Frustrations of a DNF...

DNF = Did Not Finish. I haven't had one of those since the bad karma start to the 2009 race season when I had a few, so perhaps I was due for the one I experienced yesterday at the Sugar Bottom Scramble. I was about 20-25 minutes into lap one when it happened.

Here's how...

I headed over to Sugar Bottom Recreation Area Sunday morning at 8:15 a.m. and arrived to register, warm-up and race in the event. This is where I did my very first mountain bike race, so I always look forward to riding or racing there on the network of trails. The weather was perfect, and a good turnout had confirmed that. The mood was good and we were ready to roll.

My wave started at around 11:20 and I started off in the 2nd row of riders of a pretty big group for the opening climb. After we got rolling, I didn't go - or couldn't go - quite as cross eyed as the previous week's atart, but I managed to make it into the singletrack in the top 15-20. There are a lot of roots at Sugar Bottom which keeps you on your toes for picking lines and using good cornering technique to avoid going down. It wasn't long before the rider directly in front of me went down on a sharp, descending corner and he and his bike were sprawled completely across the trail blocking the way. The only option for the rider behind the one who falls is to stop. You can't ride over somebody's bike and you just hope the guys behind you stop in time. So I stopped and 5 or 6 guys went around us before I could get around the fallen rider and his bike. He was okay and got back on his bike to pursue.

I caught back up with the group that had just gone around me and we worked our way back up to the line in front of us. I was able to start passing some riders and worked my way back to where I had been when another rider directly in front of me went down and his bike completely covered the trail. No way for me to get around him, so again I had to stop. And again a half-dozen riders or so went around us. Maybe my karma was off, I thought. No panic, the rider was okay and I got around him and pedaled hard to catch back up.

On one of the climbs, in a narrow section a rider buzzed around me on the right and sort of scared me as I wasn't expecting it. I certainly would have given him room had he asked. I casually suggested a shout out next time he passed to let a guy know. 100 yards later, the guy who had just passed me went down and was blocking the trail. I was able to ride to the right and get around him. He caught up to me again a couple of minutes later and again, went around me in a tight section without calling out. Oh well...

I was getting in my groove, but could tell the busy training week for the Dakota Five-O had zapped my legs a tiny bit, so I kept a high spin rate to aid in the climbs rather than mash my way to exhaustion on the first part of lap one. Exiting the singeltrack and riding down the fire road to the north side of the singletrack, I could see I was in a big long line of riders in front of me and behind me. We were stirring up a lot of dust. Once into the singletrack, there were a lot of us stacked up wheel to wheel. I heard another bike go down, but this time it was behind me and not in front of me. Imagine that?!! I finally caught a break.

We were really crowded and stacked up wheel to wheel. The guy behind me kept buzzing his tire on mine, but I had no where to go as there were at least 6 - 8 guys in front of me wheel to wheel as we snaked our way through the turns. The trail was pretty rough and bouncy this year - or so it seemed. It could be my Racing Ralphs were a tad over-inflated, but things felt rough to me and I was on the full suspension. I wonder what it felt like on a HT?

As we crossed the bridge at the bottom of the descent leading to the cyclocross hill, I got my bike in the gear I wanted to clean the hill and used my momentum to take me up the first half of the hill. There was a big crowd of spectators cheering everybody on and I got out of the saddle and had at it to clean the climb. Lots of cheers of encouragement from the crowd. About 2 bike lengths from the top of the hill, my rear hub slipped and my pedals did an entire revolution without any progress. Yikes! I had to dismount and push my bike the final 10 feet to the top of the hill. I got back on and got going. The drivetrain felt fine, but that was odd. As I was getting back up to speed, a guy came flying around me. So I gave pursuit to latch on to his wheel.

Here's the Snap, Crackle, and Pop sequence of my rear hub self-imploding on me at the top of the climb.

Nailing the climb is the Snap...


Something didn't feel right with just a few feet to go to clean the climb and the pedals spun all the way around for the Crackle...


And Pop, I had to dismount and push my noble steed the final few feet...


Photos courtesy of Tom Anderson who sent them to me on Facebook from Mike Shumway's Facebook photo album. Thanks Tom and Mike!

The first climb after that, my chain - or so I thought - was skipping from gear to gear. At least that's what it felt like. Uh...oh. Something was wrong. Every little climb I hit, the drivetrain was failing. I got off, checked the derailleur, chain - all okay. Something was wrong. About 50 yards later - I was done. If I pedaled, the hub would not stay engaged. All those I had worked to pass went around me with each asking me if I was okay. Or asking what had happened. Equipment failure is no fun. I didn't really get mad, I just sucked it up (frustration that is) and knew I'd live to fight another day and started the long walk out of the woods back to the starting area.

I'll take my bike to Rassy's today to see if it is the rear hub and what can be done about it. The JET has been flawless all year. I've been on top of it, maintenance wise, and even on Saturday's training ride, saw no evidence there was any sort of a problem with the rear hub. But it's shot. Replacement parts will be needed.

Back to my walkout...

A few hundred yards later, I saw the guy who had passed me after the top of cyclocross hill. He was clutching his arm, bleeding and another racer was walking his bike out of the woods. I ran over and told the guy who was pushing the two bikes to get back in the race, I'd walk the injured rider and bike back in since my bike was shot. It looked to be a separated right shoulder as it was hanging much lower than his left. His arm, knee and leg were bleeding and he said his shoulder had hit a tree and he went down hard. The chain was off the bike, so I hung it over the cranks and pushed both of our bikes while he walked. He didn't seem nauseous, but he sort of had that vocal delivery and pale white look of a bit of shock. I tried to keep his mind diverted as we talked about whatever else I could think of walking along the gravel road. We finally made it back to where the paramedics were, but somebody had sent them out into the woods to look for the injured rider. We called the injured rider's son (the rider looked to be in his 50's), got him some ice, sat him down and the paramedics arrived back from their search to take over. He was going to be okay, but needed to go to the hospital.

Anyway, it got me to thinking. One of our code of racing "rules" or "ethics" says that if you come up on an injured rider who is in need, stop racing and take care of him. Luckily, one of the racers had done just that. I just happen to come along and relieved him. I was able to use my misfortune of a mechanical failure so that he could continue his race. I'm sure he lost a couple of minutes or more by stopping to help, but I wonder what goes through the mind of each and every racer that encounters a downed rider? He certainly did right by stopping to help and put the injured rider as his priority over just asking him if he was okay and riding right on by. Others may have stopped initially as well, I don't know because I came upon the scene a few minutes after it happened and a lot of riders passed me while I was walking along the trail and carrying my bike.

Had I been on the wheel of this guy - if my hub had not malfunctioned - would I have stopped and given up my race to take care of him? I've certainly stopped and asked fallen riders in a lot of races if they were okay or needed anything, but I've never come upon an injury that needed the kind of assistance that I saw yesterday. So my answer today is - yes - I would have stopped. He needed help. I would have seen that it was important to give up my race and take care of him. That's my answer today. I don't know what I would have done yesterday in the heat of the battle at full speed when those sorts of decisions are made in a few seconds. Lesson learned for me: the next time I encounter a similar situation is that the race outcome is not worth it for me, helping a fellow racer who is injured trumps everything else. I just hope - like the racer who did stop for this injured rider and help him out - that I, too, can make that kind of quick and wise decision.

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