I haven't had time to post on the blog due to opera production meetings, getting ready for the fall semester, training, yard work, cooking, etc..., but I did race the past two weekends.
Two weeks ago was the Swanson MTB Mayhem event at Swanson Park for the combined Nebraska and Iowa Series. Originally scheduled for Lake Manawa, the event was moved to Swanson due to the Missouri River flooding having Manawa underwater. I decided to ride the RIP 9 to make sure it was race ready for the Dakota Five-0 and let the bike absorb the bumps at Swanson rather than my body.
After picking up my number plate, I got on my bike and as I was leaving the registration area, got my front wheel stuck between the sidewalk and grass and did a nice little, slow motion endo in front of the crowd. Nice. Nothing was hurt, but my pride. ;-] All went well in the race and I could tell that I was in very good form. In spite of being in excellent form, my results don't really show that for the past two weeks, but that's okay. I've been up against some good competition the past two races, so the placing in the results don't tell the entire story.
Going into the race, I had just finished a pretty good build period and had a 5 day rest/recovery period going into the race. I latched on behind Jason Dal from Des Moines Rassy team for lap one and lap two. For me, this was a different effort than earlier in the season when I raced at Swanson - my first race of the season. I was on the gas most of the time and not searching for much recovery. About 1/2 way through lap 3, Jason started to pull away and I couldn't quite match his pace. He finished a minute, thirty-five ahead of me for 3rd place in the Masters 35+ division and I finished 5th in the Masters 45+ division. Same exact place I got at Swanson earlier this season against the same guys, but I felt I had a much stronger and better race as I am in good form. I was only 20 seconds out of fourth place, so that's not so bad. Course was great and we rode it in the opposite direction than we did earlier in the season.
Yesterday was the Border Battle between the Wisconsin Series and the Minnesota Series - which are the two largest Midwest Mountain Biking race series in terms of number of participants. The race was at White Tail Ridge in River Falls, Wisconsin. I drove up on Friday afternoon with Zack and Alexa. We made a weekend out of it by staying at the Radisson with the water park and hitting the Mall of America for some last minute back to school shopping.
I headed out to the race course on Saturday for a pre-ride and to register. The weather was perfect and the trail opened up at 12 noon for pre-riding. I went out at 12:19 for a pair of loops. During lap one my goal was to just survey the trail, but I was feeling pretty good which led me to testing myself in a few sections. During lap two the traffic increased as there were others out there pre-riding. It was fun to chat with some riders about the differences in the course this year compared to prior years. I rode this course in 2009, so my memory wasn't that great, but I did note a new and fun jeep trail with a loose rocks climb.
I rolled back to the car at 1:31 p.m. after doing two laps and then did 20 minutes or so of cool down before loading up the bike. I grabbed some lunch in River Falls and then went back to register once the registration tent opened at 3 p.m. for business. The website and WORS book said Cat 2's would be doing 3 laps, but I was told at registration we would only be doing 2. Hmmmm...I thought. Just loafing on my pre-ride laps I had rolled 2 laps in about 1:12 which meant winning times would be sub 60 minutes. That seemed pretty short for a Cat 2 XC race, but oh well.
I got back to the motel, showered and hit the mall with the kids who had been at the water park all day. We got some dinner, did some shopping and then headed back to the motel. We all went down for the final hour of the water park hours and I hit the hot tub to let the jets massage my legs and back to recover for Sunday's race. Oooooooooooo....it felt good.
Sunday's weather was perfect. The trail was perfect. My legs felt great, and in spite of a head cold I have I felt ready to go. My strategy was to hang on the climb around the mid-pack in my wave and then attack in the flat open section at the top before entering the woods and singletrack. At least that was my plan at the gun. I jockeyed up and into pretty good position on the start in the open meadow. Once we made the sharp right hand turn a few hundred yards later and hit the opening climb - which is a doubletrack, gravel jeep trail - I found myself about 3 abreast with me on the right side next to an eroded drainage rut. I ran out of room and the guy next to me literally elbowed me over and into the ditch. WTF!!!? Thanks guy!
I used all the travel of the JET 9 and bounded through the erosion rut and was forced over on the right side of the rut which was grass and dirt where all the spectators were standing to view the opening climb and to cheer us on as we grunted up the hill. There was really no room for me to go back over the rut and on the gravel side of the climb due to the crowded traffic, so I decided to just climb on the right side of the rut which worked to my advantage. My strategy quickly changed to attack the climb and recover on the top flat area as opposed to the reverse I was planning on doing. I was in the top 10 out of a group of about 55 racers at the top of the climb which was perfect!!!
Alexa got a shot of me on her cellphone as I huffed and puffed my way up the right side as if I wasn't even part of the group on the other side of the rut...
What the heck? I didn't plan for that and I didn't panic. I just took what was given to me and climbing over on the right side off of the trail worked. I was cross eyed, coughing up a lung, and near maximum heart rate at the top - so I had to recover in the first 200-300 yards on the flat passing area. Luckily, only 2 or 3 passed me in that section. I went into the singletrack with the top group and because of that - there were no log jams and the flow was great.
I was riding the Racing Ralph tires which were super fast. Maybe not the best grip on the climbs if I got out of saddle, but fine for this course and the condition it was in - dry hardpack and fast. The pre-ride helped as I knew what to expect and pushed it on the climbs and descents. One rider in my age class passed me at the top of the opening climb at the start of lap 2, and I latched on to follow him. We got behind a group of 3 or 4 slower riders from age groups that had started before us and I recovered. I was itching for us to pass them and not lose sight of guys in our class in front of us. All told, I bet we lost a full minute before we were able to pass them. Lap 2 was fast and fun. This course was a big smile. Tires were perfect. Bike was working great. Legs felt good and I was having a blast.
I got behind a rider from an earlier class for the final singletrack section and wanted around him, but knew I could sprint to the line once we got out of the woods. We got out of the woods and I hit my usual finish line sprint and was surprised how well my legs responded. Flew by him and crossed the line feeling really good for such a short and fast race...
The clock reading of 1:11 is from the first wave. My group started in the 4th wave and my finish time was 1:03:58 which was good enough for 8th place in the 50-54 group. Again, the placing may not show how good I am actually feeling and riding at the moment, but my condition feels at a different level right now compared to the rest of the season. It was pretty stiff competition at WORS with a larger field, so I can't complain. I was only 4:34 back from the winner in this race compared to 8 minutes+ just 2 weeks ago or even more earlier in the season. This, in spite of a head cold which had me coughing a lot.
All in all - I was really pleased. Great course, great volunteers and it was fun to do a WORS race again as I had not been to one this season. My only complaint would probably be that the race was a bit too short. I would have liked a 3rd lap so times were closer to other race finishing times this season. In fact, the winning times back in 2009 at this same course were closer to the 1:25-1:30 for my division which would have been similar this year had we done a 3rd lap. Oh well, it was still a really fun race and course.
We headed home and Zack drove from Owatonna as I napped.