Rolling out of aid 2, I checked my time as its about the closest to a halfway point as you get. I knew from the previous year, I could just about double the time and add roughly 10 minutes to get a guesstimate of my finish time barring unforeseen events. I rolled in with just under 2 hours on the clock knocking over 15 minutes off my time from last year for the same section. I knew I was rolling well, but this shot another round of adrenaline through me being so far ahead of my time. 2 hours was a distant goal in my head, but I don't know that I ever planned on actually making or possibly even beating it.
Back to the race though as Trevor had put a gap on me. It was time to eat and get back into race mode. I snarfed some shot blocks as quick as possible and tried upping my pace along the relatively flat section of trail we were on. Just after aid 2 there's a high speed downhill into a right hand hairpin. I saw the turn about the same time as I passed it. I was cursing myself as I slammed on the brakes and brought my bike around to get back on the right trail. Getting into chase mode, I kept the pace high as we started to get more into true singletrack again.
With the lack of rain this year, even the singletrack was dusty and loose in many spots. A short bit later, I found myself right back on Trevor's wheel as he'd overcooked a fast downhill corner and lost his gap over me righting himself. I got back around and he was right on my wheel for a nice shot of Deja Vu. I think we rode and walked together for a short bit including a section of extremely rough and rocky downhill where I could feel every hit reverberating through my rigid frame. I remember complaining back to Trevor on how rough it was and how I was wishing for at least a suspension for at that point. Looking back, I think this spot was the biggest turn in the race for me as I could feel the tires and wheels pinging off the rocks a number of times as I tried to keep myself from going over the bars and still keep my speed up as much as possible.
Shortly after or possibly even right at the bottom Trevor came flying around me in what would prove to be a killer winning move. He took off like a scalded cat and I didn't have anything to respond. At that point, I was pretty happy in my position sitting in 4th and was starting to worry that maybe I'd even put a little too much effort into being where I was. I knew there was still a lot of racing left and if I pushed too much, I'd be cramping and done being able to race before I got to the finish line.
Aid station 3 comes flying up on you as you're pointed mostly downhill in this section. I think this is where I flew down a gravel forest service road only to come around a bend at 25+ mph to be faced with a closed service gate and a roughly 2' wide open spot to ride through. I jammed my brakes and rode it out for all I was worth shooting the gap while trying desperately not to load up my chamois. Luck was on my side as I sailed through and into aid #3. I wasn't stopping here either as I had plenty of water loaded up and short distances to cover for the next station.
The hop to aid 4 is another downhill screamer for the most part. There's a multi mile downhill double track that you can rip through. Last year I hit this section with a fair amount of traffic around and was choked up by all the dust and hoping I didn't hit any unforeseen holes. This year I was still mostly on my own and was able to see further ahead and pick my lines. The only downside is I think not having any rabbits in this section left me a little slower than last year.
Now I began to notice something a lot more alarming though. It seemed both tires were getting a fair bit squishier than I like to run. I wasn't sure if I'd burped them on something or worse yet, had flats developing. By the time I rolled out to the gravel road section, I knew there was no avoiding stopping to add some air to my tires. I wasn't too worried as I was rolling with a couple 40g Big Air canisters from Genuine Innovations so I had plenty of quick access inflation on me. I grabbed the inflator from my seatpost while still rolling and hopped off the bike almost before it stopped. I shot air into both front and rear and was back on the bike in about 30 seconds flat.
I wasn't sure what to think about losing air at that point as it should have been sealed up by Stan's as I know I had plenty in each tire. I just kept pedaling and hoping the shot of air would hold me until the end. Aid 4 rolled up and all I needed was a quick top off of a single bottle so I was in and out in under 30 seconds. I'd been so hammered after Aid 4 last year that I just walked over to the climb to Bacon Station and hadn't bothered to hop on my bike. This year, I was determined to make up some time and pushed my bike up to the first lessening of pitch in the hill and hopped on to ride as much of the climb as possible. I'd venture that with fresh legs or gears, I could probably clean most of the climb to Bacon Station. Alas, I had neither at hand so I rode where I could and walked with as much speed as I could muster where I had to.
Soon enough though, I noted my tires were losing the battle with holding air. I kept on riding until I just about fell over as the front tire tried to roll out from under me with too much flex. I was at a walking point so I hustled my way up the hill and knew I'd have to stop as soon as the terrain was ridable again. I was dreading this point as I knew something would have to be done to fix the leaks since my last stop was a mere 20 minutes back and I knew I had a solid hour+ to go in the race with some of the most technical and fastest downhill terrain left to go. I flipped the bike over and started in on locating the leaks. First up was the rear and I found both a tread hole and a sidewall leak. Both were leaking sealant so I grabbed the only option I had beyond a tube to fix a hole. I knew from past experience the tubeless plug kits from Genuine Innovations did a pretty good job of sealing a friend's tire and holding up to race abuse so I grabbed my kit from my seat bag and went to work on the tread leak. After fumbling for what seemed like forever, I finally ripped my gloves off so I could thread the tiny repair strip through the needle and plug the tire.
As soon as that was done, I shot in more air and started the "Stan's Dance". For anyone familiar with tubeless tires, this dance apparently is hidden in our subconscious. Basically you hop around like a fool while violently shaking your wheel and simultaneously praying to the deity of air pressure and promising upon your unborn children that you'll never do anything bad again so long as you live in hopes that the black magic of sealant will grace your tire with its workings. The plugged hole seemed to seal up just fine, but the sidewall cut was still slowly leaking air, albeit slightly slower than before the dance.
Onto the front. I'm still not sure I ever found the leak in the front. I looked for one, but couldn't locate anything definitive. Once again I employed the dance with my new partner and hoped for luck. I couldn't find anymore leakage after the dance so again, I held my breathe hoping it was good enough. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure the rocky section after aid 2 was my downfall. Post race inspection showed me a couple pretty good divots in my rims and given the sidewall and tread cut proximity to each other, I'm pretty sure it was a rock that got me.
By this time a steady stream of riders had passed me and I wasn't sure how long I'd been setting trailside. My info would later show that apparently 6+ minutes is what passes for an eternity when you're without forward motion in a mountain bike race. With some pissed off energy flowing back into my system, I jumped back on the bike and laid into the pedals. I no longer knew where I was in the standings or how many singlespeeders had passed me. I just made a plan to hit every pedal stroke as hard as I could and make up as many spots as possible.
I passed a few riders before even finishing up the last 7 minutes into the Bacon Station. I was handed a near full cup of PBR (seriously guys?) and chugged about half in a single gulp as I never stopped rolling through. I tossed the balance and hit the Dakota Ridge section with a sense of urgency.
Coming into bacon station:
Rolling out of the Bacon Station, you have about an hour left to ride. It's basically divided into 3 parts. The Dakota Ridge section with all of its rockiness, a little more climbing, and technical singletrack along with the descent off the ridge, then a forest service road climb before you finally top out with about 9 miles left of downhill doubletrack, singletrack, and gravel at wide open speeds.
Rocky descent after Bacon Station
Keepin' it sunny side up
As I hit Dakota Ridge after losing a bunch of spots while fixing the flats, my goal switched to passing back as many people as I could and hopefully claw my way back up in both the overall and singlespeed standings. I passed a couple singlespeeds and a handful of other riders on Dakota Ridge as I blasted my way through the rocky terrain. Putting as much speed into the downhill as I dared, I chased down a few more riders before hitting the bottom and getting ready for the last longer climb of the day. I pre-rode this section on Saturday and also remembered it from last year as a good climb for me. I put my head down and churned my legs forward seeing a couple groups of riders sprinkled in front of me.
The last group of two going up the climb had a geared rider and singlespeeder both. I split the middle and tried to keep my speed up as I went through. The singlespeeder jumped on my wheel right away knowing I'd just put him 1 further position down. He definitely didn't make it easy for me and we stuck together through the top of the climb and onto the first doubletrack downhill section even as I tried to shake him loose in a couple spots. He went by me for a minute and I waited for a good shot to get back around. Nearing the crossing of Tinton road and back to the singletrack, I shot around him on a faster section and kept my cadence as fast as I could spin. I knew I needed to be first into the track given its dustiness and limited opportunities for passing. I didn't look back as we hit Tinton trail as I was determined to put as hard an effort as I could in making sure he'd either lose ground or have to flat outride me to get back by.
I railed the downhill with near reckless abandon and managed to keep myself barely upright in the process. I'd get a peek back every once in a while and I couldn't see my chaser. I had no clue how far back he was though and I was still hopeful I might catch another rider or two in this section so I kept full on the gas. Just before we popped back out on the road I came up on a final rider on a geared bike. He asked if I wanted the pass, but I knew we were about to hit the open road so I stayed behind him. I was hoping I could latch onto him for a draft down the hill knowing he'd most likely be able to outrun me. We both hit the gravel and I was about 10 feet off his wheel as we accelerated to max speed. Unfortunately I was just shy of being able to catch his draft and had to watch him pedal away even as I spun my legs like fan blades.
I focused on getting in my most aero tuck and keeping my hands off the brakes as I dropped like a stone down the gravel road. My speed peaked at just over 40 mph showing I'd at least learned a little more about being aero between this year and last. As I rolled into town, I could feel the energy being sapped from my body as I knew it was about over. I could see the geared rider not too far in front of me, but I lacked the will and energy to put any type of chase in figuring my placing was pretty well secure as I didn't have anyone breathing down my neck. I sat up and pedalled into the finish line happy to be done and completely spent from the effort.
Post race dirt bag:
I dropped my bike and went to start checking results. Initially I thought I had moved back to 5th singlespeed, but as it were, I ended up 6th and less than a minute back from being top 5. I've kicked myself a little for setting up at the end and wondering if I'd have been able to chase the last guy down. I probably could have closed the gap a little more, but I don't think I could've drug all the time back in the short period that I sat up.
54 seconds back finishing in 6th Singlespeed and 30th overall.
I've also done a fair bit of post race what-iffing trying to figure out what would've happened without those flats. Who knows?! I think I had a pretty solid lock on 4th place and probably 20th overall which would have been out of this world for me. In any case, I'm pretty damn satisfied with my performance and it always takes a little luck to finish well. Trevor rode a superb race and took the much deserved win. It was pretty cool to ride with him for as long as I did and then see him take it up another level to chase down the other two riders. Maybe one of these days, I'll have that kind of kick.