I’m not really sure what I want to say about yesterday’s race – on the one hand, I’m super-excited about how I did; on the other, I’m so physically tired that simple things like words and thoughts escape me. At least I’m not the only one!
First, a big shout-out to my next-door neighbor Ernie, who made it up to Sheboygan and rode the Sport class blind to a top-half finish. Considering he hasn’t raced all year, that’s a great result! Also to Dave Bell, thanks for the shout-out and great ride! I will have a few words with Renee, however, who told me "it will be fun" to upgrade for this race! Fun???? And to the fans up at Sheboygan -- Jeremy told me the Equalizer "would be like Houffalize," and he was right -- it was so cool!
So what did happen this weekend? First, on Saturday, I was able to get four full laps in, plus some specific work on a couple of the technical sections. I have to give a big thanks to Mountaingoat for letting me hang with him a couple of weeks back – a month ago, a course as tough as Sheboygan would have scared the crap out of me. Instead, I was nearly perfect even on my first practice lap, and rolled into the parking lot with a HUGE smile on my face! It was so much fun!
(This would come back to haunt said Mountaingoat … more on that later …)
You really get to know a rider when you spend some time on their home turf. I got some good insight into Mark Schwartzendruber a couple of years back, riding in the desolate, windy wasteland of Champaign, Illinois … on Saturday I began to better understand the skill and fluidity of Schouten and Matter. Man, if I had trails like that in my back yard, I would have gotten dirty years ago!
Kim and I camped at Kohler-Andrae State Park, and enjoyed an awesome full-moon-lit walk on the beach Saturday night. It was so cool! Then, I finally got the monkey off my back, and had a nearly full night’s sleep before the race – and I needed it!
Let’s see … race day … This was only my third mountain bike race, and it was a doozy. I told Kim that I really wanted to get a NORBA Nationals qualifier – I was able to do it in NORBA Sport at Devil’s Head, but WORS Elite/NORBA Expert is a whole ‘nother thing. I “only” needed to place top 10 in my age group … easier said than done! But I felt confident after Saturday’s pre-ride, so there was a chance …
I staged in the first row of the Elites, only to have a huge group of guys “back in” in front of me. By the time we started, Mountaingoat and I were about 5th row – not so good! It was a long, uphill, mostly pavement start to the hole shot prime, and I hit the singletrack in about 30th, not bad, not great, stacked up behind a HUGE bottleneck.
Gaps started to open on the trails, but I stayed with my group(!) through the first section. Then we dropped down to the river, where the dipsh*t in front of me decides to do a trackstand, waiting until the opposite bank cleared so he could try to clean it. IDIOT!!! A huge gap opens to the guys in front of us, and then he proceeds to stack it in the mud! DUMBA$$! I’m off my bike and running, but the ship had sailed and I spent the rest of the time seeing faces fleeting through the pine trees …
At some point I pass John Gatto and a Polska dude. When I rode past Gatto on a hill, all I could think of was that I want to beat him next week in Carpentersville … I only dabbed once the first lap, and only because the guy in front of me stalled on the Roots of All Evil. Which I cleaned on every other lap. Every lap!
I rode alone for the next lap and a half, until I was catching a guy as we dropped down to the river. I felt OK, but could hear people behind me (I may have been hallucinating), and I really wanted to get this guy. So, of course, I had my one screwup! I hit the river crossing, my rear wheel slipped out, and – in a strange sort of slow-speed movie – I toppled over backward into the water! Brrrrrrrr!!!! My left leg was still clipped in, my handlebars were covered in muck, and I had to run the hill – at least I was no longer overheating!
That did allow the guy in front of me some breathing room, although I caught him another 2-3 minutes down the line. Unfortunately, Gatto had recovered and was bringing Mountaingoat with him – they caught me soon after. And here’s where Jeremy paid for letting me ride with him at Kettle – I stayed on their wheels! I wasn’t perfect (far from it), but two months ago, when I christened the Rush at Palos, I would never have dreamed that I’d be able to hang with Mountaingoat and Gatto on a super-tight, technical, wicked-fast, tough MTB course. No way!
To be fair, Jeremy was cramping (as was I), but the three of us flowed through the singletrack all the way around until the Equalizer, which I ran and Gatto rode, and then through the start/finish where Kim laughed at me when I told her I fell in the river. (Thanks honey!) I lost their wheel a bit on the uphill, caught up and stayed in the singletrack, and was doing OK until we hit the gravel uphill behind the start/finish where Gatto attacked and I almost passed out as we crested. I was cooked, and I knew it. I held on through the drop, ran the river and caught Jeremy as he cramped on the uphill, I cramped and barely held on, and pushed myself deeper than I’ve ever been through the pine forest, almost passing out again and seeing stars through the small root section. Somewhere in there I puked a little bit too, for the second time in the race.
I managed to stay with Jeremy close enough to follow his line along the river, but then we both locked up on the climb and were passed by Polska and one or two others. We all cleaned the river drop, but at the Equalizer Jeremy and I were left behind … I followed him up the Equalizer and through the slickrock (the line I was using all other laps was better, sorry mate!), and he pushed the pace again through the start/finish and I was gapped, as a small child rode across the course in front of me …
With another two Elites on our heels, I dug deep again to stay with him. I again almost passed out as we crested the hill and entered the singletrack; this time, I used the slight downhill to catch my breath and hope for the best. I was cramping, I was dying, but Jeremy wasn’t doing too much better … An Elite who had a mechanical earlier came by us just before the river, and the two of them took off. I struggled a bit, but when the other Elite had another mechanical and Jeremy cramped up on the uphill, I had a chance. As my vision went black, I caught him on the uphill, chased him down to the pine forest, and was on his heels as we came to the gravel climb … we crested together, but that was it for him. I jumped ahead into the Roots of All Evil, cleaned it, and somehow managed to put a full minute into Jeremy in the last half lap! Although I was cramping, and virtually walked the last time up the Equalizer, I rode a smooth last lap, and in reality felt pretty good. I dug really deep to keep #236 off my butt (Jeremy beat him by 2 seconds), and rolled into the finish in 32nd place overall, 8th in the age group – a National qualifier!
That was when the pain hit. I crossed the line and my entire field of vision was covered in stars. All the blood in my body rushed to my head, as I went virtually deaf and nearly fell off my bike. I had accomplished my goal, but holy crap did it hurt! Dave gave me a shout, but I was too shattered to acknowledge him … I rolled a bit away from the crowd, and eventually circled back to find Kim. It was about 15 minutes later before I was able to stand!
This race was so much fun, and I’m really happy I upgraded to experience the pain – my lap times would have put me in the top 5 overall (and winner of my age group) in Comp, but there’s something extremely satisfying about doing that extra lap and qualifying in the next higher category. Heck, I may not even go to Nationals next year, but at least I can if I want!
After I clean it tonight, it’s time to put away the mountain bike for a while. We’ve got ‘cross races galore for the next 10 weeks or so, including the Chicago Cross Cup opener this weekend in Carpentersville … time to exorcise the demons!!!
ONLY 67 DAYS TO NATZ!!