A turn to the left on the edge of town led up into the hills and through several orchards. It was like a scene from The Cider House Rules; old farmers and apple trucks, is this a race report of some goofy PA tourist story?
A quick preface to the race, I raced the first two Michaux series races and going into this race I had about a 7 minute lead on the next racer for the series championship. I wanted to win, and since this could be my last MTB race of the season it would be a nice way to go out, plus the shwag table at this race is sweet.
The Race: I lined up with the Sport Sr. I's and II's. maybe 20 or so. I'd discussed strategy with my coach JB. Since my SM100 training consisted of long endurance miles versus faster burst/sprint exercises, the decision was to go all out from the start and use my 'ability' to recover and 'endure' to keep me out front over the 20 mile course as I would inevitably slow down. I lined up as close to the front as possible on the narrow, rocky fire road 7 or 8 riders back. The count-down and off. I motored up the left side passing several riders in the first 300 yards. After that there were 3 riders in front of me, then two then one, and then at last none.
The course looped back through the camp/finish area into a downhill. The terrain was super dry peaty forest trail, which actually led to washing out in a few turns but I hung on and didn't bail in front of the multitudes spectating from the start area. Two guys were within sight behind me at this point. The first downhill emptied onto a short paved road section, I spun and realized my chain had come off. I hopped off the bike put the chain on and 5 guys passed! I didn't realize they were that close!
The paved section lasted maybe 20 yards and we were back on a fire road with lots of downed trees. It was a high speed section; everyone was stomping on the pedals. I passed two of the five riders back, hopping small downed trees every 100 yards or so- sketchy at that speed. The group started catching some of the experts who were on a longer course so possibly going slower or suffering from flats.
The first climb was a steep fire road; I ascended this one with the two sport riders who I would see for most of the race. The leader for the Sr. IIs Kemball? and Bender, a fellow Sr. I rider who was trying to make up those 7 minutes on me for the series win. We quickly realized who each other was, smiled competitively, and kept spinning.
Cresting the top, the trail started down some serious downhill off-camber sections, with numerous sharp, motion-opposed rocks. More experts with flats, a guy blew out right in front of me. I would like to think that my strong point in riding is on this terrain, maybe that's a crock and it's in my head, or maybe it's because I actually like riding on this stuff but this was some juicy terrain; hearty east coast single track, rocky, rooty, steep and gnarly. It was the kind of trail with so many rocks that you could them cracking and grinding against other big rocks as riders rode over. I was surprised I didn't bail in some of the dry loose sections, "stay off the brakes buddy, just stay off the brakes," I kept repeating.
It was in this section that I managed to get out ahead again in a foot race up what was, for the three of us in the lead for sport, an un-ridable section. Re-mounting at the top I thought for certain I would be pursued immediately, but no, not yet. The trail in this section got somewhat vague, lots of leaves covering the obvious path and only the occasional dirt bike peel-out to mark the trail. Suddenly I noticed, in a more obvious trail section, a narrow passage between two trees. I aimed for the middle and bang. Stopped dead. Both sides of my handlebars caught and I performed the old headset-in-the-jimmy move. Amazingly, I didn't bail, just sort of sat back down, then stood, dislodged the bars and snuck through, one side first, then the other, leaving big dings in the bark of each tree.
Out of the woods again, I opened up a solid gap on the other riders on a fast fire road section. This abruptly ended in a hike-a-bike that went up what seemed like a non-trail. As I crested this to the next fire road, I saw Kemball behind me about halfway up the hike. Having someone in pursuit always makes me go faster... but it was at this point that I realized I had no gel. Not the end of the world, but by not having it I craved it.
The details of the next section are a bit vague as I started to get tired, but it mostly consisted of a slight fire road climb which gave way to a slightly steeper climb, then a really steep climb, then brutal rocky single track which traced a ridgeline. Kemball passed me in a grassy section at some point here. We had a good chat and confirmed that he was a Sr. II and I was a Sr. I, so no competition between us, as if there would have been any as he steadily gapped me and disappeared.
A check of the time, 1:45, indicated that there was probably about a half hour to go. I started cramping a little on a few climbs. The sport course intersected with the beginner's and suddenly the trail was full of people, but still wide enough to make easy passes.
I looked back on slightly rocky climb and there was Bender! Sweet, no hiding now, no more big lead for me, just an open battle. He gradually passed me after picking a better line. The trail smoothed out and turned into an overgrown but smooth forest road downhill. I kept him in sight thinking I would try a sprint at the end. Suddenly I saw cars and realized we were there! I launched a lame attack, but he was at least 20 or 30 seconds ahead of me, easily taking first for the race, but nowhere near the 6 or 7 minutes needed to win the series.
Kemball, Bender and I congratulated each other at the finish tent. It was really cool to have such a tight race; Bender had flatted in the second Michaux race, which accounted for his large deficit to me. It turned out that we had parked next to each other and he offered me a pint of Troegs Wheat Beer. Now that's sportsmanship!
I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging with folks from Harrisonburg, and the Pedalshop team who kindly shared some Old Dominion beer with me. I should note that the Michaux organizers bring in a local company that sells hot roast beef, turkey or ham sandwiches, and provide free Coors beer... It was a great afternoon.
The prize table didn't disappoint, for the series win I got a new XT derailleur, and for placing second in the day's race a new saddle bag.
I'm thinking maybe trying the Monster XC series for Michaux next year. It's a long race, but probably a lot of fun.