Still not wanting to fully commit my lungs, I avoided the opening sprint, with the plan to reel in my cohort and increase my pace as I chased them down, a reversal to my typical “strategy” in these races.
The first lap went out hard, per expectation, and though it was very fast, I spent much of the time chasing others, particularly Ethan Lynn and Nick Blades.
I overtook Ethan early in the second lap, and shortly after caught Nick and Megan Chelf. The three of us formed a group through the remaining double track and charged through the back-half singletrack. As we entered lap three I cranked the power through the double track, and noticed a long way down the open trail, Clint Hodges.
The fire was lit, as we entered the rooty single track I could see the gap closing, and it only motivated me further to keep driving the pace.
About ¾ the way through the lap, going under the lower tunnel, I gave it one more boost and we overtook Clint, who I think happily latched on.
We now had a group of 4 charging hard through the course, and were rapidly lapping numerous other racers, possibly from our race but I think mostly from other divisions. I was super impressed with how awesome each and every one of them was; as a group of three, and then four, all the other racers happily pulled off and let all of us pass as a group (whoever was first always said “three through,” or “four through.”)
Of course, chatty Nick didn’t seem to appreciate my hard pace as he still had oxygen to say hello and wish them all luck!
Into lap 4, I had a problem. While I might have been wise to get off the front and let Team Revolution do some work, it seemed questionable to let one of them off the front, more to the point, why should they? They were 2 and I was one. I could let perhaps one of them around, but I didn’t want to let them both around. I decided to stay in front and charged hard into the double track where I seemed to have more power anyhow, as we went into lap 4.
We had a really cool moment as we approached the A-line B-Line option presented by the course (Middle Earth or Second Breakfast, respectively). Seeing another racer who wasn’t Expert just up ahead before we hit the split, I assumed she would veer down Middle Earth since it was shorter, and faster. I assumed the group would want to do that as well, but I didn’t want to risk entangling our group on a descent with a slower rider, and there was no reason we couldn’t do Second B-Fast if we all stayed together. Between gasps I pointed out the rider in the distance and said “lets go right” (Second B-Fast). Nick could see the situation and agreed. At the last second, the girl ahead went right, down Second Breakfast!
“”Left! Left! Left!” I gasped, scared we’d lose someone to the slower right hand option.
Everyone caught it though, and the group remained intact. I would have been annoyed at both myself, and the situation, had someone been messed up by that, despite the honest intentions of the whole group. Instead I was stoked.
We hammered on.
I knew Nick and Clint where scheming. Every time we hit double track I did what I could to keep them from slipping in front of me before we re-entered single track.
Finally, Clint stuck a quick inside move on a short section of double track. Nick joked he was a jerk for cutting me off, but to Clint’s credit, he made it count, and slowly built his lead, though the rest of us were just seconds behind. Climbing Bolling Alley, I hoped to claw him back and make it a sprint finish.
We ended up behind another racer on the climb though, and perhaps despite good intentions, when the rider pulled up to let us by, he only let Nick by, and without warning dropped back into the trail, causing me to nearly knock into him. Both Nick and I said something to him, and then I had a little more to say, which he really didn’t appreciate. The trail opened as the climb ended and I took off, fuming. With less than a half mile of gradual descent and then flat to the finish, all I could do was damage control.
Despite the late foul up (it does happen, and I didn’t feel like I made the situation any better by my own actions), this was an incredibly good race. I had an absolute blast hammering around with Megan, Nick, and Clint. After not feeling too great the previous weeks, it was nice to have a performance I was happy with. Looking at our times, we were only a handful of seconds away from reeling in two other Experts, and with such a powerful group pushing the pace, likely would have with just a bit more time. In all, five Expert men finished within only 50 seconds of each other: that’s why you pay money for these events, in my mind.