The race season is nearing its end. As I type this, we have one solitary race left to savor until the 2010 season fires back up. However, that's skipping ahead a week. This weekend left me headed over to the wilds of Council Bluffs to race at Lake Manawa for what is somewhat deemed as a border battle between the Iowegians and the Nebraskanites. I wanted/needed to do well in this race. Never having been to any Nebraska races or this venue, I had to base my anticipations on hearsay and a few old race reports. Seeing as how Cam tends to have some pretty epic battles over there and a few other friends have reported some really strong riders out that way, I knew I'd be in for a pretty hard fought day if I was going to finish well.
The course recon info I gathered ranged from very Denman's like, to sandy, to technical with very limited passing. All of this had me primed for not knowing what to expect and as such, I drove myself about half batty during the week trying to figure out how to race it. Nate and I car pooled over to the race leaving enough time to hang out a bit and still get a full recon lap in. We took off with Cam and Julie to get the lines figured out. Cam does what he does and motored away for the most part even during warm up as I tried to hang on as best I could and not start breaking out any real effort that I'd need later on. By the end of the first section he was pretty much gone and I just wound my way along on my own. On the back section of trail I had my worst run in of the day catching my left shoulder pretty hard on a narrow section between 2 large trees. At least this was the recon lap.
As time wound down, we worked our way to the line. Different from the Iowa races I've been in, they started each category in a wave based on open or age group so you were only racing guys in your class at the very start. I liked this aspect of it as it really pushed me to go hard right off the bat as I could see exactly how much work I had to do to finish where I wanted. 11 of us towed the line for the open class which I found odd considering the +35 and +45 age groups seemed to have much larger contingencies. The starter rang the siren and we were off to a sprint for the singletrack entrance a scant quarter of a mile down a paved park road. The start to the singletrack was cordoned off by 4x4 posts spaced 3-4' apart making for some interesting lines as everyone was flying through them. I was sitting 3rd wheel as we came up on the posts and the 2 guys in front sat up slightly so I followed suit. That wasn't the smartest move as I got pushed back 2 more spots to 5th wheel by a couple guys who stayed on the gas. Starting off the first lap I had 3 Nebraskans and an Iowa guy leading the charge in front of me.
Neal (the Iowa guy) was sitting directly in front of me and staying hard on the wheel immediately in front of him. They'd both hammer the open straights and pull me slightly until we'd hit more technical sections where I could latch right back on. This lasted for about a mile and we could see the first two guys opening a decent gap over us. The guy in front of Neal took a few bad lines slowing us down, but we were in a pretty bad area to pass. At the next logover Neal decided it was now or never and took a faster yet higher risk line straight over the log in lieu of just to the right which was only a couple inches tall versus 6-8" tall. I was hot on his heels going straight as well. Neal didn't stick the landing. Or more accurately stuck the landing a bit to well and burped the air out of his tire which was slightly cocked and went ass over appetite. I somehow managed to avoid him while making a quick check to make sure he wasn't dying on the trail as I tailed it up to 4th place.
I knew we'd be hitting a few more open sections where passing would be possible so I sat on the wheel of 3rd place until I could punch it again. I stuck the pass and as we hit more technical areas I opened a gap slowly. The first 2 riders were basically out of site at this point and we were only half way through lap 1 of 3. I kept the wick turned up and figured I would either catch someone or end up being caught if I tried to mellow out my pace any. As luck would have it (for me), near the end of lap 1 I could see another rider up in front of me. I pushed a bit harder, caught him in the twisties, and tailed him through the start/finish area. I sat in on his wheel for the first part of the open section on lap 2 drafting and catching my breath before cranking on it one more time and passing him just before we hit the maze of trees again.
The pass stuck and I was sitting in 2nd place halfway into the race. The 1st place rider was nowhere in site so I stuck to my plan of keeping the hammer down lest I be caught from behind. As I worked into the back section on lap 2 I passed an expert rider on a Superfly singlespeed that was slowly working his way down an open section. I never looked back, but when we hit the twisty section, I could tell I had someone closing in. He was gaining quickly on me so I tried upping my pace in the tight areas. That didn't go quite as planned as I now started pushing beyond my pay level of skill and nearly went down twice. I ushered him back by so as to hopefully grab his wheel and keep myself upright in the process. About a hundred yards later, he laid it down on a slick leaf covered corner and I went right back by. Ahh well, at least I tried to show some good camaraderie.
Lap 3 started with Mr. singlespeed right back on my butt and passing me into the open area. I hopped on his wheel for a draft as he pulled us along at over 20 mph. Sweet! As soon as we hit the tech sections he opened the gap and never looked back again. Thanks for the ride. I was riding well at this point and put together a quick game plan in my head. I pushed the open easy sections as hard as I could and I dialed back the tech areas just enough to make sure I wasn't going to bite it. I couldn't see anyone too close behind me so I thought I was pretty safely in 2nd at this point. I held my game plan together through to the finish and latched onto my placing permanently. As I looked back, a scant 20 seconds back came 3rd place so I definitely needed to keep that hard pace I'd been pushing.
Those Nebraska boys can definitely ride. A full clean race is what I attribute to hold onto my placing. I know the 3rd and 4th place riders each had at least one fall apiece where I only came close a few times. The first place rider had over a minute on me. All in all, I was pretty ecstatic as I went into the race hoping for a top 5 finish and came out much better.
As far as the course goes, the first 2 laps were a bit wet, but by the 3rd lap it had dried pretty nicely. I was running more cautious by then though so it really didn't give me much of a boost. Overall, I liked the course and it seemed to suit my skill set. I wasn't the fastest on the open hammer sections, but I had enough technical skill and strength to close it up on the tight, twisty areas. The overall feel was a lot like Denman's in that you could really use the flow if you knew the trail well enough, but the open sections would allow for some fast riding if you needed to hammer and go as well. I didn't find passing too difficult as long as you played your cards right. If you were gassed going into the open sections, it would be difficult to pass, but otherwise you could find a spot pretty easy as long as you weren't in the woods.
I know there were a few photographers on hand so I'll try to find some pictures to post.