This past weekend turned out to be the great New England Bikeschedulepocalypse with no less than six opportunities on Sunday to pay someone money in exchange for a curated cycling experience.
Purgatory Road Race, Sutton, MA.
Domnarski Farm, USAC MTB, Ware MA.
The Pinnacle, EFTA MTB, Newport, NH.
Raid Rockingham, Gravel Grinder, Rockingham NH.
Bearscat 50, MTB, the most northern point in New Jersey.
Wilmington-Whiteface 100k, MTB, some silly doubletrack long distance MTB race that people go to because it's a Leadville qualifier, which is silly because Leadville is also a silly doubletrack race, and now it's also a completely sold-out for-profit enterprise that exists to make money off people who measure their experiences by name recognition instead of event quality, and yeah I probably should have stopped a few sentences ago, but wait this is just one giant run-on sentence so yeah I have a pretty cynical view of Leadville, maybe I'm wrong.
Also one of these races should have been run on a Saturday. Just sayin'.
ANYWAY! If you wanted to play bikes there were lots of places to go. The right place, of course, is the place I went to, which was the Pinnacle. I've crowed here before about the course at the Pinnacle, but the bottom line is that it's the funnest legit* mountain bike course in New England. The climbing is plentiful but never so hard it's stupid, the descending is fast and fun and hard enough that you can make up some real time (but never so hard it's stupid), and basically everything is at the right level of New England riding to be challenging without ever crossing over into "dumb."
Despite a somewhat depressed turnout, we still pulled in eleven guys for the 30-39 Expert class, so my curated cycling experience was going to be well worth the pittance I paid for it. Some stoke-related "training choices" during the week had left me feeling pretty tired on race day, and with zero relevant drafting to be had I went for the reverse holeshot off the line. My Mohican 100 buddy Jon Nable was also using this start technique, so we noodled up the first climb while nine other guys rode away from us.
I rode the first climb much faster than "Mohican pace," which seemed like it was pretty fast, but only clawed back a few spots on the group. When we got to the downhill, though, things improved a lot as a feedback loop of gravity and stoke caused me to go super duper hard all the way to the bottom. And when I got to the bottom, Cary was there! Starting fast is overrated.
Cary mumbled something about a feed zone, stopped to futz with a water bottle, and then proceeded to lurk 15 seconds back for the rest of the climb on lap two. I rode with Ben Sawyer and we yelled through the woods at Carl Devincent that we were going to catch him. Because amateur bike racing is serious business. **
At the top of the climb Ben and I caught Brett Severson and I continued to be excited. Brett sprinted back past us into the descent, and I was like "oh that's annoying, he wants to get ahead so we can't gap him descending" and then two minutes later I was like "um where did Brett go" and yeah so I was wrong about that.
Eventually we got to the RAD BERMS part of the descent, and Ben let me lead it and my adrenaline spiked so hard that I went crazy fast, caught Brett, and then clipped my bars on a tree and rode off into the woods.
Clipping your bars certainly does not lower ones adrenaline so when I got back on the trail I continued to be super excited, and caught Brett (and Carl!) at the bottom of the descent going into the last lap.
I asked Carl what place we were in, and he said "I'm leading" and I was like "oh ho ho, I think you mean we're leading!" and then he dropped me on the climb and I was like "oh wait, you're leading."
Unfortunately for Carl, the race ended on a descent, and I had just caught him on that descent despite a trip into the woods, so getting dropped climbing did not break my spirit as much as usual. I told myself that if I could see him on the doubletrack at the summit I would win, and even if it's an eleven-rider race in a category I'm possibly sandbagging I still don't WIN THINGS very often so I was motivated.
I counted a very unscientific ten second gap while wheezing uncontrollably at the top and it seemed like "the plan" was going to work.
After a bunch more hard work in the technical sidehill section, I was pretty much on his wheel going into the descent and we had a passionate race back down the hill to the bottom. There's basically nowhere to pass (because rad singletrack) and he was flying, and mistake-free, so I had to bide my time until the short section of doubletrack before the last singletrack plunge. I sprinted up next to him here, and since it's amateur fun bike racing for zero dollars he decided that possibly killing each other trying to enter the next singletrack two-abreast wasn't worth it and let me go by.
I rewarded his decision by nearly wrapping myself around a tree seconds later (adrenaline level: still increasing!!), but ultimately saved it and sprinted to the finish a few seconds ahead for a glorious victory.
As soon as Carl crossed the line he yelled "DUDE THAT WAS AWESOME," and he was absolutely right.
I think 14 months ago I said "I'm going to race age-group until I do a race where my lap times would put me not-last in Elite," and I finally did it... my lap times were good enough for 9th out of 11 elites. Oh god the elite race is pretty fast huh. See you there next time!
* We're using the old school definition of "legit" here, which means tons of climbing and descending, because ski area races were THE THING back in the 90s when the sport blew up. Your local flat and fast ripper course is legit too, in it's own way.
** Some ding-dong cussed out one of the elite women for not moving out of his way fast enough, when she was riding directly behind someone else. Said ding-dong ended up finishing four minutes behind the next guy on the results, so, uh, I hope he gets a little perspective on this thing we do in the woods for fun sometime soon.
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