Friday night, I was wired- a mix of nervous, excited, happy, anxious, and just about anything else I could throw in there to keep from feeling like I should go to sleep. I managed a few hours, though, and was awake before the alarm Saturday morning. As I mentioned in my previous post, it was stupidly cold- 18 when we went down to breakfast. After some hot cereal and coffee, I tried to relax and make final preparations back at the room.
I’d decided that I wanted to ride the mile or so down to the race course in order to get a solid start on a non-trainer warmup. Once I was at the course, I rode a lap and a half before swinging back by the car for a final shot of redbull and Gu Roctane. The ground was still rutted and frozen solid, so some parts of the course rode like a trenched & rutted hockey rink. Luckily, Saturday morning racers had the luxury of several course re-routes and tape moves to allow for less treacherous conditions than the races on Friday. However, there were still several sections of tape-to-tape ice ruts that would prove to be painful for most of us.
Once I was fueled up, I headed up to the start area. We were called up one at a time to have our tire width checked and go to our spot in the start grid. I knew from my pre-ride that most people like the smooth line to the right off of the pavement at the beginning of the race, but that I’d found a killer line to the left that was way faster as long as you could navigate one section of ice ruts right against the course tape.
When the race started, two women jumped out ahead of me. I took to their wheels on the straightaway until we reached the left turn onto the grass, where they predictably took the far line to the right. I stayed to the left and went flying down the first hill off of the pavement. I used my skatepark skills and thought “manual” as I crossed the patch of ruts that everyone else had gone right to avoid then pumped over the dirt hump at the bottom of the hill. My strategy put me ahead of the hole-shotters going into the first chicane and elbow to elbow as we navigated the frozen sand pit.
The next uphill section was a tape-to-tape ice-rut section that, if you could pedal as hard as possible and unweight your front wheel, you had a little bit of a chance of making it through without wrecking or being forced to run. It was there that the three of us in front made a gap on the other racers. However, as we rounded the next right turn to a downhill left to turn back to a set of barriers, I felt something loose in the rear end of my bike. When I picked it up to go over the barriers, my rear wheel started to come out of the dropouts.
I always hated the skewers in the Reynolds wheels. The rear one, which had been tight in the start grid, had rattled loose over the extremely rough terrain. I was forced to stop and re-tighten it while trying not to panic. I re-mounted my bike in last place. Ass-hauling ensued, and I’d ridden back into 4th by the time I reached the pit. I swapped bikes and yelled at Ryan to check the skewers. Soon after, as I was trying to claw back 3rd, I wrecked hard on the ice and dropped my chain (most common malady of the race, I think). Un-Jamming that allowed 3rd to escape again, and let the two leaders get further from my grasp. I was momentarily heartbroken, but pulled myself together and started reeling the podium spot back.
Once I was back on my Scott (thank you, Ryan, for being an awesome pit-man), I kept the hammer down and finally overtook her in the last half of the 2nd lap. I never looked back, but I know that she fought hard to try and stay with me. When I came through the wall-to-wall uphill ruts at the beginning of my 4th and final lap, I saw her laying on the ground with paramedics around her. I tried not be distracted, but hardly 10 meters later, a rut grabbed my front wheel and slammed me into the ground. I did my best to jump up quickly and told the paramedic who’d left the other racer to check on me that I was OK. I re-mounted and realized quickly that I was, in fact, NOT ok. My right thigh had taken the brunt of the impact, and every pedal stroke was torturous.
On the final runup, I noticed that my trusty Garmin 500 was gone. Even though the announcer called for whoever found it to bring it back, it never turned up. My guess is that it landed in someone’s pocket. Boooooooo.
I finished the race solo, in 3rd place.
Looking back at lap times, the fight for 2nd could have been epic if it weren’t for the two mechanicals. I’m happy, though. I haven’t raced that hard all season. I felt awesome. I took a lot of chances. Most of them worked out. Some of them hurt like hell.
It was a fun journey, but damn am I glad it’s over.