Pat's Peak XC Race Report

Driving up to Pat's Peak on Sunday, things were looking scary. Sure, when we left Boston it was heading into the upper 80s and hot, which is scary enough, but when we turned onto I-89 in Concord the sky had turned into the ominous black that can only signal heavy thunderstorms. And sure enough, just a few miles up I-89 we hit rain bad enough that people were pulling off the road. Like most thunderstorms this one stopped as abruptly as it began, and I arrived at Pat's Peak feeling good about things.

The Pat's Peak course had 850 feet of climbing per five mile lap. This was pretty bad news for me, since my legs have only occasionally shown up at races this year, and I upgraded to a class where everyone is freaking strong. The only good thing about 850 feet up is 850 feet down -- so I'll take a quick downpour to grease things up. I needed that trails as technical as possible to make up for 3400 feet of climbing.

What I didn't need, nor did anyone else, was for the heavens to open up again five minutes before the start in any icy downpour. I'd be preparing all morning to fight the heat and now I was shivering, lined up in the rain.

As is my custom now, I went straight to the back at the start, because I was cold, and not exactly stoked about the prospect of examining my stem closely for the next two hours. But, we got into the singletrack and I was pretty quickly blocked by some guy. I guess that would be why everyone else sprints out of the start.

So the course had been slicked up a little by the earlier rain, but now that it was pouring down, things went to hell pretty fast. Each lap had a lengthy singletrack downhill from the high point on the course that wound back and forth through pine trees -- it was so dark I was actually holding up people because I couldn't see a damn thing. I pulled over, took off my sunglasses (they have amber lenses, I've never had to take them off before) and got back into it, which of course meant 3 laps of squinting through flying water and mud.

On the way down one of the 30+ guys who had caught me was doing some dirty riding, and I don't mean dirty in a good way. On multiple occasions he cut complete sections of singletrack -- like, the course would be turning left around a tree, and he'd just go inside the tree. It's one thing to do this if you end up out of control or something, but he was definitely just taking a very liberal definition of "trail." Sadly since his number was on the front of his bike I never caught it, he was some guy in a red/white Kenda jersey if anyone knows him. In any case, bad form, dude. Just because every corner doesn't have tape on it doesn't mean you can cut it.

Coming through after one lap the rain had stopped, giving all of us hope that somehow the course might hold up -- but that dream died quickly when I hit the singletrack. It was one thing on lap one, when I was the 30th person to hit it -- since then 80 or so riders had gone through and now everything had a nice inch-thick layer of greasy mud on it. Every pedal stroke the mud consumed like 20% of your precious watts, unless you made the mistake of standing up and leaning forward, in which case it was more like 80%. The climbs became, at least for me, a horrible granny ring deathmarch up stuff I'd ordinarily stand up in the middle ring for.

Then the thunderstorms came back, just as hard if not worse. Traction, even for me with 25 psi, became a complete joke.

I was, of course, not alone in my suffering. I was hemorrhaging minutes on the climbs to some of the other guys in my category (Nick Barstow, Mitchell Clement, Miles Ericson, probably some other dudes) and they were hemorrhaging it right back to me on the descents, which were basically a slightly controlled crash down the side of a mountain. I've never slid a bike that hard or often in my life, but every time I got on terms at the bottom only to see them ride away on the hill again.

Somewhere around the 3rd or 4th lap, Miles blew up, which is to say that he didn't drop me climbing, so I got away on the next downhill.

This madness took place over 2 hours of continual thunderstorms, and I had a problem -- I started the race with about an inch or two of travel left on my brakes, and by the third lap I was hitting the bar with both of them. I tried to loosen the barrel adjusters while climbing, but my brain was as fried as my legs, so it was embarrassingly difficult. I basically turned them in random directions, which only made things worse. In retrospect, I've been aware of the "lefty-loosey, righty-tighty" mnemonic since I was about 5, but apparently was unable to apply it here.

Hitting the big and final climb on lap 4, I suddenly came across PvB from Hup, who I think had some kind of mechanical, since he disappeared behind me (on a climb, no less) just as fast as I'd caught him descending. It's also possible that he didn't want to ride his metal contraption up onto a ridge in the middle of a thunderstorm -- I counted one lightning strike at 0.6 miles away as I neared the top of the ridge on the last lap.

I knew what I needed to do -- one last freefalling descent, legs hanging out, brakes on the bars, both wheels sliding, to make amends for my pitiful climbing and get back up to Nick and Mitchell in time for a sprint to the line. Unfortunately, just before cresting the hill my mud-encrusted drivetrain finally bit the dust -- I'd been putting serious torque on my chain while shifting all day, and eventually a bent master link ended any chance of powering home and nipping someone at the line. I quickly compared how much trail was left versus my ability to use a chain tool in this condition, and decided that I had better just start running.

The first 30 seconds of running felt good, but quickly the lactic acid built up in my calves and I slowed to a spirited walk. The descent was an interesting combination of brakeless bike-sliding and scootering the flat sections -- after four laps the mud was providing massive rolling resistance and many things that looked downhill I ended up having to scooter across.

I didn't lose any places on the descent, but I wasn't in the clear just yet -- I still had 3 to 5 minutes of uphill and flat running with my bike. I gave it everything I had, scootering on the flats and running on the hills, but up the final dirt road climb I could see behind me the fate I was trying to avoid. A guy had come out of the woods, seen me pathetically jogging with my bike, and was suddenly motivated to hammer in to the finish. I tried to pick the pace up, but running is just useless against someone on a bike. He closed the gap with shocking speed and got past me to take a spot, 11 seconds ahead at the line.

In the end I was 11th out 19, which isn't terrible. The climbing parts of the course were terrible for me, since my legs basically no-showed. Last week I didn't see my HR below 182, this week I rarely saw it above that. On the other hand, the technical riding was as beneficial for me as it will ever be, so I would've liked to capitalize on that. Had I not broke my chain I might've had a shot at as high as 7th place, which is where Nick finished. But mechanicals are part of the race, and I put that chain together very recently, so I'm probably as much to blame as SRAM.

Stupid legs.


josh said…
how new was the chain? what method of attachment?
Colin R said…
It was a new SRAM chain that was about a month old. It broke because the master link got bent and then released.

The "chain" of events had been:
1) Put chain on using masterlink
2) Notice I threaded it wrong around the the derailleur
3) Pop masterlink using chain tool
4) Reattach chain correctly

So I'm guess that #3 may have contributed. On the other hand, I don't think a regular link would've bent like that.

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