The weather reports on Saturday night and early Sunday morning were good, so I didn't need the Beavers. I decided to race the fat tire Dos Niner at the Wheelhouse Classic in Red Wing, Minnesota.
I drove up sans wife who pulled the plug on me at 5:30 a.m. and said I was on my own. I buzzed up I-35 and headed over through Northfield to Red Wing where I arrived with about 45 minutes to register, suit up and warm up for the 11 a.m. race. The weather was perfect and word was the trails were tacky and in great race shape. I got the air pressure I wanted in the big fat Maxxis Ardent 2.4's, made my Heed drinks and headed out for some warm-up. I felt pretty good and knew my training for the week had been the right balance to prepare for the climbs.
I lined up with my wave which included most of the older guys from age 44 - 60+. My wave took off at 11:06 and we were scheduled to do 3 full laps. Typical race finish time for the Cat 2 (Sport) races in the Minnesota Series is 70 minutes. So I figured one water bottle was enough and ditched my 2nd bottle at the side of the start area.
The opening section was the big meadow that gave us plenty of room to fight for position and get our eyes crossed, our hearts screaming and our legs complaining before going into the tight and twisty - but oh so fun - Memorial Park singletrack. I got a pretty good start and was hanging in there in the meadow...
I was worried the Ardents might slow me down on climbs, or accelerating out of turns. My worries quickly vanished as the big meats ate up the trail and actually allowed me to fly in and out of turns, up over roots and down hills faster than my usual skinny-mini XC race tires. I had a big smile on my face and felt in good form to boot. Lap one was fun as I remembered sections of the trail and enjoyed out of saddle climbing and testing my legs at every opportunity. Stairway to heaven was the usual fun grind all the way up. I made it about 2/3's of the way up this climb for lap one when I ran into the back of about 7 or 8 riders pushing their bikes up the hill. I tried to let them know I was riding and coming through, but my voice was so weak due to being out of breath, nobody heard me and I had to dismount and push the rest of the way due to heavy foot traffic. Oh well...
Problem was, lap one seemed to go on forever. Hmmmm....as the clock ticked on I thought "this is going to be a bit longer than a 70 minute race". Finally, I heard the P.A. System and knew the first lap was about over as I crossed the line and headed out for lap 2. Yup, more like 90 - 110 minutes is what I figure our times would be based on lap 1.
Coming out of the meadow and heading into the singletrack, the Cat 2 woman that was in 1st place passed me right as we headed into the singletrack. I locked onto her wheel and hung on. Another guy, not sure what category, was glued to my rear wheel. The three of us hung together all the way to Stairway to Heaven. The 1st place gal, got off her bike to push, and I started the grind up staying seated. The guy behind me was still glued to me rear wheel. Again, about 2/3'rds of the way up I was in a groove and focusing on where my front wheel was going to keep a good line and traction. I totally ignored what was to my side and I hooked my handlebar on a tree which stopped me dead in my tracks. This stopped the guy behind me and I apologized to him for not seeing the tree. He said it was okay and claimed it was inevitable that we wouldn't make the entire climb.
At the top of the climb, the gal caught up to us and took off around me again. A few minutes later, she went down hard on a sharp curve at the bottom of the new downhill section of the course (it was a tricky curve). After shouting out to her, she claimed she was okay in spite of the nasty spill. So I motored on and picked up speed on the downhill section and finally shook the guy off of my rear wheel.
Heading into lap 3, I saw that the 1st place CAT 2 gal was gaining on me again and she finally caught me and went around me again. She said she was okay from the spill and I locked onto her rear wheel yet again, but couldn't hold it this time. The duration of this race was starting to get to me and I was feeling the beginning stages of twinges and cramps when I would muscle through climbs or get out of the saddle. The heat, humidity, time already in the saddle, was starting to catch up to me. I ate a GU, drank some fluids and after a few minutes felt pretty good again. I was flying on certain sections with the Ardents allowing me to be aggressive.
I caught back up to the CAT 2, 1st place gal just before the final Stairway to Heaven climb. She dismounted to walk, and I decided to heck with it - I had to clear the climb at least one time in the race. So I sat and spun up the climb at a rate that didn't put me in the red zone, but was just a nice balance of effort to keep me going up the hill and allow a bit of recovery. I guess it didn't really matter that I cleaned the climb (finally) in terms of pushing, because I was still about 10 feet behind the gal who had pushed her bike all the way up the climb. At the top of the climb - off she went - and whatever I had left, I used it up to pedal myself home and not lose my position in the race.
I crossed the line in 5th Place for my age group with a time of 1:53:36 (about 1:09 behind 4th Place) and well off the winning time of 1:43:43. I've never placed higher than 4th at the Minnesota races, so unless I can make up a gap of 2:30 minutes to challenge third place, I'll have to be happy. Wow! That was a workout, but a super fun race on the beefed up Dos Niner, perfect trail conditions, fun course and good form. I don't even care that it was longer than the usual 70 minute race course. It was good to have a bit more of a workout and enjoy the day so much. Great course. Great markings. Well run event. Kudos to the entire crew!
Next Up: Finishing the basement and dealing with identity theft thanks to a stolen purse from one of our cars in the driveway on Sunday night. What a mess!!