Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mullet Classic race report


Race data- none because I forgot to charge my Garmin... DOH!

Following The Dakota 5-0 race I spent the next week vacationing with my family through the Black Hills. If you've never been there, its an awesome place to experience natures beauty at some of her best. Basically, I did nothing but site see, relax, hang with my ladies, and eat and drink everything in site for the better part of a week. I'd already used up my ride time for the pre-riding and racing so checking out more singeltrack by bike wasn't in the cards. In any case, all this adds up to a great recipe for going from peak racer geek fitness to touring pace rider pretty quick. Having a season that starts in February and goes through October makes for some pretty hard fought battles to keep up fitness towards the end of the season. I was fighting the downhill slide as much as anyone at this point feeling the drag of the long season.

As The Mullet Classic drew closer and registration opened, I had an interesting choice to make. I could sign up for my usual singlespeed class and race for IMBCS points and prizes or I could take on the marathon class and race for pride and $$$. Considering I wasn't eligible for the overall class win in the IMBCS and that I'd been training for and performing well over longer distances this year, I thought the possibility to earn some cash was a better fit for me. Of course, I also tried to push back the fact that I DNF'ed this same race after a scant 3.5 laps last year. I was ready for some redemption though and figured this would be a good opportunity.

Lake Ahquabi isn't what I would call a good singlespeed course in the fact that while it has climbing and descending, its wide open double track with a lot of flat and fast sections. I was having a pretty hard time wrapping my head around what gear to run here given all the variables. The weekend before the race, a few of us met for a pre-ride of the course. I stuck on 34x19 gearing figuring I'd be able to spin it fast enough on the flats and still fall back to a comfortable climbing pace as the laps wore on. After a race pace lap at 30 minutes, I felt pretty good with my choice and decided to stick with it for race day.

I tried resurrecting my training the couple weeks before the race with some longer solid efforts to mimic the time I'd be on the bike. The weather was cooperating perfectly and before I knew it, we were onto race day. As with previous years, this race had the biggest turnout of the year for any of our local MTB races with over 150 in attendance. I'd been watching the pre-registrants in my class all week and knew most of the names and who I should probably try to mark as the faster guys. Same as last year, the race drew a few strong roadies in addition to the usual dirt riders being that this course is much less about technical skill versus what we usually race on. As we lined up, I took a look around and noted only 1 other singlespeed in the marathon class. He was running a massive gear from the looks of it (I later found out it was 36x16). I wondered how long he'd be able to push it.

Bruce let us go at 11:45 to give us a 15 minute head start over the main field who would be headed off in waves starting at high noon. We had a nice pack take off and were pretty bunched up as we came through the opening tree section and headed back to the lake. Only a quarter mile into the race and the other singlespeed guy had already opened a lead and was out of site around the first bend. Not knowing him and seeing the gear he'd be pushing on the hills, I thought he'd eventually tire and come back to us. I marked Jerome who won this class last year and watched him shakily navigate through the first few corners since he's a roadie with some questionable handling skills. I was leading a train of 2 or 3 guys as we got back to the steep climb at the tail of the lake. I hit the climb hard and cleaned it while the guys behind me shifted down to make it up. At the top, I'd opened a small gap so I kept on the gas knowing there was a technical downhill right ahead. At the bottom of the downhill, I couldn't hear or feel anyone chasing me.

Starting the pain train on lap 1:

I put my skills and endurance training into action. I kept the pace high without going into the red zone and focused on riding fast and clean. As lap 1 wound to an end I was still on my own. Having come through the start finish in under 30 minutes for the lap, I was only 10 minutes or less behind some of the category racers that started at noon. I started catching and passing them pretty quickly into lap 2. As I got to the hilly section near the end of the lap I started hitting bigger crowds of riders. I got pretty aggressive in my passing and pushed my way into a couple spots where there really wasn't an opening for me, but being where I was in the race, I couldn't back down and being on a singlespeed as well, I couldn't afford to slow down and wait to get up the hills either.

Coming through the fast downhills of this section I sat back down and suddenly felt my seat pop and collapse under me. My carbon railed seat had finally given up the ghost. I'd heard it make a louder than usual pop earlier on lap 2, but tried not to think about it until this happened. I was only a 1/2 mile or so from the finish which included some climbing, so it wasn't too hard to get back to the finish, but what would I do once I got there? As luck would have it, I spotted Greg Rasmussen and Tom Anderson cheering people on at the start/finish area. I rolled through yelling at Tom that I needed the seat off his bike. I knew he'd just gotten the titanium railed version of the seat I was riding and had his bike on the car. I feel bad that I didn't ask him, but more demanded in the heat of battle. Luckily, he's a great guy and ran to get the needed parts as Greg and I started tearing off my now broken seat. Tom cam back with both post and seat so we just installed that versus switching out the seats. It took a couple shots, but we got the height pretty close and I took off on lap 3 after losing an unknown number of spots.

I was in full chase mode now, but I knew I had a long ways to go as well. I went back to riding fast and clean, but the adrenaline rush was spiking me into the redline as well now. The next couple of laps are pretty much a blur, but I would see racers ahead and work on reeling them in as quickly as possible. I wasn't sure who was in my class at this point, but I wanted as many people behind me as possible. Near the end of lap 4 I passed another racer in my class. He thought he was in 3rd or 4th spot at the time so I knew I was gaining some ground.

At the end of lap 4, my second mishap of the day happened. I came flying down the meadow above the start/finish area into a nasty little dip section that runs you across the corner of the parking lot. As I hit the drop, my left foot came unclipped and I found myself horrifyingly loose on top of the bike coming hard into a compression area. My foot slammed the ground, my body compressed, and my jewels took the brunt of the impact on top of the seat. I managed to stay up on my wheels and kind of surfed to a stop across the pavement. An apparently horrified onlooker came running over and asked what she could do for me. I was gasping for breathe and trying to clear the stars out of my vision when another friend also asked what he could do. There wasn't much left for me to do or say, so I got back on my bike and starting pedaling again. It definitely took the wind out of me, but I wasn't throwing in the towel. In the meantime, the rider behind me had gotten back by and now I was chasing him again.

I caught and passed him again on lap 5 and I also came across Kent Carlson who was cramping pretty hard by the looks of it. At that point I was pretty sure I was in 3rd spot with Jerome and Eric still out in front by an unknown margin. I was cramping by this point too, but I kept pushing on as hard as I could. The hills were really starting to take it out of me though. As I started lap 6 I couldn't see anyone ahead or behind me. I buried it as much as possible this lap thinking I would be done at the end and if I could see someone, I'd try to chase them down. As I cleared the dam for the last time, I still couldn't see anyone so I knew catching up would be pretty much impossible. I backed it down at this point to save myself from the cramps that were now dominating my focus. I rolled to the end of the lap without seeing another person and gratefully was told it was after 3 so my riding time was done. I found out later that Jerome was forced to quit at the end of lap 5 due to a broken chain, so I ended up 2nd behind a super strong Eric Brunt on the other singlespeed who came over from Nebraska to lay the smack down.

All in all, I had a great race and executed my plan very well. Short of the seat and ball issues, it was about a perfect race. I don't think I could have gotten 1st given how strong Eric was riding, but I definitely felt like I had the legs and stamina for where I placed especially given the issues I had.

Photo credit- Steve Fuller

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