The Nebraska Psycowpath Series fired up again yesterday at Platte River State Park near Louisville, Nebraska for race #3 in their series for this 2014 season. I really enjoyed that venue last year and couldn't wait to get back and hit the swoops, techincal challenges of the rocks, and smile enducing gully downhill run through the rocks at full big ring speed.
The weather was perfect with temperatures in the upper 70's to low 80's, and enough wind to keep us cooled off a bit when we were out in the sun. I arrived about an hour before the race, checked in and did my warm up before heading to the starting area where Psycowpath Director Ryan Feagen was staging each category. Our group got called up and I lined up right next to the main competition in my age class this year - Mark Sullivan (won the first race), and Tom Jeffreys (won the second race). In the first Psycowpath race at Swanson, they had pulled away from me in heavy traffic and bested me at the line by 3 minutes, 48 seconds and change.
And after a 15 second count down, we were off (I'm #306 in the black)...
I was determined to keep Mark and Tom in my sights during this race, and not let traffic/passing separate us like I did at Swanson. So, on the opening climb I kept only a few riders between them and myself. At the top of the climb, I quickly jumped a couple of spots ahead before heading into the singletrack to settle in a spot or two right behind Mark. Tom was a few spots ahead of Mark and we were off into the woods. I heard Tom's voice on one of the turns we were working our way through ask the rider in front of him if he could get around him, so I knew the screws were about to tighten.
After the first 8 minutes or so, things settled into a great race pace as we worked our way around a few slower riders. It wasn't long before some carnage started to take place with people falling. Crashes with people trying to pass and getting tangled up. And suddenly, there was Tom who had to pull over on the side of the trail with what appeared to be a mechanical with his bike. I asked him if he was okay, and I don't know if it was his chain, or derailleur or what, but I went around him and sped back up to try and latch onto Mark who was now in the lead.
Edit: The rider in front of Tom had gone down causing Tom to try to go around him and he caught his rear derailleur on some dirt which bent things enough it didn't work properly. New rear derailleur, derailleur hanger, and chain will be needed.
There were two racers between myself and Mark. The one directly in front of me was not doing so well in the technical sections of the trail, but I remained right on his back wheel waiting for a safe spot to pass - or at least an opportunity. That opportunity eventually unveiled intself when he went down hard on a sharp left switchback turn. Between he and his bike - the entire trail was covered. I asked him if he was okay, and he said he was. I managed to power up and over the side of the bank to get around him without losing any momentum to stay in pursuit of Mark. Things continued to settle out with us catching up to slower traffic from previous wave starts, and the passing game began where you have to be careful to wait for safe spots, announcing your intention to pass and the usual courteous handling of each situation. As I said, I was determined not to lose sight of Mark, and I figured by now Tom was catching back up to us provided he had fixed whatever it was that was wrong with his bike.
We hit the technical rock section, and everyone in front of me was dismounting so I did as well and ran the bike through the majority of that section. One guy ran past me in this section and looked to be the guy who had fallen on the switchback a bit earlier. Once we got out into the open section of the trail crossing a field, I passed him back and was following Mark as best I could. The descent down the gully that I remembered from last year was dry, fast and picking your line proved to be crucial. I saw a female rider stuck in the rocks and I called out my intention to pass her on the left which worked just fine. Then I saw a couple of riders down on the ground with a group around them tending to them. As they were being taken care of by spectators, I kept on riding. I hope everyone ended up being fine that was involved in that crash.
I caught back up with Mark as we went up the added new climb for this year's course which took us back up, raised my heart rate to 175, and then had us flying right back down on another fun, and super fast descent into the finish line area. I hit some soft dirt during that descent and just about washed out the front end, but counter-steered quickly enough to keep upright.
My sights were set on Mark. I saw him make the turn to start the 2nd lap about 5-10 seconds or so in front of me. I gave chase on the opening climb again to keep in contact. We had a lot of riding left to do, so I debated on letting it all hang out on this climb, or just to stick behind Mark. I stuck behind him and started playing the mental game of asking myself "how bad do I want this?" as motivation. Every time Mark would pull ahead or gain some ground, I would fight right back and be on his wheel. This cat and mouse game went on for all of lap 2. I bobbled a bit in the big descent through the rocks by picking a bad line and had to put a foot down and work myself back out of the rocks and onto some dirt which cost me a few seconds. Mark was ahead of me on the final big climb and I gave it all I could. I caught back up to him by the top of the climb. He took off down the final descent and I put it in the big ring and gave pursuit.
The final section into the finish line I sprinted and was suprrised I caught up with him so easily. I wasn't sure where the finish line was, if we were to go straight, or turn to the right like we had with the lap and I saw the chute narrowed just as the official motioned for us to go straight. I was right next to Mark about 1/2 bike length behind him when I pulled up out of fear of locking our handlebars going into the narrow chute. I smiled and as we crossed the line, I heard Ryan announce something over the P.A. System about how "...I wasn't willing to sacrifice my Fine Arts career for a risky pass at the line..." which is about the truth. I had a similar sprint to the finish and pass at a narrow chute finish line in a Minnesota race a couple of years ago where my bars locked with the rider I was passing when he moved into me, and I went down so hard I passed out from hitting my head on the ground so hard at the line. I was awakened by a police officer who was on duty at the race asking me if I was okay. That was all running through my mind yesterday when I saw the situation unfold. At least I'm sure it contributed in my decision to pull up right at the end when I was in full sprint mode. I was happy to be in the hunt, for sure, compared to the race at Swanson where I was nearly 4 minutes back.
Oh well, we were scored one second apart in the final times and it was really fun racing to be that close. Here we are on the podium after recovering from the effort.
We found out that Tom had to DNF, so something must have been wrong with his bike (edit: derailleur/chain/hanger). Mark had Tom by 1 second in the first race, and he had me by 1 second in this race. So he remains the man to beat this year in the Psycowpath series!!!
Kudos to the trail crew and hosts for such a fun race at this great venue!!! Anyone reading this that has not raced at Platte River, needs to add it to their schedule for next year. What a challenging and fun course!!! I was joking with Karmen Woelber after the race that after a month of racing on courses like Lewis and Clark, Seven Oaks, Platte River, Ponca - that she will be more than ready for Mt. Kato in Minnesota that is coming up and is always a favorite when it comes to lots of climbing.
After the awards were handed out, I headed home and arrived in Indianola just in time to go downtown to join all the riders that had done the R.A.W. Ride as a fundraiser for Warren County bike trails. Tara had done the ride, so we split a pizza, had some beers, visited, and then hit The Outside Scoop for opening day to top off my calorie replinishment from the race.