Another fine day to go fast on bicycles this weekend, boys and girls. Yesterday was an all-out 50 minute time-trial on pavement. Today was essentially an all-out two hour time-trial in the woods. My legs didn't feel too bad this morning getting up, but I knew some damage lurked in there. I thought a respectable finish at the Bear Brook State Park race in New Hampshire was still within the realm of possibilities.
The forecast was a bit iffy. Since I've become such a roadie, threats of rain make me bail out of MTB races. The rocks and roots might get slippery, you know. It was clear out when I got up. That was good enough to head up. I was amazed at how many people kept filing into the parking lot. It was overflowing. Back in the heyday of mountain biking, I never saw this many cars in the Bear Brook lot. After the race I learned over 300 showed up. Jack Chapman said last year there were about 180. Pretty nutty. Of course, with that many riders showing up, there were bound to be some fast guys. John Mosher (Corner Cycle) and Tyler Munroe (CCB) in my category (Expert Vet-II) were there. Tyler won the category last year. I was certainly going to watch these two.
Very little of the course was in common with the course I last raced here many years ago. New trails have been built, and I think the race organizers made a nice effort to steer clear of the perennially muddy areas. I ridden one lengthy section of new singletrack only once. The most technical part of the course I was fortunately very familiar with. I pre-rode very little of the course before race start.
The expert fields were so large that each age group got their own start. This was sweet. I'd only be drilling it with 20 guys or so to the first piece of singletrack. We went off shortly after 10am, behind the elites and younger expert fields. I filed in mid-pack with Tyler and John ahead of me. The pace of course was completely incompatible with a two-hour TT pace. That's one thing that sucks about MTB racing, is they put the sprint start at the beginning and then everybody limps over the line at the finish. There's some magical starting effort, one that you don't get bogged down behind too many slow guys and not totally blowing yourself apart five minutes into the race. I erred more on the side of blowing myself up. I was definitely feeling yesterday's time-trial. Not sure if it was just nuisance suffer factor or performance was really being pulled down with it.
About 20 minutes of trying to stay with John and Tyler was enough. I fancied the idea that John would eventually slow down, and if I rode my pace, I'll see him again (yeah, right). I think we shelled everybody else clean out of the group. It was hard to tell, as with one minute field spacings, we quickly overtook other riders. Once I got past most of the other younger riders, I was by myself for long periods of time. This was perfectly conducive to time-trialing for two hours. Now I was just out on a hard ride at one of my favorite places to ride. Before completing the first lap, I passed Tyler standing along the trail. At the time I had no idea what happened. Later I learned he snapped his chain. So that meant I only had Mosher to worry about now.
Lot's of punchy hills to wear you down. Wired computer logged 25.5mi.
I reached the lap point, the site of the infamous stairs, and began my second lap. I knew I was slowing down, but I continued to pass other riders. I started seeing more lapped sport and novice riders now too. It's actually easier to pass those guys than somebody that is going almost as fast as you. I might have been going 2x faster than some of the first sport riders I passed. It takes two seconds to pass them. Just call it out well in advance. Passing an expert ride that is 1 minute per hour slower than you is much more difficult. Fortunately, everybody I encountered was very cool about it and made opportunities for me to pass safely.
Half way around the second lap, I catch a younger rider who then picks his pace back up. This was on a long, very fast part of the course. This could be annoying. At first I thought he'll blow, then I'll pass. He didn't blow up. I think he thought he could ride me off his wheel. I stayed 12" off his wheel, drafting at 25mph on a narrow trail at one point. Roadie skills do pay off in the woods. There's no way, with how tired I was getting, that I could have maintained that pace. We climb Carr Ridge together, but alas, he had real mountain biker skills and dropped me on the bony descent. I never saw him again.
Dropping down the stairs again, I got to go left this time to the finish. Good thing. I was done. It was getting warmer and muggier, and I felt some chills. I don't think I was drinking enough, so I was getting dehydrated and starting to overheat. Cramping always follows this shortly. We took a slightly different route back from the lap point to the finish, for 25.5 miles total. I finished in 2:05:04, second out of 12 finishers for Expert Vet-II (42-49) age group. Mosher not only won my age group, he was overall expert winner with a time just shy of two hours. Being a "fun" race for me, I was quite pleased with how well it went. No mishaps, great weather, and great competition.
After the race I caught up with a bunch of guys I haven't seen in a while. A lot of guys that have been away from MTB racing for a while were there today. I talked with Colin R after the race too. The skinny whippet gave me crap about how roadie this course must be because I showed up. He even asked me if I rode the stairs at the lap point. I haven't become that much of a roadie. I was probably winning MTB races when he was still in high school. He did beat me by a minute and a half or so. Being such a "roadie course," he thought a roadie like me would have the advantage today. Guess those few rocks on Carr Ridge slowed me down.
The course was extremely well marked and marshaled. There would be no excuse making a wrong turn here. Organization was superb. I would look for this event becoming a fixture of New England mountain bike racing in future years. I and everybody I talked to had lots of fun.