The cliff notes version; The weather has sucked, I have only done 3 races (not counting Rounds 1&2 of Snake Creek) - and it’s June; I have switched to a 29er, specifically a Giant Anthem X 29er outfitted with XTR Dyna-Sys and Maxxis Icons wrapped around Stan’s wheels. (Short review, the thing rips.)
After suffering a seizure prior to the start of the last round of the Snake Creek TT series, my driving privileges were revoked for 3 months (standard practice). Couple that with absurd amounts of rain, spotty forecasts for the far way races (raised to the power of absurdly high gas prices) and you get the makings of one bummer of a spring racing season. The highlight, and saving grace, being the new Anthem X 29er and XTR components. That bike is so much fun to ride, it feels trail-bike confident and XC fast – can’t ask for much more. The XTR 42-30 front rings with the 11-36 rear makes for an awesome setup.
The story above explains much of this year’s season. So you figure not racing much and so-so training, I would slide into a local XC race for the first test of the year. That would be far too sensible. Instead I traveled to Fruita, Colorado to race the Mountain States Cup. You know, Colorada (as pronounced in Missoura), home of 300 sunny days a year, high elevations and more MTB pro’s than Montana has people? Yeah, why not take my untested self out there to race on unfamiliar terrain.
Well, here’s why not; you’ll get your butt spanked and it’s an expensive spanking.
So I line up in the Pro start with more guys than you’re likely to find in a local Expert and Sport field. No problem, seems as though they’re all sponsored by Yeti anyway, maybe it’ll just be a team ride. So here is what I discovered in the first 12 miles of this race; I am both a much better racer than I give myself credit for and at the same time, much worse than I realize.
Here’s how that works out.
Gun goes off, I take the hole-shot. This makes me nervous. I generally start pretty well, but that just seemed too easy. Plus, I am on their turf. I shouldn’t be leading this thing out. Not to mention it is wide open high desert where a bit of drafting comes into play. Not much, but enough. I move back 1 wheel to second. Here is where I am better than I think. I keep overtaking the first guy and putting gaps in the field behind. I hardly feel like I’m trying. About 4 or so miles of this goes by, then something tragic happened; the first decent climb.
And fade into Part II – Not as good as I think
Take one part altitude and 26 or so parts racers who regard these climbs at this distance above the sea laughable. Mix thoroughly with a me and you get dropped. Well, not entirely dropped. I faded back to maybe 1/4 or 1/3 of the way back into the field. I watched the leaders scamper off as the ensuing rollers strung the rest of us out into lone wolves looking for a pack.
After a bit of scratching and clawing (on all our parts), I ended up settling in with 2 other riders. The 3 amigos never felt very friendly though, it seemed one was riding over his head and 2 of us wanted to join another pack. But, as the course wound it’s way through rocky, thorny, brush (high desert version of single track), passing was tough and the one over his head was determined to lead this little train. One thing I have learned in my years of racing; if someone insists on breaking the wind for you, let them.
I should know better than to follow my own advice.
Because there is always the X factor. I this case, the X stands for a steep rocky drop-off, a scrubby tree and aforementioned guy riding a bit beyond his ability. The outcome; guy takes a corner, sees drop-off, panics, hard brakes, stacks it up and I’m left with no place to go and about .0000001th of a second to react, I clip the tree trying to avoid the 2nd rider and am on the ground face first. I hear cracking coming from the facial region. I taste blood. A lot of blood.
Common practice in MTB racing is as follows; Guy 1 crashes. Other rider shouts “You OK?” Guy 1, being a guy, always says “Yuhhhhh” (it would be “Yeah, but the lack of breathing ability makes it come out this way). Occasionally though, you know you’re hosed. This was one of those occasions. I yell back “NO!” Seemingly, most of the force of the blow was centered on my mouth and nose. Thankfully, it was square on enough to distribute the force fairly evenly and aside form a crack in my tooth (gold grill, here I come!), nothing is broken. But it hurts like hell. Hurts like if it wasn’t a necessity, sucking water out of my Hydra-pack would have been forgone. Both my nostrils are bleeding, my lip is split in two places and gushing. My face is so covered in dirt and blood I look like a zombie who just came off the brain buffet. At each aid station, the paramedics are waiting for me and ask if I want to continue. For some stupid reason, the answer is always yes.
The insult to this injury comes in the form of 3 flat tires. I finish on my rim 45 minutes behind first place. Good thing Sarah and I are taking the rest of the week to just chill in the Golden state. More riding would have been nice since I lugged my bike all the way there, but rest is good too.
Two weeks later…
Time to race again. All teeth (somewhat) firmly still in place and we are hosting the War in West Point, round 1 of the Kentucky state series at legendary Fort Duffield. Riders and racers tend to hate Duff. (Duff’s main population tends to be guys on 6” travel bikes that take smoke breaks before getting shuttled back to the top.) So why the hate? It’s hard. It is pretty much up or down. No to forget to mention, during an average lap, you will probably jump a good 20 or 30 logs. Big logs. Logs that make you go “Huuumphhhhh!” as you lift and launch over (in subsequent laps, lift and clumsily bounce over, eventually attempting to swear at the log hoping it will get of the way). What the elevation and logs do to you physically, the twisty nature of the trails do to you mentally. A couple hours of riding there leaves you weak and a bit dizzy. But I love it, there is no place like it. I mean, flowy west coast style trails are great, but riding MTB’s should also make you grit you teeth and pucker your butt a little too.
The 2 months of crappy weather had many chomping at the bit to come out and race (in the neighborhood of 100, great for Duffield). To further tantalize, we had some awesome looking custom medals made up (the stainless steel Metal of Honor) and tons of prizes from our generous sponsors at Giant Bikes, Shimano, Clarksville Schwinn, Pearl Izumi, GU, and last and certainly not least, Holzking.net.
The Medal, er Metal
Speaking of crappy weather, trail conditions were great until the night before when a 20 minute deluge made sure things stayed slickery for the morning. Thanks nature. But Duff is a tough trail and doesn’t let a bit of moisture get to her. The up n down nature allows for some decent drainage and come race time, all was ride-able. Slower up, greasier down and generally harder, but ride-able. The slick conditions, along with the nature of the beast that is Duffield, made it hard on all with a DNF list that rivaled the finisher’s results. If you finished, you were pretty much top 5.
In the end, everyone who stuck around walked away with something, from Shimano pedals, to ½ gallons of Jim Beam, and of course, the Metal of Honor. A donation was made to the “Friends of the Fort” who pretty much let a bunch of mountain bikers have their way with the woods surrounnding the fort. Money well spent. So with a tuff Duff behind us, the season is sure to only get easier,
the next weekend at Butler.
General Butler is the best XC course going. 5.6 to 6 mile loops that flow up and down the hills of an old ski “resort” in Carrollton, KY. It is a great test of XC racing skills as it doesn’t really favor climbers, descenders or technical prowess. Many from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana will gush openly about their first race ever that took part at Butler. Unless the course is wet. Those same faces that glowed moments before thinking about their first race suddenly look like they’ve been sucking lemons and smell dog turds when you mention mud and Butler. And this year, it was a bit wet. Some spots resembled bog racing more than XC, and much time was spent de-mucking the Anthem afterwards, but I won and not much else positive can be said.
This weekend is the D.IN.O. at Brown County State park in Indiana. A stark contrast to, well, every other race this season; dry and hot is on tap. This also should be an interesting one since I have yet to have to (or been able to) race at full throttle for a whole 2 or so hours, much less doing so in 90 degree temps.
I am hoping the late start to the season means a strong finish, but you never know what is in store.