I will hopefully update this blog post with some race photographs from Elk River later in the week once they are available.
I was looking forward to racing this past Sunday as the forecast for Elk River, MN was low to mid 80's and sunny. That sounded like an excellent respite from the triple digits in Iowa. The week was my 1st in season Build Week, so I had 9 hours of specific work in my legs going into the weekend, but felt pretty good come the weekend. I set the alarm for 5:10 and after I got out of the shower, I heard the rain hitting our roof. I quickly checked the online radar and saw it was raining from Indianola all the way up to the Twin Cities. No problems, I thought - they race rain or shine. So off I went to the great north at 5:30.
Rain, at times, was overwhelming my windshield wipers and that was good because the crops, yards - everything needs it. Rain was heavy in spots coming into the Twin Cities area, but I could see up to the northwest blue sky and that is where Elk River is in relationship to where I was. Sure enough, the sun came out and the pavement started to dry as I made my way around the now closed 494 and crazy detour. That major artery is shut down until November for repairs and they are trying to shove everybody through a small vein as a detour and it is not fun!!!
I pulled into Hillside Park and the gravel road that the race begins on was pretty much a soupy mess. I guess quite a bit of rain must have fallen as the same thing happened last year the night before the race, but the road was not like that. I quickly saw some of the CAT 3 racers riding by on the singletrack as I drove down the lane and their legs and bikes were covered with mud. Oh well, nothing like a fun time in the mud, right? ;-)
In my haste of packing Saturday night, I forgot to pack my permanent number plate. Luckily, you can pay $5 for a temporary one by filling out a form at the registration table. I got registered, suited up, made my drink mix and headed out for some warm up. I heard some CAT 3 racers, post-race, describing what they encountered out there on the trail. It didn't sound too bad and the sun was now out which meant some of the mud and water would dissipate. My legs felt pretty good warming up considering the week's training, and I did enough warm up to feel ready for the race. I went back to the car and got all my final GU's, drink bottles and headed over to the starting line.
My wave had a total of 30 guys line up (all the old guys in their 40's and above). I heard the three top guys in my age division called up as leading the series with their points. One of them, Steve Kapaun, got first place last week and crossed the line 2 1/2 minutes ahead of me at Buck Hill. Another top rider, Gary Santoovjian, was the 2nd Place Winner in the overall series last year. He has been smoking everybody this year - often winning by several minutes - and going into this race he had three 1st place finishes, and one 2nd place finish. So I knew it was going to be tough to hang with those two. I lined up and off we went.
The sloppy road sprint start to the singletrack was long enough that I knew I could easily red line early and not recover before heading into the singletrack, so I was calculated with my opening sprint. I gave enough to be in the top 10-12 or so heading into the singletrack, but not so much that I felt spent and couldn't recover. In spite of that, the old slinky built up as we hit the singletrack with the group having to come to a dead stop around one corner as the traffic build up and the muddy conditions with wet roots backed everyone up. It was only a brief traffic jam, and we were off again. Every opportunity I could, I started moving up and passing. I got stuck behind a slower rider and decided to hang there for a bit to recover, and then I saw that the build up behind me was at least a dozen riders, so I passed him and caught up to the group in front of him - so nothing lost.
This course is known for only 100 foot elevation change, but the amount of short steep climbs, and switchback climbs is pretty unrelenting. Some of them are a bit technical with the roots, rocks, and washed out gullies. Add the wet conditions and they were even more technical. I had the right tires - Nobby Nics - so traction was not an issue for me. However, riders in front of me on just about every other one of these technical climbs were having to dismount and that, of course, blocked my line which meant if I couldn't muscle around them - I had to dismount as well. I used every opportunity to run around them and hop back on the bike. There were crashes from the wet roots and mud which created more opportunities to go around riders. I felt pretty good on lap one, but I was riding in a very conservative manner as I didn't want to go down. I felt my rear tire slip out on a few occasions in corners and on wet roots, but the front tire was never an issue. It was pretty humid out and this is what was giving me the most concern in lap one as my glasses fogged over and I was having difficulty seeing. I didn't want to take them off because there was a lot of mud, sand and grit flying and my eyes needed the protection. Finally, at the first water aid station I asked the volunteers to hit me with water in the face and head which took care of the fog as I headed into the singletrack again.
We had three spots where there was an option to go on the shorter, more difficult (black diamond) trail or the longer, less difficult (blue diamond) trail. On lap one, I took the black diamond at the first option mainly because I wasn't paying attention. I came into the descent pretty hot and it was a rocky descent and the rocks were slick and muddy. I think out of simply not knowing what was there, I made it down safely merely by hanging on for dear life as my tires slipped and slid over it all. In short, I was lucky. I took the longer, easier route on the next 2 options and reminded myself to avoid that black diamond next time around.
Strange thing about this race - nobody passed me. Usually, somebody comes up from behind and passes me at some point, but nobody passed me from the opening sprint to the end of the race. I got into a good rhythm in lap 2 and was passing slower riders from earlier waves. Those unrelenting climbs started to wear on me and I was too stubborn to take it out of the big ring, but rather than attacking every climb - I was just surviving some of them. Traction started to improve as the sun was working its magic and most of the puddles started to absorb into the earth. I asked for the head and face wash at the water aid station again and was feeling pretty good out there.
In the middle of lap 2, I caught up to a rider and saw his back plate said he was in my age category. I figured, this might just be for a podium spot, so I better get working here. He heard me, saw me and increased his effort. I gave chase and we rode together within 10-20 feet of each other for a while. I was hoping to get a bit of recovery and then go into my end of race sprint mode for the final section, but he didn't let up and I was on the gas, taking risks on descents to keep up. We came to the first option for the black diamond or blue diamond and I forgot about it and took the black by mistake. Crap! In the words of Jack Lemmon, I froze up: "Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure." Big fear of the wet and slimy rocks had me going too slow down them this time because I knew what was there and what could happen. I was going so slow, I bobbled and I had to put a foot down to save going over the side. I was stuck with my weight being held by a muddy mountain bike shoe perched on a wet railroad tie while trying to dismount my bike. My balance was so off, I couldn't get my leg up and over my saddle to get off the bike. I think I froze there for a good 15 seconds before I was able to dismount, carry my bike down the "fear" and get going again. RATS!!! Jack Lemmon would be proud of my fear of failure.
No way I could catch the guy in front of me now due to that. I tried valiantly, but the dang unrelenting power climbs were pushing me deep into the red zone and my legs were on fire. I saw him way up there, but I couldn't increase my speed enough to make up the lost time. We rode by a downed rider who had 2 other racers there making sure he was okay. One never likes to see that, but in these conditions it could have been any of us. In the end, the guy I was chasing - Brad Tennis - crossed the line 35 seconds ahead of me for 2nd Place and I ended up in 3rd Place.
I'm not distressed though. My overall time was 1:02 (62 seconds) faster this year and with these conditions over last year to boot. I improved from an overall finish of 55th last year to 41st this year and improved from 4th Place last year to 3rd Place this year. I guess that's progress, right? I was happy I kept the rubber side down and in spite of riding in a more conservative manner and over-braking going into corners based on conditions, I still pulled off a good enough race for a podium.
Although we had a small field of only 7 brave faithfuls in my age category in the post-rain Hill Side Park, the race in the slop and the "greasy in spots" conditions were an excellent challenge for all of us.
Post race in my cool down ride, a couple of people were riding next to me and asked about the cool kit. It's nice the kit continues to receive positive comments...
I picked up some lunch on the way home and when I got home, we went to La Casa for Burritos and of course a Margarita or two.
This is my second in season "Build Week" and today called for 3 hours of Zone 2 riding. So I burned off the burrito and drinks this morning on the road bike at the very top end of my Zone 2 before the clouds burned off and temperatures got up to 96. I rode in 79-84 for the entire 3 hours. Sweet!
Rehearsal tonight from 6:30 - 9 up in Des Moines...