Unfortunately, to properly ENDURO you need to preride, because it's not like an xc race where a few mistakes on lap one aren't a big deal. The whole race is about 15 minutes long, and you only get one shot at each section of trail. Knowing what's coming up is pretty essential. So I had to go up a day in advance to preview the course and try to commit every single turn to memory.
Obviously, I flatted exactly one minute into the preride. Did you know that when you're flying down a hill, slamming on your front brake and turning puts a ton of force on your tire bead, like maybe a lot more than the normal xc riding you've been doing? That thing didn't burp, it VOMITED. Flat in under a second.
So then I rode a tube for the rest of the weekend.
My dreams of being a secret enduro prodigy held up through the preride. Note that preriding has the word "riding" in it. Riding and racing aren't the same thing... but they're pretty similar... right?
Then it rained overnight. Adam Snyder told me it was going to be hairy. Adam Snyder knows what he is doing. I did not like this information.
Before we could race, we decided to do one last preride run on stage 5 in the morning to see what it was like after the rain. Tom Sampson, Mike Sampson, Steven Hopengarten and I started down the trail. We made it all of ten seconds in before we got to a wet wood bridge. Mike and Tom went straight over it. Steven's brain had been replaced by GIDDY ENDURO STEVE's brian and thus he may have been slightly more aggressive with his line selection, which led to him flying through the air horizontally before hitting his EYE SOCKET ON A ROCK. Right in front of me.
|Happier times for Steven and his bridge. [pinkbike]|
But this blog is about ME, and for ME, seeing that crash was BAD BAD BAD. One of the many keys to racing downhill fast is to never, ever, ever think about the consequences while you're doing it. You can think about them before, and after, but in the moment, thinking about what could happen to you only makes you ride badly.
And now I couldn't stop thinking about how much I didn't want to hit my eyeball on a rock. And how many dudes were wearing full face helmets. And how despite all this, it's probably not less safe than racing a crit. Maybe.
ANYWAY at some point it became time to race bikes, and Steven was full of ibuprofen, and blissfully unaware of his eyeball's potential to make a run for it, so we hopped on the chairlift and tried to pretend we weren't terrified.
(My personal goal had been lowered from "prove secret Enduro prodigy status" to "don't die")
Stage 1 started straight down a work road on a blue ski trail so "don't die" speed was achieved in three pedal strokes.
There were some parts in the woods that were rocky rooty cliffs of terror. In between them there were some parts where I reckon the fast guys were pedaling. I did not pedal those sections.
At the bottom I was like "oh, here's that part with the big slippery rock and the tree right next to the line that you don't want to hit," so I stared at the rock, bounced off it and hit the tree.
Somehow this ended up being my best stage (ranked second in Amateur 30-39!) so I'm guessing a lot of people ended up at a complete stop with their bars wedged into that tree.
Since this is Enduro we got to ride to the top of the next stage. I discovered that "gravity athletes" just get off and walk their bike on steep fire roads. It was very civilized.
Stage 2 was a fresher-cut trail than Stage 1, and had no terrifyingly fast fire road sections. It almost "flowed," as long as you consider "flow" to be sliding down a mountain of muddy, loamy roots with your back wheel locked up about half of the time.
The only mistake I made on this stage was unclipping a foot when I had all my weight behind the saddle, which led to my pedal trying to go through my shin. My shin was up to the task, but holy cow, it's still swollen on WEDNESDAY.
The we rode back up because Enduro! It turns out a 26'er with a 24x34 low gear can comfortably be pedaled at about 2mph. I rode while talking to people who were walking. I hate walking.
Stage 3 was like a steeper version of Stage 2. It was going SWIMMINGLY until it dumped out of the woods onto a ski trail and a bunch of high-speed slalom turns, and I made the mistake of letting go of my brakes for a second. My bike accelerated to the speed of sound (duh) and I immediately overcooked the first turn.
Since this was my first enduro I was taking the "stay on the trail" ethos (far too) seriously and locked up the brakes to avoid breaking the tape... at the price of coming to a dead stop. So that would be a "mistake," I believe.
One of the weird/cool/favorable things about the Eastern States Enduro series is the "climbers prime." Basically, whichever amateur goes the fastest on one of the transfer sections gets a $200 dropper post -- and while I usually hate pedaling uphill (see: every other blog entry here, ever), the idea of racing a bunch of dudes who don't shave their legs up a hill seemed like something I should probably take advantage of.
So... I did that. I went as hard as I could and finished the transfer in 12 minutes. I have no idea how close the 2nd best time was, but I did get to stand on a podium for it and I did get a magical seatpost for it.
The downside to "winning" the transfer is going into Stage 4 totally cooked -- because you're not off the transfer until you tag into stage 4, and then you're on the clock for stage 4 . So the mistakes-per-minute rate increased significantly. I ended up straddling my top tube in the middle of a stream (not fast), falling in the mud after failing to ride a snowmaking pipe (not fast), and flying off a fire road into some deep grass (not fast, not safe).
One thing I now appreciate about racing enduro is how hard is it to gauge your performance. We're racing down a hill of wet roots, mud and rocks. You are screwing up CONSTANTLY. For me, I spent the entire race either braking (and then wishing I hadn't) or overshooting corners (and wishing I had braked more). For every line you hit and think "ah, that was correct," there's at least four more where you kind roll your eyes as you go through it. I could have gone faster! Ugh, why am I on this line? OH CRAP I SHOULD HAVE BRAKED MORE.
So this is why, after four stages, I didn't actually know that I was in 2nd (out of 15) dudes in Amateur 30-39. I screwed up a lot. Turns out everyone else did, too. The guys who don't screw up every stage race the Pro/Open class I guess... or maybe they just screw up while going faster.
(Note that Tom and Mike Sampson both beat me by over two minutes and didn't even make the podium of the pro race)
|You don't even know how much of a roadie I look like here, because you're a roadie, too. [pinkbike]|
Stage 5 was the last stage, and it featured the-bridge-that-killed-Steven. It was fast and rocky on the fire roads and steep and slick in the woods. It had a step-up jump that I had taken the B-line on in preride, at the cost of many seconds. I was apprehensive.
But, the nice thing about never racing downhill is that you actually learn how to do it DURING the race. By the time I hit the last stage, my downhill skill was the highest it's ever been in my life. I held decent speed on the rocky fire road, held it together on the dark, muddy cliffs, remembered the giant log in the woods, cleaned the step-up (not without trepidation) and by the end of the run, I was even thinking about pedaling between the turns.
|If one did not clean the step-up it would look like this. [pinkbike]|
Came out of the woods, into the last turn, in front of the only spectators I'd seen all day -- and promptly laid it down, sliding on my stomach down a hillside of grass, mud and rocks. It only took me ten seconds (thanks, Strava) to run back up the hill, straighten my bars and get moving again -- but it was enough to cost me second place.
Game of mistakes, this enduro thing. Just to underscore that, the guy in 4th (Rob Westover) beat me on four out of five stages by some healthy margins -- but I beat him on stage one by over a minute. Now THAT'S a mistake.
The worst part about making that many mistakes in a bike race is that it makes you want to go back to see if you can do it better. So I guess I'll see you next year, enduro...
Pinkbike coverage with a video that makes this look much easier than I remember