It's hard to believe that Spring is really here and racing has begun, but it has.
April 14th, 2013 was the 1st Race in the Iowa Mountain Biking Championship Series on Sylvan Island in Moline, Illinois. The Sylvan Island Stampede kicked off the IMBCS this year and was a joint race with the Illinois series.
It's alwasy pretty cool to race on an island in the Mississippi River. It's an XC course well known for having some sharp objects that can eat tires. These objects include rock, concrete, metal, bricks, cobblestone, asphalt, some nice roots and the occasional mystery object. That is all part of the allure of racing on that island. The singletrack on Sylvan Island is well know for an odd mix in the dirt that allows it to mysteriously absorb water very well making Sunday's course in primo and ready to go condition in spite of all the rains that hit during the week. There is a odoriferous impact to the island that reminds one of being in the oil fields or some such industrial location of the sort which all adds to the ambiance.
I got up around 6 a.m. Sunday morning, fed the dogs, made coffee, had breakfast, and took the dogs for their morning walk. I had loaded up the car the night before, so I just hopped in after the dog walk and was on the road by 8:35. I questioned my choice of attire when I stopped at a rest stop on I-80 and found the temperatures to be really chilly. The wind was howling out of the south and woke me up as the cold air hit my skinny legs sticking out of my shorts. By the time I got to Sylvan Island and checked in, the weather had turned into it being a perfect racing day in the Quad Cities!!! It must have
been in the 60's at race time and maybe even up to 70+ during the race.
Knowing that Sylvan Island Stampede does not start in age class waves, but utilizes a mass start for the CAT II's, I headed to the line 25 mintues before the race was to begin to grab a primo spot. That's a first for me to arrive at the line that early in any race. At my age and with my bladder - it's not wise to hold off on any last minute opportunity to pee before the race starts! In spite of going to the line early, imagine my surprise as I arrived and already found this crowd that had gathered 25 minutes before the gun was to go off.
What the heck? Maybe I should have lined up an hour before. There was a crazy wide line up with 4 or 5 guys on either side of the gravel path lining up in the bushes, weeds and trees. I entertained the crowd with an Artie Johnson Laugh-In style fall when I tried to go around the end and through the bushes to get behind them and line up. After that unintended cycling faux-pas, I lined up in what turned out to be row 5 of at least 8 rows if not more. Looked to be about 70+ riders lined up for the CAT II start. There was no marking for the width of the starting line area and to be honest, I think it needs some sort of marking or some sort of decorum. But it is what it is: The early bird gets the worm!
One year, after a very similar lining up occurence, they told the CAT II's that everyone had lined up at the wrong orange line and moved everybody back to a different orange line which allowed me to get a prime position in the 2nd row in the reshuffle. No surprise that I finished 19th overall out of all 89 CAT II's that year as I experienced no waiting in the singletrack thanks to being up front in the group. No such luck this year - even with my earliest arrival at the starting line in my racing history. I was back in the middle of it all with no room to change my mind.
After various instructions on having fun, being safe and fair out there, we were off for 4 laps of leg busting racing.
The front end of the mass CAT II start for those fortunate enough to have been in the front row or two...
Along came the middle of the pack mass start crowd and me looking ahead to see if I could start moving forward...
They use electronic chip timing with the electronic mats that we ride over for our timing, so it would be very easy to start in age class waves to take care of the crowded mess in the huge CAT II field. Even if it was as simple as "everybody over 40 in this wave and everybody under 40 in this wave" or something easy like that - it would alleviate the congested start.
Photographs are courtesy of astone4buyers.
Once we got into the singletrack, the long hurry up and wait Schlange or snake or Slinky effect was in full force during most of the first half of lap 1. The open areas allowed for a lot of jockeying for position and passing for those willing to lay down the power and do the intervals. I was able to pass quite a few during lap one when I could at those moments. I settled in 3 riders behind Landon Beachy and hoped to stay with him for as long as possible since he rides a good pace and we have gone head to head before in several IMBCS races.
That group stayed together all of lap one and the same 4 of us were in line starting lap 2. Landon sped up to create a bit of a gap and the guys in front of me were not sticking with him, so I passed two of them and was feeling pretty good with my form and pace when I suddenly heard a thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. Great! I looked down expecting to see a small branch in my wheel that would perhaps eventually snap and allow me to keep going.
But no, I saw a 2 1/2 foot tree limb wrapped in my drivetrain and wheel. WTF? Where did that come from?!!!?
I hopped off and started counting the seconds to gauge how long I was off the bike. A thousand one, a thousand two, a thousand three, the limb and the branches were all messed up around my front derailleur, chain, right crank arm and rear wheel. A thousand, four, a thousand five, a thousand six - the two guys I had just passed went by. Finally, at about a thousand 17 I had the limb out of my drivetrain without brreaking anything and hopped back on the bike to get going again. Probably took 20 seconds total time to dislodge the limb and get going - which can be the difference in a mountain bike race. I gave chase to no avail as Landon was way up ahead thanks to his gap and my dealing with the silly limb.
The train of riders was a long one...
I began the race with the arm warmers on because I was a bit chilly when I got dressed at the car.
Here I am in lap 2 - at my new weight - navigating one of the sharp bender drops and you can see I had warmed up enough that I gathered the arm warmers around my elbows to keep cool...
I managed to pass the two guys again that I had passed before the limb got stuck in my bike and kept slowly working my way up. This course has no recovery as it is pretty much flat with lots of turns meaning you are always on the gas. And the upper body is fighting the obstacles. Combined, it makes for a hard effort that left me stiff on Monday.
I settled in behind another rider on lap 3 and he was going about the
right speed for me, but I saw that at times we were just riding and not what I would call racing. There was some of that in lap 2 as well and I promised myself this year to slap myself and get out of those situations ASAP. What was I doing?!!!
So I snapped out of it a bit later than I should have and went around him as we crossed over the timing mat and sprinted full out down the gravel straightaway to begin lap 4 of the singletrack. Now I was racing and not holding anything back. I was pushing it to the point that control was right on the edge for every turn and obstacle, but I held the bike in check. I was able to pass a few more. In the final singletrack section I saw a pair of riders ahead of me and couldn't believe they were going slow enough in lap 4 that I could catch them, but I caught one on the final sprint to the line and could have passed the other one, but I wasn't aware where the finish line was and sat up for a a bit thinking the mat we had just crossed was the line. Oops. So I stood to pedal and crossed about a wheel length behind the rider in front that I could easily have picked off if I hadn't left my thinking cap back at home!! No biggie, as it would have just been one spot in the overall.
There was Landon standing on the side with his bike visiting with somebody. But his name is not in the results? What happened Landon? And there were a couple of other older guys just pulling off in front of me on the left as I began my cool down that were discussing "surely they had made the podium in the 50+ category". I did some quick math and figured I could go ahead and head home as the intervals and workout were well worth the drive in addition to the sheer fun of racing on some fun singletrack. However, no hardware for me getting off so far back at the line at the start. I grabbed a banana, a bottled water and talked to Bryce Gilbert for a bit after the race. Then I headed back to the car, got changed, loaded up the bike and headed back to Indianola.
Results confirmed my obvious deduction after crossing the line, I was a minute and 22 seconds back from any hardware this year...
The good news is that even though I got 6th place this year (compared to 3rd place the last 2 years in the 50+ age class), I was 5 minutes faster for the 4 laps this year than last year. However, I was some 40 odd seconds slower than I was in 2011 when I ended up in row 2 instead of way in the back. That allowed me to rocket to the singletrack in the lead group. So the misfortune of starting in mid-pack certainly counts for some time due to getting stuck back in traffic in lap one. Reading through the finish times of all participants, I see there was a nice mix of competitors there from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa who showed up to enjoy the great weather and allure of Sylvan Island. The results says my hometown is "Indiana". I know my penmanship is bad, but is it really that bad?
As usual, the Sylvan Island Stampede was a fun event and a heck of a workout that made Monday a slow moving day for me as I recovered from the effort.
Maybe next year I'll just have to camp out at the starting line. ;-)