The last Sunday in August found me caravaning over to the wilds of Iowa City/Coralville for the next installment of our state series. I had ridden exactly 2 laps of Sugarbottom prior to this race and those were closing in on a year ago. Basically, the course was mostly new to me with the exception of a couple spots that were memorable for their level of difficulty. We arrived in plenty of time to watch the beginners race and warm-up. I managed to find ways to kill time other than doing a proper warm-up and really only got about 15 minutes in and didn't even pre-ride any of the singletrack. So far the day is shaping up as hot and I haven't really gotten into the groove.
Finally, we hit the line up with the 2nd largest field of Cat 1's I'd lined up with all season. With all the big guns and a surprise visit by Jason McCartney, I predestined myself for a back of the pack attack. The starter sent us off and I felt great for about 200 yards and then we hit the gravel hill that led into the singletrack. My legs almost shut down completely. I shot backwards about as fast as I was going forwards. As I ground my way up the hill, I went into the track near the back of the pack. At least I was in good company as I could see a few recognizable faces around me reminding me that I wasn't the only one who suffered on the fast openers.
With 3 laps staring us in the face and close to 3 hours ahead, I tried my best not to blow it up right out of the gate. I stayed glued onto several wheels in front of me with Matt G being directly in front. A few hiccups and he was now leading the train with me sitting 2nd wheel. By his nature, Matt is a distance rider and wasn't quite carrying the speed I wanted to early on. I made my way around him about midway through the first third of lap 1. Shouting words of encouragement up to me, I started riding like I'd put a blindfold on. I bombed down the wrong side of a rooty descent and nearly lost my fillings. I then made my best move and tried to ride straight through a caution tape barrier. I slammed on my brakes and had to wait for about 4 riders to shoot past before jumping back on track. Caution be damned, I started turning myself further inside out determined to catch back onto the pack. Towards the first part of the north side or about 2/3 into the lap I finally caught back up to Matt and Tom. I held my own for a bit, but ten they slowly gapped me on one of the short steeps.
Getting the beat down already:
Trying to get back on their wheels, I plowed through an uphill switchback only to hit a stump on the uphill side of the switchback. Down I went and my bike was stuck to me like wet toilet paper. I couldn't get out from under it with my bottom foot still clipped in. Now I was becoming trail debris as the women's leader in the form of Kim Eppen came flying up to where I was helplessly flailing about. I did everything short of actually get out of her way. I finally resigned myself to the fact that she would have to ride over me and that's exactly what happened. However, she managed to also fall during that move, but got back up and took off. Finally, I was able to extricate myself and got back on the bike. I took off slowly trying to get my head back in the game and slowly pedaled myself back into it. Just as I started going well again, I noted a woman was running her bike along the trail in front of me. Sure enough, it was Kim again. As I rode past I asked what she needed and it was a CO2 as she'd burped her front tire. I quickly offered up a hit from my CO2 which instantly aired the tire up and she was down the trail less than 30 seconds later. I figured that was pretty good for my karma.
The last hard section of the trail was cyclocross hill. You can hear the hecklers from some distance away as most riders will eventually have to walk the steepest pitch of the hill. Clearing it requires a bit of cunning as you have to maintain all your momentum from the previous downhill and charge up the other side with near reckless abandon. Last year I walked the upper part of the hill on both attempts. I found myself shifting to a harder gear at the top, using the momentum to get on top of that gear, and then as I hit bottom turning the highest cadence I possibly could. I felt like I was flying as I went up the far side of the bank. I had tons of momentum as I cleared the top and took off down the trail like it was barely a blip on the radar. Clearing cyclocross hill on all 3 laps was probably the highlight of my day.
The laps were passing slowly with the heat sucking the life out of me in every sun filled section. Thanks to TJ though, I was getting perfect bottle handups each lap which kept me going. I wound my way through lap 2 and stopped to help one more competitor in the form of Robin Williams who had been running in 2nd when a rear derailleur issue sidelined her near the furthest away point on the course. I stopped to lend her a multi-tool and hopped back on the bike to keep plugging away. I managed to pass another rider or two on this lap and started feeling a bit better about myself.
The final lap hit and I was nearly 2 hours into this thing all ready. Someone wiser than me had said racing here was more about survival than winning. At my level of skill, I was pretty sure he was spot on with that analysis. The roots and technical terrain were eating up my back and leg power. I made a few technical mistakes on this lap that had me frustrated and walking small pieces of trail. Even more annoying though were several things attacking my senses. My hands felt like they were burning up. I've never had issues with my hands being hot and now I was nearly an hour from being done and it felt like I needed to rip my gloves off and dunk my hands in an ice bath. I started getting a shiver every now and then as well. I knew the heat was really starting to kick my butt. And the final piece of insanity was I had the stupid f'ing jingle from the KFC "so S-O G-double O-D good" running on a non-stop loop in my head.
As I neared the end of the ride, the heat was overbearing and I was trying to devise some way to rapidly cool myself off. Jumping in the like seemed like a viable option other than it would involve more pedaling to get there. Finally, I figured out a plan and set it into motion as soon as I hit the finish line. I think it worked out pretty well:
Side shot (no my head wasn't in Maria's lap) but she was nice enough to rub ice on my neck:
I soaked my head in ice water at the bottom of my cooler for what felt like forever, but was really only a couple minutes. It definitely helped cool me down quickly, but didn't account for the damage that had all ready been done. I spent most of the next hour or two feeling on the verge of throwing up and walking around nursing as much liquid as I could get in. I did manage to finish out in 10th out of 17 starters so I was at least happy that as bad as my day felt, it was still an average day.
Photo credits to Angy,