As the neutral roll-out ended, I could see that Cheryl Sorensen and Brenda Simril were the only women ahead of me. Somewhere between the first short, steep hill and the couple of miles of downhill rollers that led to the Cooper’s Gap climb, I lost them in the crowd. According to a report from the Antique Gun Show, Cheryl stayed with the lead group and Brenda was dropped but continued to drop the hammer with some other geared riders.
I spun steadily all the way to the base of Cooper’s Gap- 10 miles of straight-uphill awesome. The 34-21 felt easy- a good feeling to have on the first time up the first big climb of a hundie. Right on cue, I drank the last swallow out of my two bottles about a minute before I reached the first aid station. Spoiler alert- food and drink for this race were on point. I’ve figured out that if I don’t feel so full that I’m almost nauseous, that I’m not eating/drinking enough. Lucky for me, the O’Deas stocked the aid stations with Gatorade and Powerbar drink mix rather than the usual Hammer HEED.
Dear Hammer- yes, the calorie-free sweetener in HEED (Xylitol) comes from plants, which, indeed, does make it “all natural.” That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a sugar alcohol, and therefore acts like a post-race roto-rooter to some people’s intestines.
Soon after the climb and slightly sketchy descent, I came to the first section of singletrack. I remembered from past Fool’s Gold races that it was pretty flowy, and found that the combination of improved skill and heroic amounts of trail work allowed me to fly through the trail like a giant pump track. I found myself grinning and giggling repeatedly. It seemed like I was at the next aid station in no time. After a quick refill, I started the long climb up Bull Mountain.
Two years ago, I thought I was going to die on Bull Mountain. Last year, torrential downpours kept speeds to a minimum (seeing as no one had brake pads at that point). This year, the aforementioned trail work made the descents (slightly) less sketchy. I had several butt-pucker moments, but made it around the Bull Mountain loop with all ribs intact. The remainder of the lap seemed easy. Unlike the previous years’ course, trailwork & good weather made the added single track fun instead of something to dread.
As the 2nd lap started, I was a little tired, but otherwise in good shape. As I headed up the Cooper’s Gap climb again, it was tough in a couple of spots. I passed a few people either walking or parked in their granny gear with their head down, taking comfort in the fact that once I was at the top, the most difficult climb of the race was over.
Then, it rained.
Rain at Fool’s Gold is more than a minor inconvenience. The composition of the soil on course makes something like liquid sandpaper, meaning it has the potential to destroy everything it rubs against. Luckily, I made it through the longest descents before the mud fouled my brake pads. Now, I’m just faced with tearing my bike down to the frame & fork seals to clean the glitter out. The rain didn’t slow me down much, though I did figure out rather quickly that metallic brake pads suck ass when they’re wet.
The last 1/4 of the course seemed to drag on forever (as they tend to do). I walked a couple of steep spots that I’d ridden on the first lap, but otherwise kept my wits about me, even though I was generally exhausted. One thing I’ve noticed in the 2nd half of races is that I rarely get passed… somewhat encouraging.
Once I made it off of the race loop, I knew I was going to make it back alive. Three more miles of pavement, and I was headed up the last hill to the finish. Another NUE podium spot in the books.
I’m in a weird spot right now- kind of like when I was in my last season of serious road racing. I’m fast compared to the usual local competition, but I don’t stand a chance with the pros, and I can’t decide if it’s motivating or discouraging. If I want to get a top 5 overall points finish in the NUE series, I’m going to have to race outside myself at Shenandoah in 2 weeks… the type of “all in” effort where I’ll either beat someone or nearly die trying.
P.S.- the “in my head” song for this race: