Yesterday was the 2nd race in the 2014 Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series held in Hampton, Illinois - just across the bridge on the eastern shore of the Mighty Mississippi River. The venue of the Illiniwek Forest Preserve was a new one for the IMBCS now that Sylvan Island is detained until the bridge is hopefully repaired/replaced.
And let me tell you - it didn't disappoint!!!!
What an absolutely incredible piece of singletrack trail system with some of the best flow I've ridden in years! F.O.R.C. puts on this race and maintains the trail system. Much of the trail reminded me of the Border Crossing singletrack trail system up in Wisconsin that is also built on the eastern side of the Mighty Mississippi. If you ever get the chance to do some riding at Illiniwek Forest Preserve in Hampton - take the opportunity. There is a campground across the highway on the bank of the river, a great paved bike trail that runs along the river, plenty of resort type features up and down the river making it a very scenic and worthwhile place to spend some time.
My week leading up to Sunday's race invovled a race simulation on Monday (to make up for the one missed at Mt. Kato), a LSD ride on Tuesday with Tara from Mullets to Martensdale and back, a day of weights on Wednesday and a recovery ride, race starts practice on Thursday, yard work on Friday, and all the cummulative stress from the training week resulted in a relaxing Saturday of recovery and enjoying the rain. Luckily, the rain did not prevent Sunday's race from happening as race director Michael Vittetoe said the clouds sort of broke up and went around the race site venue and only dumped about 2/10th's of an inch that was easily absorbed by the trails. Micahel's Facebook posts updated everyone that the race was indeed on, but to make sure the trail was in the best shape possible, the race would be delayed by 2 hours.
I had sold Tara's recumbent on the Midwest-Velo Swap site this week and had made plans to deliver it at this race with the buyer driving over from Dekalb, IL to pick it up as that was sort of a middle point meeting area. So I loaded up the Giro...
...and headed out the door at 8:30 AM to make the drive over to Hampton, Illinois. Cloud cover kept temperatures in the 66-70 degree range for the day which was perfect racing weather as heat would not be a factor for any of us. I pulled into the parking lot 3 hours later, made the exchange of the Giro for cash, got suited up and went to the registration table to check in and meet Michael so I could introduce myself to him and talk about how to get the results so we can track the points for the IMBCS. He told me they had almost 150 racers show up which is a good showing. Some might have stayed away with the cloud cover, or the drive, but who knows? They missed a pretty amazing event that all came together in a very organic and perfect way.
Following talking to Michael, I did my 45 minute warm-up, fueled up and then headed over for the rider's pre-race meeting.
As is what seems to be a tradition with a F.O.R.C. race, the CAT II would be a mass start which meant a mad scramble in the opening grass field and pavement sprint to get to the singletrack first. I lined up next to Landon Beachy and we chatted about the trail and life. He had done a warm-up lap on the trail and said it was in good shape. He also said that the climbing was pretty minimal. After about a 10 minute wait, they blew the whistle and we were off!!!
We were lined up in 3 big long rows (about 20 in each row) in the opening grassy field section for the sprint. And of course, I was in the 3rd row - or back row, but that was fine. I worked hard in the opening sprint and at least made my way up into the middle of the pack by the time we reached the singletrack. And then it happened - the usual bottleneck where we had to actually stop, unclip, and put a foot down as we single filed ourselves into the forest. It looked like there were a good 20 or so in front of me (maybe more) and there was really no where to go on this opening section as everyone's tires continually buzzed the tires of the rider in front and behind you as we waited for the big train to get chugging. And, as always in situations like these, I had a Quacker behind me.
What's a Quacker? I think it is a phenomenon we only see in CAT II races because the Comp and CAT I racers are beyond it in experience, skill, and training. Anyway, it's somebody who settles in behind a long line of riders in front of him and immediately starts quacking things like "come on, guys - let's get going!" or "let's get moving everyone" and on and on when bottlenecks form after the hole shot has not been won and everyone is going into the singletrack. Depending on the quacker in question, he can be part frat boy, part annoying cheerleader, part frustrated at his position in the race, and sometimes angry. This guy was pretty jovial as far as quackers go, but annoying nonetheless.
Eventually he went around me, and I latched on to his rear wheel and kept it tight. Much to my surprise, it didn't take too long for him to stop quacking as about 1/2 way through the 1st lap - the quacker went down hard in front of me as he failed to negotiate a tight turn between two trees. He was on the ground with his bike blocking the trail, so I asked if he was OK - and he was - so I motored on around him never to see him again.
Back to the Illiniwek Forest Preserve trail itself. The singletrack had great flow. And it was a blast.
There were not enough climbs to really utilize a weight advantage over heavier riders, but there was one nice section that went up where I was able to pass or catch a rider or two on every lap. Compared to Boone and Platte River - this was a pretty flat course for sure. It was a beautiful forest with enough challenge to keep one interested with the switchbacks, berms, tight tree sections, and open grass connector sections to pass or sprint and maintain one's position. One was on the gas most of the time as the descents could be pedaled as well. I did the entire race in the big ring and worked the gear cluster to take advantage of the flow. I let the rear tire drift on the tight switchbacks due to the soil conditions and this allowed me to quickly flip through the tight switchbacks.
A couple of guys challenged me on the connector section between lap 2 and lap 3, but I was able to out motor them up the pavement and back into the forest before pulling away to finish off my third lap. This picture shows the connector section through the finish line area that we had to motor through (thick grass that required some good extra watts to keep moving) before it hit pavement for a bit and then back into the grass at the top of the sprint into the woods.
I was pleased that my lap times show I got faster with each lap during the race. I started strong for me, and finished even stronger which means my structured training is kicking in and holding pretty well. This race came on the final day of week #9 of my 12 week build, peak, and race plan. Lap #3 was pretty much a TT solo effort as we were spread out enough by this point of the race. I did see a couple of carrots in front of me and set about reeling them in.
I passed Anthony Branch on the climbing section and joked with him "hey, don't worry - it's age before beauty" as I went around him. He was riding much stronger than he had at Boone where the hills had taxed him. He's the leader of the NCJC youth in Iowa City and brought along 11 youth riders to this race. Anthony is a very muscular guy, so perhaps my lighter weight was able to take advantage of the climb simply based on power to weight ratio. He had faded in the 1st lap at Boone, but here he was riding really strong all the way through the final lap in this race. He ended up finishing right behind me in the overall standings by 7 seconds - so great race Anthony!!!!
The other carrot I caught just before a sprint to the line in the grassy section as I motored across in 2nd Place for my age class.
1st Place was out of reach for me as he crossed the line 5:23 in front of me. But 3rd Place was only 18 seconds behind, and we had exchanged places a couple of times during the race - so I was correct in not letting up at any point during this race.
Who knows if I'll have a bust out race or not, but so far goals are being met and I feel like I am riding strong and adjusting to my new weight. My equipment functioned perfectly yesterday, my nutrition and hydration seemed spot on with no signs or twinges of any kind of cramping and I felt really strong at the end of the race. In terms of the overall CAT II mass start group, I ended up 19th out of 54 (all ages).
Since I was hanging out for the awards, I snapped a shot of fellow Banner Pits Bacon Rider Andy Peterson who had a really great race and got 3rd place in his age class and 3rd place overall for the CAT 2 men...
A big thanks to F.O.R.C. and Michael for hosting such a great event. In fact, it will be a highlight of this season due to the excellent and perfectly groomed trails, weather, scenery, venue, and volunteers who all combined made for an event not to have been missed. F.O.R.C. hosts the next IMBCS race on July 13th at Sunderbruch Park which features the all too fun wooden berms. I hope everyone comes out for that event.
I headed home on I-80. Due to not sleeping so well this week dealing with the poison ivy and medication associated with it, I felt drowsy. So I pulled off at a rest area for a 30 minute cat nap just outside of Iowa City. Traffic was heavy (when is it not heavy on I-80?) and I wanted to be fresh for the drive home. The nap worked its magic and I got home about 7 PM.