MNSCS #8/WORS #8: Trek Border Battle - 9/16
This race was a joint event between the Minnesota and Wisconsin Series held in River Falls, Wisconsin. It was my 4th Minnesota race of the season and 2nd Wisconsin race of the season.
My wife and I had originally planned to make it a getaway weekend like the one we did for the Chippewa Valley Firecracker on the weekend of July 4th. Due to some teenager issues on the home front, we decided it was best if she was home for the weekend. I had the Element all packed up on Friday night for the trip and was ready to go. Even with our decision for her to stay here with the kids, I was all ready to head out the door on Saturday to drive up and take a couple of pre-race laps on the course before checking myself into a motel. That's when my wife put the kabosh on my personal weekend getaway since she was not going. We decided I could drive up Sunday morning before the race (4 1/2 hours) which I have done with a couple of other Minnesota races this season without any problems. So, I headed out at 6 am on Sunday in pouring rain wondering if the Doppler Radar I had just checked on the internet was going to work out for the best scenario up in River Falls.
The drive north was pretty much rain all through Iowa. About an hour south of the Twin Cities, the sun poked out and I could see the end of the storm to the east of me. That was good because it meant sunshine was headed in the direction of the race venue. I got there with a little over an hour to register, get suited up and do my warm up routine. I spoke with one race director who said the course was slick (especially rocks and roots) due to the .2 inches of rain they had just received in the morning. However, he said the mud was not really sticking to bike tires enough to build up on the frame and that some extra chicken wire had been placed on the wooden bridges and berm to prevent slipping. A quick look of the Citizen class racers going through the course during their race told me it wasn't that muddy out there to be too worried. Yet, it was muddy enough I felt I needed to race the Dos Niner with the tires that had some tread - my Maxxis Aspens. There wasn't time to swap tires or wheels off of my JET 9 (has the Ravens on it) and the Ravens are not mud friendly tires.
After a good warm up, I ran into Cam and said hello. He agreed with me that it didn't look like too much mud was on the bikes and mentioned the course was in tip top shape on Saturday. Since I didn't get to pre-ride, he told me outside of the opening climb, it wasn't really a big climbing venue. So I felt comfortable with my bike choice without having ridden the course. I would pay for that in terms of my back and wide handlebars later in the race.
After the traditional call ups for my category (they let the 40 - 49 year old Sport class racers go in the first wave) and the National Anthem, we were off. I was finally able to make my way up to the 2nd row for the start of the race (usually I'm near the back in these big event races). Why? Simply because I lined up early and was up near the front. I've got to do that more often!!! We all big ringed it off the line and made it around the grassy field's first 2 turns just fine. I was right on the tail of the top dozen or so at this point when we started the opening double track climb. We were shoulder to shoulder about 3 - 5 racers across the doubletrack.
After the first 5 feet of climbing on this opening climb, the guy in front of me unclipped and stopped right in front of me in a rut!!! What the F!!!? I couldn't nudge left or right because we were packed in so tightly. I was forced to stop, unclip and let about a dozen guys go by before I could get going again. RATS!!! As I passed the guy he said he was sorry. It looked to me like he just got scared of the rut and the line and decided to bail rather than climb through it. It wasn't that bad of rut and the mud was not too bad at that point. I think he was just an inexperienced rider who balked at what he saw. Plenty others climbed right through that rut without any difficulties on each lap.
But.....it now meant that I was back in the pack. I was unsure if I should give it the gas to make up what I lost right away or wait a bit to see what was available for passing once out on the course. That's when I saw Cam giving words of encouragement on the side of the hill watching us all do the starting climb (he was waiting for Julie to come through in her wave). Congrats to Julie and her 2nd place podium spot in her category!
Here's a shot of me, photo courtesy of Cam, trying to remain all smiles on the opening climb even though I'm back in the pack due to the unplanned dismount:
One glance up the opening climb's length and having never ridden it, I forecast that it would have to be a super effort for the rest of the climb to make up the dozen or so spots I had just lost on the bottom of that opening climb when the guy stopped in front of me. I figured that would have taken me over the edge where I probably wouldn't have recovered very well at all.
I quickly decided to just grind out the climb within my known limits race starts. Anyway, that's the breaks in racing. You play with the cards you are dealt. Pity. I found myself in perfect starting position only to have it taken away in a flash. Did that cost me in the singletrack as we bunched up and I couldn't get around anyone until the first passing section? Who knows? It's not that I would have ridden any harder being more up the ranks entering the singletrack, it's just that things quickly get strung out and having to work your way through the pack is much more difficult than just being up there from the get go. It may have been worth a minute or two, but I'm just speculating on that. I got over it and rode my race - and had fun. That's always the key.
After we entered the singletrack, guys started falling all over the place. It was slick - especially on the roots. It seemed like every corner had somebody in front of me or behind me hitting the dirt with a few choice words as they hit the deck. Having spent a lot of time riding on wet roots in Austria (due to all the rain), I shifted into root riding defensive mode being careful to choose lines to avoid as many as possible and only going over them in an upright and not so angled lean on the bike. In spite of that, my front wheel caught a little one and PFFFT!!! slipped right out from under me. I prepared for the subsequent crash, but somehow was able to unclip my left foot, plant it, push off and take right off again - all without hardly missing a pedal stroke. The guys behind me shouted "Nice save!". How about "fortunate" or "lucky" save?
However, that kicked my defensive riding a notch higher and as more people were falling in this first lap left and right, I slowed my speed a bit. This first lap was the worst lap in terms of it being slick. As the sun, wind and all the bikes on the trail continued for subsequent laps, it was not as slick and speeds increased for everyone. Lap one had us all jockeying for position in the passing sections and I was locked onto whatever wheel I could grab in front of me to help learn the trail. I also was yearning for my JET 9 and the full suspension. This course was really bumpy and I was getting my lower back and body thrown all around. A lot of places I could have been seated and pedaling on the JET, I was trying to protect my back on the Dos and just stay on the bike (bucking bronco) which meant more standing than I really wanted to be doing. Most likely, I had too much air pressure in my tires for the course, but I know the JET would have saved my back and been less effort on this course. At times, it was like a rodeo on the Dos Niner.
I was able to out climb a few guys I had been following, so I took advantage of the opening climb on lap 2 to jump ahead of them. I was now noticing that I wanted to get up and go, but the soft conditions took more effort to keep the bike moving than I expected. I was drooling and blowing snot rockets which is an indication I'm on the edge of the red zone with my heart rate. Lap 2 had the podium winners from the 2 waves or so behind us finally catching up to our wave and the passing from behind began. I kept trying to lock on to rear wheels as best as I could when they went by, but I was on the gas all the time due to the soft soil and it was wearing me out. More drooling and snot rockets. Going up the hill, down the hill, against the wind - it all took me in the pain cave and I just couldn't get the mind to force me to push at every opportunity.
I found myself locking onto wheels of riders that I knew I could pass, but I was settling for the recovery and slower pace far too often. I had conquered that habit at the Chippewa Valley Firecracker where I just pushed through all that pain at each and every opportunity throughout the race. Yesterday wasn't quite the same result, but I was throttling it as best as I could muster. My wide handlebar on the Dos Niner finally met up with a tree in some of the tight singletrack when my rear tire slid out on a root or rock or something slick. I didn't fall, but it stopped me dead in my tracks and was a bit unsettling enough to throw off my balance for a minute or two during the next section of tight singletrack. I felt like I was in slow motion for a couple of minutes. Finally I got going up to speed and restored my balance. I was able to pass a couple of slower wheels in front of me on the last passing section before entering the final section of singletrack of the lap.
I passed a pretty fast guy from the age 17-18 category on the opening climb of lap 3 who had passed me earlier in the race. He took one look at me as I passed him, got pissed off and all 115 pounds of him came flying by me about 10 feet later. ;-) I followed him for most of lap 3 until he took off again on one of the passing sections through a meadow when we were riding against the wind. He had family out on the course giving him hand ups and encouragement at nearly every passing section. He finished 4th in his category and had a good race.
I got behind the wheel of a guy in the 40-44 category who I was out climbing, but he was descending better than me. When we got to the switchback climb, I had to slow way down as he was climbing so slowly and I couldn't get around him on the narrow and muddy sections before and between switchbacks. The guys behind us started yelling at us to hurry up and I muttered something back at them. I don't remember what, but I did swing wide on the top switchback turn to give them room to move through on my right, but neither of them took me up on it. So I just forged ahead and passed the guy who was climbing slower than me. I could sense the end of the race and put it into sprint mode as best I could to get to the line. The Dos Niner was a bucking bronco as I went flying over the bumps and my back cursed at me on everyone of the bumps during this last mile or so.
I crossed the line in 8th place out of 21 in my category (45-49 year olds) and 87th out of 204 male sport riders. All in all, I feel pretty good with the effort considering the conditions, my bike choice and not doing a pre-ride of the course. A couple of guys I have beaten before in Minnesota or Wisconsin beat me in this race. And a couple that usually beat my time in those races (in other categories) were slower than me in this race. In terms of striking distance.....there was one guy in my class who finished 22 seconds ahead of me (a guy I've beaten before) and the next guy in 6th place was 2:44 ahead of me (also I guy I've beaten before during this season). The guys ahead of them in the top 5 spots were out of my current realm or league. I certainly had my opportunities during the race to make up 22 seconds, but I couldn't get my mind to push through the pain like in some other races. Mental note for the future: Don't think or ask yourself questions when on the wheel of a slower rider. Just react and go, go, go at every opportunity.
Fun was had and the trail worked out just fine in spite of the evening and morning showers. I'm sure the weather kept some folks away. I wouldn't doubt the price of gas and continued economic woes added to attendance as well. I guess I was expecting larger numbers since it was a joint Minnesota and Wisconsin race with the traveling trophy for whichever state scores the most points. I was actually thinking it would be a lot muddier and slicker than it ended up being, but by the 2nd and 3rd lap it was really tacky and sweet flowing singletrack. I thought it was a really fun course that was not too technical at all outside of a couple of logs to bunny hop. They took the difficulty out of the wet wooden berm and bridges with the chicken wire, so all one really had to deal with were the wet roots during lap one before conditions mellowed out enough to race full bore.
I drove home after some watermelon and water in time to hit the dinner table by 6:30 pm. I got stuck for 30 minutes on I-35 north of Faribault in stopped traffic. Turns out, the stop was created by two lanes merging into one for a construction zone. It always strikes me odd as how that can create a multi-mile pile up of stop and go three feet, stop and go two feet, stop and sit for 5 minutes, etc.... situation. Kind of like entering the singletrack if you are not up in the front group I guess....
Photos to come later if I can dig any up from the various sites.
Now it is time to prepare myself mentally to grind out all the climbing at Boone this weekend...