This weekend was it, numero uno, the big one, the event that I really wanted to look back at this winter while sweating my ass off on some trainer in a funk filled garage or dark basement and know that all the work was and is worth it. I won't leave you hanging in suspense or even make you read past the first paragraph to find out the answer on how it went. We won! Now that the excitement is all out of the way, I'll work on boring you to death with the plethora of details and notes I have swirling in my head as sort of a journal on how it happened.
I don't think anyone can call it "their team" as we all played equal parts in securing the victory and took equal amounts of punishment inflicted on our bodies. I will say though that Jason and Nate taking an extra lap each just to make sure we were fully cemented in first place was an awesome thing! Jason, Nate, Tom, and myself came together to make the 4 man Rassy A squad this year. While I tried not to think about it much, we had some big shoes to fill. 3 straight years the A squad has delivered the team/overall 24 hour win for the shop. I think we were all thinking, hoping, and planning on doing whatever it took to bring back another winner's check, but we really didn't talk much about it. We'd all find ways to put the pressure on ourselves and I think talking about winning might have been our undoing. Every time someone said we had a strong team and should be contenders for the win, I did my best to shake that thought out and respond that we just wanted to go, have fun, race hard, and come away with something near the top. I think we achieved all of that and more.
It's funny how things come together. I've been thinking about this race all year. I've been planning on doing this race all year. As of a month ago, I had no idea in what category I was going to compete or if I was going to attempt solo or find a team. My early season plans fell through on doing a 2 man 24 hour team and I was a bit awash on where to go from there. A few emails and a bit of scouting around opened a few doors. After a week or two of emailing around and checking availability of people, we finally secured a full roster. Looking at the IMBCS results from 2 weeks ago, it was pretty apparent that we were all about equally matched in looking at raw time data. We all had some pretty solid times and should be putting up a good fight.
In getting ready to race, I took my final preparation pretty seriously. With the understanding of my gracious wife, I hit the training pretty hard with a couple weeks to go and then worked on doing a smart taper with 1 week left. Of course, my taper also left me passing up on doing the East Village Crit, which I was a bit bummed about, but I had a touch of tunnel vision going on and wasn't to be deterred. Beer was gone for the week prior (ouch!), hard riding was gone by that Wednesday, and all systems had been checked over. I got some night laps in at center to make sure I was dialed in on night riding again and then had a couple easy spinning days on Thursday and Friday just to keep my legs primed. I knew at that point, the only thing I could do was make myself slower by crashing or hurting myself, so just keep it in check and be ready come Saturday was the plan.
I took the Rassy truck up Saturday morning to set up base camp for any of the shop racers that wanted to partake of the awesome support that the shop provides us. With a full compliment of generator, awnings, tables, work stands, etc, we couldn't have asked for a better setup. OK, so maybe a team bus, mechanics, and personal masseurs for next year would be cool (Greg?)...
After the setup, it was hurry up and wait. Jason had all ready planned on being our lead out man and I don't think anyone wanted to challenge him for that spot. We all gathered for the mandatory pre-race meeting and I began to wonder who we'd be contending with. A strong team from Chicago gave last year's squad a hard run, but we weren't sure if they were back. There were also some strong looking 3 man teams in the running as well. I did manage to find out later that not only were we competing against the other 4 man teams, but the prize for overall winner was open to any team, regardless of numbers. That made for some interesting moments late on Sunday morning, but I'll get back to that.
Finally, we lined up at the start with Jason ready to rock. Per the usual fashion, the start of the race involved a 50 yard LeMans style run to the bike, then pegging the heart rate up the gravel hill to the upper section of singletrack, bombing back down to the start, and then diving into a full lap. Sounds fun, right?! As Kyle pumped the tube until it's bursting point, I held my breath in anticipation. Bang! The tube exploded and a surge of riders dashed towards their bikes. Taylor Webb was leading the pack onto the gravel with Jason and Keith nipping on his heels. Apparently at the base of the hill, Taylor's legs turned to stone and Jason along with a few others motored past. I headed towards the start/finish line to see who would come through the opening section in first. About 10 minutes later, Jason was leading the charge into the first lap and had put us in the lead and was charging into his full lap.
The LeMans start:
With open trail in front of him, he put it to full use and came in with over a minute gap on our next chaser as Nate saddled up and took over the push. He smoked his lap as well and came in with around 2 minutes on the next team. Tom was our 3rd man up and headed out for his pull. The 2nd and 3rd place teams were in full pursuit mode. A team from Peoria was our closest chaser and put in a hard charger for their 3rd rotation. He chased down Tom and was basically sitting on his wheel as we made the exchange for my lap.
I still don't have great legs for the start of any race, but I was determined to make it hurt for both myself and my chaser. We wound our way through the grass track to the entrance of the singletrack. He was sitting just far enough back from my wheel that he wouldn't be in trouble if I bobbled and would slide right by without losing any momentum. I stood hard on the pedals and about the 2nd switchback in I heard it. Some clanking and banging, followed by a few cursory words about a chain. Not sure what was happening for sure behind me, I took this as my cue to pour it all out and go from there. With several laps in my mental bank from the race 2 weeks prior, I felt comfortable letting it hang mostly out on the downhills, keeping my momentum for the short steeps, and downshifting just enough to hammer out of the saddle for the longer climbs.
I hadn't pre-ridden the new section of trail on top of the ski hill that was added, but the reports were that it wasn't overly technical, just rough. Luckily, the reports were right on and I was able to keep some pretty good speed going through this section before bombing back to the start. One thing I had noted was that most people were just cruising along through the grass switchbacks and I decided to employ a different strategy. I hammered them as much as possible and would slam on my brakes at each of the 180's before sprinting down the next lane until I reached the walk point at the check in. A quick cyclocross dismount and run by the scoring table put the lead back into Jason's hands. I managed to turn my lap in 42:45 and was ecstatic since it bested my laps from the XC race even after they'd added in another 1/2 mile+ of length to the course.
Feeling good on the first lap:
The Peoria team had dropped back a few spots with the mechanical costing them about 10 minutes as their rider ran back to the pits and sent another rider out in his spot while he stayed to fix the chain. At this point, I think we were back to a few minutes up on the chasing teams with Keith's team hunting us now. With it looking like the racing would be tight for quite some time to come, we started settling into our rotations. The plans was for each of us to time trial every lap and hopefully continue building whatever gap we could. By first flush, it appeared there weren't any appreciable differences in our lap times versus the other top couple of teams. It seemed to boil down to a mere minute or two per lap and that was all we could hope for.
As the afternoon wore into evening, we focused on staying hydrated and ready for more laps. My 2nd lap came in a shade slower at 43:19, but was still plenty fast for me. I'd set a goal for myself before the race of cranking out 44-45 minute laps during the day and hopefully 50 minute laps at night. The good news was, we were all popping off 43-45 minute laps during the day and would take slightly more than a 10 minute lead into the start of the night lapping. Tom was the first night lapper and headed off a bit after 7 with dusk starting to creep in. He ran about half a lap with his lights on before handing the reigns back to me for my first night lap.
2nd lap took a little more effort:
I had mixed feelings going into this lap. I had good faith in my light setup running a 400 lumen helmet lamp with an 800 bar mounted light. I've been mistaken for a train running loose through single track on more than one occasion! However, my legs were feeling a bit cooked all ready from the 2 hard day laps I'd put in. As I took off on my lap, the cool air, instinct, and something else took over completely. I'm not sure I've ever felt that type of energy surge before. It was absolutely electric as my legs came to life and the thrill of screaming down every descent pumped surges of adrenaline through my body. I was literally giddy with excitement as I screamed into the finish line for my handoff to Jason. The look on my team mates face, matched my own euphoria when we checked it over and I'd ripped off a 43:35 lap IN THE DARK! Between a solid lap from Tom to start the night, my follow up lap, and another fast one from Jason, we had built the lead to 20 minutes.
Taking a breather after my first night lap:
At this point, Nate was feeling pretty good and we decided to break out the double laps in hopes that we could each get some sleep. I hopped into my bunk which I'd set up in the back of the Rassy's truck with a sheet diving the space in halves and my air mattress in the back half.Though sleep wouldn't really come, I managed to get some rest as I tossed and turned listening to both our music and that of the wedding party going on some 100 yards away. I set my alarm for where I thought I'd have about 15-20 minutes before Tom came in and called it good. I got up a few short hours later and checked the time sheet we'd been keeping.
Damn, something had happened and we were back to a scant 11 minute lead. I'd been anticipating that we'd keep opening the gap and we'd be closing in on 30 minutes by the time I was up again. Alas, our luck had slightly run out in the form of some whacked batteries putting Nate in the dark halfway through his 2nd lap. Some forethought on his part though left him with a small commuter light to pick his way through the final parts of the trail. We avoided disaster for sure as losing a complete lap would have been nearly impossible to overcome, but it definitely put some hope back into the legs of our competition. A little hope can be a dangerous thing.
Part 2- the last 12 hours coming shortly