Weeping Willow Race Report

There was a moment on Friday when the word "Noreaster" was getting thrown around, and I was thinking that this was going to be the raddest/most-trail-damaging race ever. But the ever-fickle New England weather changed yet again, and it dumped rain 100 miles off the coast. Willowdale State Forest? A bone dry, blazing-fast dustfest as always. But I'm not complaining.

Being just 45 minutes outside Boston, and very beginner-friendly, the place was packed, just like every year. We had 25 or 30 guys in the 30-39 Expert race, and passing on fast, twisty singletrack is pretty hard when everyone is amped up -- so getting stuck behind someone who wasn't feeling the flow (or the pedaling) could be pretty bad if you had podium aspirations like this guy. So for once I lined up semi-seriously and got into the singletrack in 7th.

And then we went faaaaaaast. I know we were going fast because I was immediately making deals with myself -- "it's okay to let those five bike lengths open, you can close it on the next tight section" -- and while you could claim that this was "riding smart," if you all you can think about is "wow I need to ride smart" five minutes into a race, that's probably not a great sign. The dudes at the front were not thinking about riding smart, they were thinking about RIDING SUPA HAAAAAHD (and then jacking their brakes in the corners so I could catch up).
At least going super fast is fun: Create, Discover and Share GIFs on Gfycat

Here I am using my "catch back on during the twisty parts and pay the dirtwire.tv hosting bills so you get in the highlights" strategy.

After a few miles we reached the one extended fire road section and coalesced into a leading group of 9 or 10 riders.

Obviously, this calm lasted for about five seconds until one guy was like "I'm recovering?? In a mountain bike race?! This cannot stand!" and attacked, and with a bunch of other guys who had also now recovered for six seconds it was time to FREAK OUT AND GO GO GO GO.

...but even doubletrack is kinda narrow when everyone is sprinting with 800mm bars, so this happened: Fast and Furious - Create, Discover and Share GIFs on Gfycat

This kinda put a damper on Ben and Kevin's day, but everyone was okay and they both finished the race. I chilled out and drafted some dudes and the lead group was all back together by the end of the doubletrack. I remained acutely aware that we were going STOOOPID HARD, but hey, I make a living ("living) clinging to guys faster than me in cross races, so maybe this can work?

We came through at the end of lap one and I was chilling quite uncomfortably at the back of the group with Carl DeVincent and Alex Grabau.  Going into the singletrack Carl put in a massive acceleration to move up into the front end of the group, because apparently he needed to win the race or something.

I definitely did not need to win the race, so I hung with the increasingly ragged and separated back end of the group on lap two.  Alex and I slowly melted off the back into the singletrack, and then Scott Yarosh rode into a tree and (slightly) taco'ed his wheel, and when I rode past him while he recombobulated, there was no one in sight.

Ah well, 45 minutes of being able to see the leader, that's not bad.

I gapped Alex pretty substantially and for a while it looked like I would just be able to merrily time-trial the rest of the day and collect my finish position (note:  currently 4th, which is not terrible!) but then we started lap three, and the cross race didn't end, and I got saaaaaaad.

I kinda just felt loopy.  Adding gels didn't seem to help.  My brain decided to divert what little focus it could muster from steering to figuring out what my excuse was gonna be (we settled on dehydration -- shouldn've had all that coffee with so little water on the 2-hour drive to the race) and all of the sudden, guys started showing up behind me.

First Ben Sawyer came blazing up to me, still running on adrenaline from the crash he was in 1.5 laps earlier.  I think I actually saw the adrenaline wear off in front of me, as the rate he caught me at dwarfed the rate he pulled away from me at.

Then Scott Yarosh and his taco'ed but not unrideable front wheel showed up, followed shortly by Grabau, and ughhhhhh I am a mess and we are gonna race this last twenty minutes really hard, aren't we?

Ben was a bit ahead of us, but Scott, Alex and I rode together on the long doubletrack.  I shirked pulls (as always) while clinging to various accelerations and hoping I could pull out some tricks at the end.  Scott attacked into the singletrack, which was a smart move, and I popped off the back, because I did not have a choice in the matter.

There was a brief slowdown as we caught someone from a field ahead, and I noticed we'd caught back up to Ben, yay!  Then the traffic cleared and I popped straight back off the back again, boooooo.

This is how gapped I was at the log up-and-over with 0.5 miles to go.
But I was never so gapped that I couldn't see Alex's bright red jersey through the trees, and there was still a bunch of twistly rooty turning, and we were approaching the final 60 seconds of the bike race, during which I frequently do things I did not think were possible five minutes earlier.  So I kept trying as hard as my little crampy legs could try.

And it worked!  Kinda sorta.  I don't know if the group got tactical, or if my on-the-limit suffering was actually effective, but I made contact with the back of the group (ok, a 19-29 guy who they had just passed, but still "the group") just in time for the finish sprint.

Unfortunately the finish sprint at Willowdale is around a loose corner, so the passing opportunities afforded to a guy coming out of 5th wheel were pretty limited.  Almost like you shouldn't be 5th wheel and trying to gain 3 places in a sprint at the end of a 90-minute mountain bike race, huh?

I did manage to go by Alex on the outside, which surprised the CRAP OUTTA HIM and gave us a lot of great internet chatter after the race, so that was pretty cool:

Sneak Attack - Create, Discover and Share GIFs on Gfycat

I ran out of course before I could pass Scott or Ben, but clearly if you extrapolate my closing speed in that gif to another 20 minutes of racing I was going to catch Stephen Hyde and win the pro race, so that's cool.

After three straight weekends of TOTALLY AWESOME KENDA CUP EAST MOUNTAIN BIKE RACING WOOOOOOOO I am gonna take a weekend off and then go get like 800 flat tires at the super-burly Bearscat 50 on June 5th.

Then I'm gonna promote a crit:  https://www.bikereg.com/greenfield
Then I'm gonna promote a mountain bike race:  https://www.bikereg.com/gnar-weasels

Both of these things are gonna be super and you should register now.

Yay bikes!

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