I rolled the shop truck up to Boone early on Saturday to get things set up and prepped for the race. Shortly, a number of other Rassy's guys showed up and pitched in on getting things up to snuff for supporting those of us racing.
Rassy van and support:
We got registered and it was time to wait for the show to begin.
Ready to rock?:
What race would be complete without a bit of drama though? It would seem I managed to yet again forget my shoes back in Des Moines. Luckily, my mom happened to be watching the girls and was able to run them up to me. Thank goodness for moms! As a bonus, the girls got a chance to watch my first lap as well before they had to head home. We set up in the same rotation as last year with Jason wanting the lead off leg that involved a short sprint to his bike before a lung searing climb up the gravel road before dropping into a short section of singletrack. From there, its on to a full lap before swapping out to the next rider.
Run Forest run:
I could see Jason the first trip through the finish area at the start of his full lap and he had major company in the form of the hard charging 2nd place team from Peoria last year. We'd been watching them do some warm ups and it appeared they'd retooled their team by 1 or 2 guys with some heavier hitters. Sure enough, the guys was right with Jason and came in a dead heat for the hand off to Bill. Bill hit it hard out of the gate and I was hoping he'd manage to put a bit of time on where we could at least get out of site. As the minutes ticked off, here came the Peoria rider into the transition chute. Bill was nowhere to be seen. A couple minutes go by and Bill comes flying in. Tom is now in chase mode with Peoria out in front and us leading by another minute or two over any other racers. Bill had flatted out on course. He was running tubeless, but hadn't checked his setup for a while meaning there wasn't enough sealant left in the tire to keep it from flatting. Was this an omen to come?
Tom pushed hard and gets back about half the time on his rider sending me out with a minute or so deficit to try and make up. The game plan was to push it hard, but keep it clean figuring that we could run them down over a few laps and get out time back on the right side. All was going well into the first half of the course. I could see my guy in a number of sections and had him roughly 30 seconds out. I slowly started closing that gap and was really railing the trail. I came through a fast right hand sweeper pushing hard and suddenly I was sliding across the ground. The entire trail bed gave way as a solid chunk of sand and had slid out from under my tire. I went down hard on my right knee, but didn't cause any major damage to myself or the bike so I hopped back on and started cranking over the pedals in anger. I got back to about 30 seconds but the front rider had seen me closing and put all he had into staying away. I couldn't close any further on my lap.
By all appearances, the guy Jason went out after was probably their strongest rider. Jason went out on the hunt, but we lost another minute on them. 5 laps down and we're all ready a couple minutes back. This seems awfully familiar for some reason. the 2nd round of laps go by and we're sitting a few minutes back still. It seems like every lap we're charging hard, but not really gaining anything. If nothing else, we're slowly losing time to Peoria. There are a few teams still within striking distance of us, but we've pretty much got a lock on the top couple of spots with the talent on both teams.
The third rotation starts and its getting dark out. We start the night lapping and I renew some hope that we can pull some time back on Peoria. I know last year we started adding multiple minutes per lap during the night. Only a failed light kept us from having a full lap advantage by morning last year. It was my turn for a night lap and I hit the gas hoping for a surge of adrenaline like last year. Sadly, I was still pretty flat. I felt good on course, but never had the same snap as last years super fast night lap. I was riding clean through 75% of the course when I caught a large root wrong and went down hard again. I hear the tire burp some air which isn't a good thing. As I picked myself up, I could hear air escaping from my front tire through a puncture as well. I was running tubeless as well so I figured the faster I started rolling, the faster the sealant would patch the hole and all would be good.
Hmm, I'm rolling along and the front tire seems pretty squishy. I figure the air lost between the burp and the leak must have put me down to 10-15 lbs. Not very ideal, but good enough that I could roll it faster than stopping to hit it with CO2 so I kept trucking. Sure enough, a mile down the trail and I'm trying to pick my way through a sandy corner and the tire grips, burps, and slides out. Now its basically flat and I have no choice but to hit it with a shot of CO2. Add in that I've now got a bunch of grass and weeds sticking out between the rim and tire and I'm not having a good night so far. Luckily the tire is still seated and the air gets me moving in under a minute even if it seems like hours.
I'm rolling once more and now the tire is a bit better, but slowly I can feel it going down again. Arrgggh! I've succumbed to the same mistake Bill made in not checking my sealant level for quite some time. I'm out of sealant and the puncture is spewing air faster than I can finish out the last mile. I ride the tire until its nearly flat and I'm muscling it through every turn out on a flat section. I finally stop to put my next cartridge of CO2 in before I have to drop into the final technical singletrack section on the way to the finish area. One more time the tire has an acceptable level of air in it and I bomb down to the finish just hoping I can pedal faster than the air is escaping. I make it to the grass switchbacks and my bike is reduced to steering like a tractor as the tire is flat again. I've made it and hand off to Jason before heading back to the truck to survey the damages.
Thanks to some help from Courtney (whole I also stole some of these pictures from) we were able to peal back the tire from the rim to remove almost all of the dirt, grass, and junk I'd packed into the bead. Then we popped the bead loose just enough to slop more sealant into the tire. After that, it was off to the pumping races. Courtney went to town on the pump while I manipulated the tire just enough that the bead sealed and we were able to pop it back on the rim. Now that my own issues were fixed, it was time to survey the damages. Beyond another bang to the body by going down, we'd lost more time, and it was starting to look like our night laps were staying about as consistent as they day laps in dropping time to Peoria. There was still some hope as we were about a half lap down or so at this point, but it was going to take a mechanical or something on their part for us to gain that much back.
We decided the next round would be a double lap so everyone could grab some sleep. I steeled myself for waiting for the next lap, rode a quiet lap and headed to bed with 4 laps under my belt. I drifted off to a fitful sleep tossing and turning for quite a while. I was hoping by the time I had to do my double lap, it would be light again. It was closing in on it by the time I started my 2nd lap, but I still needed lights for almost half the lap. About this point, I was paying attention to things other than the trail and my fatigue caught up with my skills. I dropped my front tire into a hole that I'd been sneaking around the rest of the laps and didn't have the strength to pull it back out. I endoed over the bars and founds myself laying on the singletrack before I could even think about what was happening. I got gingerly back on and tried to focus on going fast again, but the body and mind were rebelling.
By that point, I could see again and finally could see someone in my rear view. Sure enough, Peoria was finally lapping us nearly 20 hours into the race. For those keeping tabs, that put them at roughly 2 minutes per lap faster over the course of 24 laps. Remember that deja-vu feeling I had? It's almost identical to what we did to them last year with the exception of the one light failure that set us back nearly 15 minutes. Indeed, they were doing to us what we'd done to them the previous year. I had no energy left to chase my rabbit coming to the end of my double lap. As I came into the pits, we all knew it was done. To keep our position, we decided another full rotation was needed so Jason hit the trail again. I crashed back at the truck and waited for one more turn behind the bars. Our overnight party crowd had left a bit of stuff spread about.
Tom came in happy to be done and sent me out for the final hurrah. I tried to press hard, but the motivation and energy levels just weren't there. I managed to keep my pace respectable, but knowing there wasn't much left to shoot for other than finishing out my lap, I wasn't driving hard. I rolled through and was quite thrilled to be finished. The team had taken down most of the gear and were in process of stowing it away. We finished the task and waited for the payouts and awards. Peoria gave us what for and actually put a 2nd lap on us while we were pacing out our last round and ended up with 30 versus our 28. An exact reversal of last year.
I think there were a number of things that played into our finish this year. The obvious thing was mechanicals. We had a single incident last year versus a number of items this year. I'm not sure they made a huge time difference versus last year, but when the competition gets out of site, it seems 10x as hard to reel them back in. It happened to Peoria last year and we never looked back, the same can be said about us for this year. Luck is a fickle thing. Course conditions also played a factor this year. A very wet and muddy summer left the course in much rougher and wetter shape than last year. There were several mudholes, rough reroutes, and even a run-up that had to be dealt with this year. We also were able to have previously ridden the full course for the XC race last year so our time advantage on knowing the course was a little greater.
Things were a bit muddy this year:
Lastly, it appeared to me that as a team we weren't as hungry for the win this year. We came in unassuming last year and just threw everything we had at every single lap in a win it or bin type style. It was go big or go home for sure. This year, it seemed like we were going after it in a more controlled approach. We got behind and figured we could ease back our time instead of attacking and risking blowing up. I know that like the rest of my year has gone, the snap didn't seem to be in my legs. I turned some good laps, but never really felt like every lap was a winner. Hopefully we'll get a chance for another rematch next year as I think we can put that snap back and give it a hard run.