So I added the mudfest to the name, but all told, I don't think it could be considered anything less. The weeks since my pulling the plug at The Royal have had me hammering the training in prep for my next A race of the season Chequamegon 100. Smack at the end of a 3 week training block this was going to be a good race for a number of reasons- test my fitness when not fully charged, check pacing, and most important get some hours on the dirt which have been severely lacking this year. I figured 6 hours would be plenty to get my goals and not destroy the fitness I've been building for my bigger goal at Cheq 100.
The forecast leading into the weekend went from great to ominous as the race day drew closer. Finally on Friday it was pretty much a lock that we were going to get wet at some point during the race. I've ridden this course with tacky and slimy spots before and was having a hard time wrapping my head around how bad it could possibly get if/when the rain started falling. No matter, in for a penny, in for a pound.
I was a bit lax in getting my gear and bike prepped the week prior so Friday night found me doing a lot of things that I'm not usually fond of right before a race. Granted, I was planning on this being as much about training as racing, but it doesn't mean that I wasn't going up to vie for a top spot. I ended up mounting a new back tire deciding not to trust the sidewall patched tubeless tire that I'd been running and could now feel the sidewall/tread bulging on every time it went around. I also had to swap on my gear of choice (34x20) for the race along with a longer chain. I tweaked my brake calipers to alleviate 1 little squeak I was having and on race day I ended up pulling my chainkeeper as it was rubbing every slow slightly and annoying the hell out of me.
The biggest thing was that I'd been putting off replacing my cleats since even before the Royal and now I was up against a wall in getting that done as I didn't trust them to hold up for serious work, let alone if we got rain and mud. Luckily, I bought one of the Ergon TP-1 cleat placement tools. It made decidedly easier work of maintaining my cleat placement while swapping them out.
Once all that was out of the way, I was packed and finally hit bed after midnight. Up early for no particular reason other than being eager to get to the race and be able to be ready to roll early, I checked the radar one last time. A giant green blob was rolling towards us from Omaha and looked like there was no chance of it missing us. I loaded a spare wheelset geared towards mud riding and wondered if I'd really need or use them. Better safe than sorry.
I was a couple hours early for my race start at 1 so I had some time to kill. I checked on trail conditions only to here it was still a bit tacky with a few slick corners in spots. We watched Trevor roll through on his first lap with a sizable gap over Tom and Jason who were chasing and looking like they were trying to find a good groove to settle in for the next 9 or so hours. The overcast sky matched my optimism about riding, but I tried to shove that thought out of my head.
Fast forward to 1 and it was game on and amazingly still dry out. We had a nice group of 20+ riders including 6 women rolling for the 6 hour race. I think only 1 other person in the 6hr was rolling on a singlespeed. We jetted down the long gravel road for the opening portion with a nice high pace, but it wasn't until Squirrel decided to jump on it that we really picked it up as we headed across the ski hill towards the drop into the singletrack. With my light gearing and hoping to keep from blowing up, I tucked my self into 4th wheel just as we got to the first set of drops.
The turn into the singletrack caught one of the leaders by surprise and we all had to hit the brakes hard to avoid a pile up at the top turn in into the first steep downhill pitch. After that it was Squirrel looking effortless and just floating through the singletrack like he does so well. I knew we weren't hammering it by any means, but the pace was good enough to get the top 5 or so of us to open a small gap that would slowly increase over the lap. Being on the single, I was having a hard time matching the slower climbing pace of the geared guys and really wanted around. I asked to get by Andy about mid lap and he obliged. After that I was sitting on Ryan's wheel until he bobbled a tight and slick uphill switchback so I hopped off and ran past him.
As we started the climb out of the bottom section, I pulled back to Squirrel's wheel. Once we hit the upper loop, I knew it was time to open things up and Squirrel told me to go whenever I wanted. I pulled around him and picked up my pace to start hitting the hills faster and using momentum to carry me over. Ryan wasn't long in jumping around and giving chase. I was pretty sure he and Squirrel would be giving me a hard run throughout the day so it was time to put my head down and keep after it.
I rolled through lap 1 right around 35 minutes and kept rolling right past my pit. Lap 2 the tread was still pretty tacky in spots and some of the climbs were getting a little more torn up with the additional traffic. I tried to keep myself from running too hard, but at the same time, I knew my gap over Ryan was pretty minimal and I wanted to try and stretch it a little. I rolled through lap 2 and think I was at roughly a minute or less gap over Ryan. I would gain in a few spots on the course and he would reel me in on others. I think mostly I was gaining in the climbing sections, but I'd go back to steady pacing on the flats and he'd pick the time back up there.
On the start of lap 3 I stopped for about 10 seconds to grab some food and take off again. I didn't know my gap, but early in the lap there is a good out and back section that confirmed it was still a minute or less. I was already starting to feel the effects of not having much time on the dirt this year as my back, arms, hands, and shoulders were taking a beating from the tread and all the muscling of the bike required by the terrain. I put in another decent lap and headed out for 4 beginning to wonder how many laps would be required for the day. I had an idea that 9 would be possible if things were to stay dry. Another quick stop for food and a bottle and I was out again.
Lap 4 started the sprinkling on and off for most of the lap. Things that were relatively good before started to get tacky and areas that were tacky or slick started becoming slowly non-rideable. I hopped off and walked a few spots on this lap. The sprinkling became a bit closer to drizzle as the lap progressed and I wondered just how nasty it would get. Every once in a while, the sun would peak through the clouds though and tease us. As I rolled out on lap 5 though, it was pretty obvious that the trail was now thoroughly wet and would give us all a run for our money in handling skills.
I passed Ryan on the out and back section and commented that it was about to get really unfun. He concurred and set right back to chasing me. As I got to the top of the singletrack drop, I noted the skids and slide marks on the dirt. I started in and just as I got onto the track, my bike went one direction and I hopped over the front of the bars to avoid going down with it. Luckily I managed to not tumble down the ravine, but it definitely set the mood for the remainder of the race. It became an effort of riding where I could stay upright and alternating skidding slowly down some hills while trudging up the rest. The clay was slick enough that many of the hills it was hard to even stay on my feet while walking and pushing the bike.
As lap 5 wore on I was pretty beat down. I passed Ryan on another out and back section and asked if he was ready to throw in the towel yet. I had maybe 2 minutes on him at that point. He said he was thinking about it and asked about me. I said I was seriously considering it too. Near the top end of lap 5, I ran across Dave Mable from Go Sports Foto capturing the misery in all its digital glory. He chided me for not cracking a smile, but I was getting pretty worked at that point.
By the end of lap 5, the rain had set in full force and we were getting soaked. I thought about tossing in the towel, I thought about swapping to my mud wheels, and I thought about how bad I felt. Asked at the start/finish line how I was doing I told them just how much the race sucked at that point. For their part, they did say I was free to stop racing whenever I felt like it. Given that the 3hr racers had just started and that the 9hr guys had pretty much all bagged it, there was a mix of feelings on my part.
Not knowing if Ryan was serious about bagging the race, I decided to do 1 more lap and see how it went. I was filled with dread as I headed out knowing that conditions which already sucked the previous lap would only be worse this lap. The trail was torn up from everyone slipping, sliding, and walking. I still rode a surprising amount of the trail, but now there were sections where I'd literally churn my wheels without making any forward progress. I had to walk more. Hills became nearly impossible to climb on foot. I had to resort to pushing my bike ahead of me and using it as a lever to pull myself up in spots.
By the end of the lap I was completely spent. I had no clue who, if anyone, was still chasing me, but at that point, it didn't matter a whole lot. I'd given pretty much everything I had and really didn't think I could make another lap. As I rolled across the finish line I pulled the plug. As luck would have it, my determination of going out for another lap had given my closest chasers enough reason to call it at 5 laps. I wasn't 100% sure I had things in the bag at that point, but the scorers were pretty sure it was all done as they thought everyone had called it.
Just to show you that determination pays off though, 1 guy who had been almost an hour back of me had gone out for a 6th lap as well without anyone really realizing it. He rolled in and by virtue of that last lap, moved himself into 2nd spot. As luck would have it though, there wasn't enough time for him to go out for a 7th lap otherwise, I'm not sure how that would have turned out...
Rolling to the finish:
Not able to even force a smile:
Ya, it was like that:
I hung on for the win in the 6hr class. It was definitely one of the harder rides I've done especially given that I was only moving for just over 4 hours. The slick conditions were very much like snow riding except that I usually avoid any technical or off camber stuff when riding in the snow. All in all, it was a good trial by fire to get my handling skills in check and get me in the mindset that it can almost always suck worse when I hit some of those dark spots deep in a race. Thanks to Kyle and crew for putting on a great race and hopefully the weather will work out for them one of these years!
Dave Mable/Go Sports Foto