Monday, May 19, 2014

Sometimes Everything Just Comes Together

Ever since I started mountain bike racing I wanted to win at the RiverRock Urban Assult.  It's held on the trails that I started riding on and where I still ride most often since they are so close to me.  I don't have a very good track record here, but I look forward to it every year.

I don't make it to a lot of out of town races and with the lack of local races this year I decided to make this my top priority for the season.  I usually ride the JRPS loop clockwise, but started doing every loop counter clockwise early in the year to get used to the race direction.  I focused on riding smoothly and not scrubbing too much speed in the corners.  I created a plan for every aspect of this race.  Training, nutrition, race strategy, etc.... 

I started to have some doubts about how I would race when I had a few crashes in training on features that I easily cleared in the past.  My head started to get the better of me every time I got to these spots. Then 2 weeks out I got sick and couldn't ride for a week.  At the same time work got really busy and had me up till midnight most days that week.  Thankfully I recovered fairly quickly from my illness and work calmed down a bit during the week prior to race day.  I was able to focus and ride some crash free laps and get my confidence back.

We had a monsoon of a rain storm Thursday night into Friday morning, but luckily the trails held up well and were perfectly tacky by race start.   On race day the temp was upper 60's or lower 70's with some good sunshine.  Not too hot and not too cold. 

I chatted with Roger and Brandy at the check in (who both did an awesome job organizing this event!) and found out about a few course re-routes and modifications.  The non-rocky line on the first climb was blocked off.  Everyone had to take the harder route up the climb.  My goal was to try to be the first one to the climb since it became a bottle neck last year.  Also taken out was the tunnel through Reedy Creek since it was flooded.  I was fine with that too.  In the past I haven't had problems with that section, but for some reason in every training ride through there this year I would end up smashing my knee into my handle bar on the climb back out.

I headed out on North Bank a little ways to look at the beginning of course again and get in a good warm up.  At the first rock climb I ran into a single speeder and the two of us practiced the rocky climb a few times.  It seemed like the main line was changed a bit too.  Both of us were having difficulty getting all the way up which made me a little nervous.

I got back to the starting area and found Dave Hardisky and Thom Flynn.  A little later Paul Leeger and Jennie Belt showed up too.  We listened to the announcements and then lined up for the start.  As the waives ahead of me went off I started to get really nervous and felt a bit weak.  I wasn't sure how this would go.  I did my best to stay relaxed when we rolled up to the line. 

Before I knew it we were off.  I can usually clip in really quickly, but totally missed my pedal this time.  It was tight at the line, so I was knocking shoulders with the guys next to me.  The one on my left started clipped in, holding on to the railing and blasted to the front of the pack.  After finally getting clipped in I was in 4th or 5th going around the first turn.  I stayed calm and seated up the first gravel climb.  The guy in front of me tried to stand and power up the climb, but spun his wheel on the loose gravel and almost came to a stand still right in front of me.  I got around him quickly and was third wheel in the train moving down the gravel road toward North Bank.  Soon I moved past the 2nd rider and bridged up to the racer who took off so fast at the start.  Before we hit the fence to the narrower gravel road I sprinted past him and kept pushing forward toward the "hole shot" up the rocky climb.  I cleared it with ease and heard the guy be hind me cuss as he got stuck half way up which probably brought the rest of the field to a stand still.  I flew down the armored descent on the other side, took a page out of Tom Richeson's book and stood up and hammered on the flat straight away.  (I saw Tom do this at the Poor Farm race last year, disheartening those chasing him and increasing the gap.  I always wanted to do it, but never found myself with the energy or position to do it.  Thanks for the inspiration Tom!)  I rode the rest of North Bank as hard as I could. Once I hit the parking lot I again got out of the saddle and hammered away.  I looked back before going down Stairway to Heaven and just saw 2nd place come on to the straight away from the parking lot.  I couldn't believe my strategy was working.  I planned on trying to get a gap and then relax a bit and ride my own pace and not worry about the others around me.  I usually have some kind of a plan worked out in my head before a race, but it never seems to work.

I focused on hydration on the flats by the canal and quickly made it over the Nickle Bridge to head down ButterMilk.  I focused on riding smooth, descending fast, and staying off the brakes.  I kept pushing hard, but tried to relax and spin up the longer climbs since I usually fade hard and fast at the end of races.  I started getting into a lot of traffic from other groups at this point which caused a lot of slowing and accelerating which I knew would hurt me later, but those behind me would have to come through the same traffic, so I hoped they wouldn't get too close.

Forest Hill Park was a lot of fun with the fast descents and high speed corners.  Near the end of FHP I came into a turn too hot, drifted off my line and smacked my forearm into a tree.  I nailed it right on the top of the forearm muscle near my elbow.  At first I thought it would affect my grip on the bars, but I was able to work through it.  Somehow I hit the exact same tree on the 2nd time through there as well.  

I was really surprised by how fresh I felt at this point.  I knew that I burned a lot of matches pretty early, but I kept my pace as high as I could and kept taking in fluids since I often cramp when I go out too hard.  At the start of the Manchester Bridge I caught up with Emily Bashton who was leading her group.  We chatted briefly and then agreed to trade pulls over the bridge.  Once over the bridge I stood up and accelerated to the start of North Bank.  On the rocky climb I came upon the single speeder who I practiced with during my warm up.  Both of us cleared the climb, I wished him luck and kept moving on.  Near the end of North Bank I started feeling the first twinges of cramping in my quads.  I quickly finished a bottle and tried to ignore it and use easier gears on the climbs. 

As I started back into ButterMilk my thoughts started going negative.  The cramping was getting worse and I had a feeling that I would get caught.  I could see a couple of riders coming through the woods a bit behind me.  Really...everything was going this well and it wouldn't pay off?

At the first creek crossing my front wheel slide out, but I caught myself before going for a swim.  The rider behind came up to me quickly.  Thankfully he was from a different category and gave me a wheel to stare at till I could get the demons out of my head.  I continued to throw back fluids (thankfully I had decided to bring 3 bottles) and the cramps finally went away the second time through Forest Hill Park and I was able to charge on again.  There was still someone lurking about 50 yards behind me, so I again focused on descending as fast as I could and riding smooth (except for hitting the tree again).  Whoever was behind me was soon out of sight and I was re-energized coming out of FHP.

I finished the rest of ButterMilk without issue and pushed hard over the bridge.  I looked back and didn't see anyone behind.  I couldn't believe that I had actually managed to stay away for the whole race.  I'm excited that I finally got the win that I always wanted and that I was able to actually execute a race strategy as planned!

Great event, beautiful weather, perfect trails, bike worked flawless (Thanks to Coqui Cyclery for the tune up) .....Sometimes everything just comes together!

All I saw were smiles at the finish.  Everyone got their free beer and hung out for a while telling their war stories.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy the trails and atmosphere.  I talked to a few out of town folks who absolutely loved it.  They weren't expecting anything like that in the city. 

All teammates rode strong and had a good showing!

Jennie Belt - 2nd Female Expert
Dave Hardisky - 7th Sport 40+
Thom Flynn - 12th Sport 40+
Paul Leeger - I couldn't find Paul's result, but I know he rode hard on his singlespeed since he broke his other frame.