The course was pretty good, and dove deep into some of Kincaids rooty hell holes, including the Hammerman trails.
The biggest challenge for this course in my mind was the curt start that dove into single track pretty quick and didn’t break out for a while.
My plan was simple, use the same strategy I’d been using the previous two races, let the first lap go out hard, get dragged along, keep the legs spinning consistently, and go find people to chase down.
We did a quick lap around the stadium to spread out, but it didn’t matter much, just as the main group made it out onto the first short break of double track, it turned out that the lead group had made a wrong turn, and things balled back up as we re-entered the singletrack.
I’d lost sight of Nick and Clint, who I hoped to keep a visual on, but wasn’t too worried, we had a long way to go and I felt good.
The Hammerman rooty trails were awful, slow, tedious, but mostly uphill, meaning the hardtail wasn’t a disadvantage. The biggest struggle I was finding with trail conditions was the occasionally dry and loose conditions on otherwise fast and firm that made cornering inconsistent.
It wasn’t dry and loose that got me though. A lengthy section of course went over Jodphur Loop trails. Read: road biking in the woods.
Coming into a corner I had this brief thought that maybe you always have when you corner at 25MPH, “I hope I don’t go down.”
It obviously doesn’t happen 99% of the time, but this time I went down, hard. The trail was like black ice, my front tire went out and I was on the ground before I knew what happened. Jessie was on my tail, and as I rolled, I saw the profile of her front tire out of the corner of my eye, lined up for my head.
She had a split second to decide whether to ride over me or go down as well. Thankfully she chose the latter option, and thankfully, she wasn’t banged up.
The impact was a good one for me though, and I hit my knee hard enough it hurt to extend and retract.
I hobbled away from the corner to avoid causing a pile up. People were blowing by. I looked over the bike, tried to slow my mind and make sure I didn’t panic and jump back on only to crash again because my brakes or bars were askew. Everything was still good though, so it appeared.
I was raging pissed off at myself and freaked out. I got on the bike and started to soft pedal, my knee was killing me, my head still spinning.
I realized maybe a drink would help: BLEEP!
I was smart to check over the bike, but I failed to notice I’d lost my bottle in the crash. I was far enough from the crash site I didn’t want to turn back, but the laps were long and the day was hot. I was not thrilled about riding the next three miles back to the start without water and getting dehydrated in the process after my experience in the 6-hour race. I rode on in a small group that included Megan, who tried to instill some positive thoughts, even though I was pretty ticked with myself.
When we hit the start area I snagged my staged bottle and headed back into the woods.
The next thing I knew I was riding down Middle Earth…the wrong way.
Of course, even after I suspected I’d made a wrong turn, I wasn’t completely sure until I did the math in my head.
This race felt as good as over to me. My best bet would be to maybe chase my way back up to Jessie and the group I’d been with right when I crashed. I rode alone the entirety of the second lap, but I think after I rode through the crash site again, and saw my bottle off in the alders, my head leveled back off, and I stopped pouting and started riding. It didn’t take too long into the third lap before I passed Megan, and not long after caught up with Jessie and the rest of the group I’d been with.
Jessie was crushing it, and stuck my wheel through a 1/3 or more of the lap. When I came by the crash site, out of water, and not having seen anyone off in the distance to chase down, I figured I’d better make a quick grab of my lost bottle. The quick stop allowed Jessie to catch back on for a bit, but once we rolled into the final climb, all the adrenaline from the crash was bubbling over and I pedaled about as hard as I should have been the last two laps to the finish, disappointed with the way things turned out.
The takeaway here was a good one though, bitter as I may have been about it. I’d been enjoying the change in strategy this year from past years, chasing my cohort down as the race went on instead of fleeing them off the start. The chasing option is mentally easier, I paced a bit easier in the start, didn’t get stressed or gassed in the sprint, and used the distant figures of other racers as the fire for my legs as the race went on. The problem: it left no room for error. These races are too fast, and the guys I race against are only going to get caught with a lot of effort. Biffing a corner may mean never seeing them. In the sprint-and-flee situation, if you screw up, you may just end up with them, and can then try to get away, or at worst, get passed but not end up nearly as far back.