3rd time is the charm, so they say. This being my 3rd early season training race, I was finally able to finish. Hence the charm aspect of it all. After last week's tubeless rimstrip/valve problems and the Bone Bender mudfest causing me to DNF, I just wanted to finish a race. I can proudly say that I finished the IMBCS #4 race at Moorehead Park in Ida Grove. The bike was fine and the climbing was perfect for me to tackle at this point of the season.
I was in good shape for the Banner Pits race as it doesn't involve a lot of climbing and you can focus on short power climbs (where all that short interval training I did kicks in) and bike handling on the technical sections of that trail. This week's training plan was to start adding in extended mountain bike climbing to get that part of the game plan going for upcoming races. I'm about 3 weeks behind on doing that this year over last year due to my unexpected trip to France in May. I'll take the trade off of a European trip, though. ;-)
Regardless, there is no better place to suffer extended climbing than Lake Ahquabi. I went out early in the week before all the rain hit to do the grunts and to see what kind of shape Ahquabi is in for this time of year. I was quickly reminded that the extended climbing puts a different stress on your system than what I had been training lately, but it felt good. That was the only day I could hit Lake Ahquabi as we had too much rain to make it worthwhile to head out there again this week. I used the rest of the week as a pavement training week with no taper leading into Sunday's race. I knew it would cost me to build like that without recovery, but I needed the build up for races coming up.
Rain was everywhere along a line of cold front/warm front as they met through Nebraska and Iowa, but Jesse Bergman gave the thumbs up on Saturday night saying that the trail was in perfect racing shape and he confirmed that again at 6 am on Sunday morning to let everyone know the race was on as scheduled. I climbed out of bed feeling the stress in my legs of a heavy training week and a night of very humid and warm temperatures. I took a shower and drank some hot coffee to get the old blood flowing through the legs. The drive up to Ida Grove was not too encouraging as I hit rain the closer I got to Ida Grove. The drive from Dennison to Ida Grove was nothing but rain. In spite of that, bikes and tires in the parking lot of those that had been out on the trail warming up didn't look too bad at all. Nothing like the Bone Bender mudfest - that's for sure!!!
I had the Nanoraptors on the JET 9 which are not the mud tires of choice, but what the heck. I've used them in all sorts of conditions and knew what to expect. Of course, as soon as I paid my $25 and walked back to the car with my number plate to get changed and warm up - the rain hit. I climbed in the car and said to heck with warming up, but about 15 minutes before the race it stopped raining and I got suited up and did get a few minutes of blood flow going. I hit a small section of trail, just enough singletrack to realize the Nanos would be fine.
It was a smaller crowd of racers that lined up compared to last week due to the rain, but it was nice to see some Nebraska racers make it over and line up in the categories. I had not been on these trails before and had decided earlier in the week that my goal should be to treat it like a training race and just finish for once!!!
At the gun, we jumped off to a quick start on the gravel road which then had the group slowing a bit heading into the singletrack. All was well, but corners were a little greasy. We hit one off-camber steep descent that had everyone ahead of me off their bikes and I quickly found out why as my pucker factor kicked in and I scrambled to keep the bike upright. Kory Hill was pulled over on the side at the bottom of that hill working on his bike (turned out his brake cable had slipped out on a fall and he was doing some maintenance to get it going again).
Lap one felt like it was a little on the slow side for me as I didn't want to go down with my tires and unfamiliarity with the trail. However, it was the fastest lap I turned out of the three. I was following the guy in front of me watching him for all the turns, logs, slippery spots, etc... . The front group had pulled away from us, but I was content where we were at this point of the race. Then he slipped out on a climb and I passed him leaving me in that "no man's land" of nobody in front of you on an unfamiliar trail. The climbs were long and the sponge feel in the soil meant it was no cakewalk to keep momentum going on the bike. I figure it was a gear or two penalty (maybe even three gears in spots) for the conditions compared to what it would be like when dry. But what a workout!! The seated, grinding climbs reminded me of Lake Ahquabi. Ah....if Lake Ahquabi would only allow us to build singletrack on those nice hills....
I was glad I had made it out earlier in the week to reacquaint myself with turning the screws on those longer ascents because Moorehead park called for it. Even though it was my fastest lap, I felt like I babied my way around lap one taking care not to fall and to try to learn the trail. One tight switchback caught me (and my Nanos) by surprise and down I went. I jumped back on and made a note that although things were drying out, I still had to take care in the sharper corners. The rest of the lap was uneventful. Kory caught up to me and passed me as we came out of the singletrack and hit the gravel road going through the finish line area as we started lap 2. The guy has some legs and lungs - no matter how much he moans about being in his 40's. ;-)
By the start of lap 2, the wind had come up and the trail was drying out to nice tacky race conditions. My confidence increased, but not my speed. That section near the beginning with a steep off-camber descent that induced the pucker factor was now okay to ride. I was on my own all of lap 2 and passed one guy on one of those long grinding climbs as he had to get off the bike and push. One of the climbs where you were on the edge of the red line zone had some successive logs you had to negotiate over during the climb. The speed and power needed just to pull the front wheel over each of these logs was enough to throw me into the "I gotta recover from that effort" on each lap. Fun stuff and just what I needed for raising the training bar. I seem to have trouble keeping myself focused and going which showed in my lap times for this second lap which was 2 minutes slower than my 1st and 3rd laps.
I swapped out my water bottle in the starting area before heading out to do lap 3. Again, not another racer was in sight and I was on my own. Just as I hit the bottom of that pucker factor off-camber descent area, the rider who was in 1st place Expert came whizzing by me - Nate - on his sweet looking Moots ride. I passed one more rider during lap three as my confidence and speed had improved from the previous lap to the point I felt like I was actually racing again like the first lap. Nearing the end of lap 3 and just when I was working with all of my effort, Gary Fisher 29er Crew rider Mark Savery from Nebraska come flowing by on his Superfly SS railing the corners like poetry in motion. I say flowing because that's what it looked like. I don't know the guy, but watching his cornering technique was pretty amazing. Smooth as silk.
I crossed the line happy to finally have finished a race this season and felt pretty good with the workout I had just been through. There is no training like a race to whip one's mind, body and attitude into shape. I ended up in 6th Place out of the 11 CAT 2's that toed the line. Good old familiar midpackitis. I'd like to get in some climbing work at Lake Ahquabi this week, but with the amount of rain we've had - I doubt if it will be dry enough to give it a go.
As I was heading back to the car I saw Squirrel come flying through, reach for a pair of water bottles on top of his car in the starting area and drop them both. He rode on for his final lap without any beverage. That's not cool, so I grabbed one of them and took it out to a spot in the trail where I could hand it to him when he rode by. Kory Hill came along as he was cooling off after the race and we visited while we waited for Squirrel. That's where Kory told me about what had happened to his brake during lap one.
The CAT 1's had a total 29"er podium with a Moots, a Fisher and a Specialized taking 1, 2 and 3.
A big thanks to Jesse Bergman and his wife Kate and their crew for setting up a great race course on some very cool singletrack. I hope we get to race at that park again next season as those are some very nice trails.