 44x11, and my derailleur cable was hitting the spokes in the 12. I threw down the meanest-seated-cramping-sprint ever on the flats before the final plunge with my rear wheel going tingtingtingting the whole way. I didn't pass anyone, but I was on Petro's wheel as we flew over the ski jump hill.
I had just enough time to think, wow, this is really sketchy, before we were bottoming out at 30 mph and heading into the last wet, grassy turn. With only so much traction available it was an "interesting" compromise between braking and turning, and I managed to get inside Petro (while cramping and grunting, of course) in the turn, and then hold him off through one more turn to line, with Bernhard only two seconds ahead.
Jon dumped his bike on the ground and fell down, but I out drama-queened him by rolling around on group and grabbing my cramping quads like I had just been shot in both knees. In retrospect, I am a little embarrassed at this performance, because it *is* just amateur bike racing.
But on the other hand, I might never beat Alec and Brian again, and holy crap my life is so much better than it was when I worked 70 hour weeks for Electronic Arts in Florda, the drama is just me expressing how happy I am to race bikes every weekend.