I raced the beginner's course at Boone last year. I won't lie, it kicked my ass 3 ways from Sunday on the BEGINNER loop. It was my first foray into mountain bike racing and most definitely a trial by fire. I tried to erase the pain from my mind by not even bothering to ride a full lap there last year and waiting until early July before I completed that task. All told, I had 4 full laps of the course under my belt going into the race this year. I was far from dialed in given the technical and challenging terrain, but I have had a pretty good run coming in thus far with this being my 4th race of the year.
This is how I looked last year:
I also was going into this race with a completely untested bike. After an unfortunate incident with baby blue, I had made a huge leap up by going to the Superfly which is a full carbon rig. All the parts were swapped over from my Paragon and I re-cabled the bike as well. I had put 40 pave trail miles on the day before with everything working well and did a short warm up as well, but I knew in the back of my head, something would happen before race end.
I hit a short warm up on some of this years beginners loop and was rolling pretty well. I popped my tire pressure down a shade more and waited for the line up to begin. The start was to head out to the 2nd ski lift, pull a 180 around it and then jump onto the track laid out on the grass as we wound our way back to the entrance to the single track. Here, as much as anywhere, I knew the better your spot going into the track, the better you'd come out at the end. I've got a whole post dedicated to how much my start abilities need work, but I'll save that for another time. Let's just say for now that they are "lacking" a bit. I somehow weaseled my way in about 10th wheel +/- as we wound our way to the woods. Amazingly, everyone was polite and just stayed in line through the grassy areas. I'm surprised there weren't fistfights trying to get into the track first.
Sure enough, the traffic jamb started instantly inside the track. We'd hammer the flats and then pack ourselves in like sardines up the climbs and switchbacks. The biggest trick was trying to keep my own flow going while not running over the guy in front of me and being mindful that I didn't want to screw the guy behind me either if I went down. As such we walked some switchbacks and had issues in other areas that I knew to be relatively "easy". I had a big oops at the G-drop where the guy stalling out in front of me pushed me off line and into the stump that sits to the inside of the lowest line. I hopped off, let 1 guy by, and shoved my way back in line. After that, things went so-so for a bit as I worked to catch up to another train of guys. The next bad spot was a messed up switchback where I had to unclip, take a sideways hop, and partially landed my foot on the guy behind me's wheel. I felt bad about that and made sure to apologize after the race even though it wasn't anyone's fault and just part of racing.
Somewhere after the first couple of climbs, my chain started making noise. I knew nothing good was going to come of that and just hoped it would hold itself together for the race. I soon found out what the noises meant. I couldn't get into my 32 cog out back and was skipping horribly about halfway through the cassette. I would drop down to my baby ring up front to try and get the right climbing gear and then hop back and forth trying to find a gear in back that the chain would stay in. Soon enough, the problem worsened and spread to the front derailleur. It alternated between dropping my chain from the middle ring to the baby ring on rough descents to skipping halfway between the two rings on the climbs forcing me to play a careful game of guess where the chain in lined up now and jamb the shifters as quick as I could to hopefully slide back into one ring or the other.
Somewhere in the woods:
About 3/4 of the way through the lap, I finally had passed most of the traffic I was dealing with and started settling into a flow. Most of the technical climbs were behind me and with traffic, I'd walked a number of them, but had only let a couple people past and passed a few as well so I figured I was still sitting about 10th wheel. Before I knew it, the first lap was done and I was hauling the mail down the back of the pond towards the start/finish line.
As I crossed the grassy area, I spun my shift adjuster all the way out trying to get as much tension on the cable as possible. I figured it was my only chance at getting anywhere near being able to shift normally for the second lap. Luckily, my plan worked to a certain extent and I could shift somewhat better through the rear gears as I started lap two. By now I had only a couple guys in my sites as I entered the woods and wasn't in any real danger of running over them too quickly. As the lap wore on, I still felt pretty good, but my knees were starting to ache from climbing in too big of a gear since I still couldn't shift to the combo I really wanted. At one point, I came past Jim Logan walking a hill which I found to be pretty odd considering how well he'd been riding and usually kicking my butt.
I came around and kept moving on this lap. With traffic pretty much gone, I was able to clear a lot more of the trail this time through. However, my lap 1 effort was catching up and I wasn't holding the best lines and subsequently couldn't clean some of the areas. As I passed a few more riders that the course was having it's way with, I noted Jim had hopped back up to my wheel. I knew he probably wasn't going to be there for long. As I tired further, my bad line choice about snakebit me. On a fast downhill right hand sweeper, I went out too wide. I got into the loose soil next to the built up edge of the trail and saw the tire start to slide and turn out from under me. I pitched forward and knew I was headed over the bars. At the last second, something caught, the bike squirted around and I was back on my seat scarcely believing what had just happened. At this point, I think Jim knew he'd better get around me quick or risk becoming a part of the carnage.
Sure enough, he was ready to go and I pointed him by as we rounded behind the paintball field. A few more turns and he was all ready out of site. The rest of the lap was relatively uneventful, but I could feel the pounding my back was taking as I hammered the roots at speed. I kept up the pace on the downhills and really felt pretty good about them as I finished things out. One more sprint down the pond dam and I rounded the corner to home. 3rd place in the sport open class with a 7th place overall out of 42 starters. I was pretty happy with that finish and am looking forward to more laps during the 24 hour race.
I think there's a bike in there somewhere:
Special thanks to Angy for shooting pics at all of these races and giving me something worthwhile for you to look at !