Then some breakfast and a few other essentials and I headed over to register around 7:00. Even at this hour there were quite a few folks rolling in.
I headed back to the car to start gearing up. A little later some youngstuh's came zipping by. You can't help but feel a little sentimental at a moment like this. It's the future happening right in front of you.
This guy was tearing it up. Should have hit'm up for some pointers.
All geared up, I headed towards the main area to connect with a few familiars. At about 9:00 I went on a little pre-ride around the short loop with Mike Roy and the RN. Enough of a warm-up that I had to head back to the car real quick-like afterward to pop an Advil. Stupid back...
I also filled a second water bottle to place on the T-bar just before the uphill beyond the start. This would turn out to be a *very* good move.
In time we all lined up. I positioned myself right where I belong - somewhere in Tweenerville between the Elites up front and all the Experts.
Mike "The Bike" Hartley has to be one of the most likable / quirky race promoters in New England. We were scheduled to leave at a certain time and Mike very spontaneously changed things up; announcing outta nowhere - "OK folks we're off in 20 seconds.." Talk about not having any time to allow your nerves to spool up - off we went!
The crowd blistered out of the gate and charged around the corner straight up the ski slope. I lost a few positions at the first then muscled ahead a few positions before getting into a little bottleneck while crossing into another ski slope. Before long we were headed into "switchback city" (aptly named by the guy @ 6:17 - I can be seen as a Sport dude from last year @ 6:33 and 11:40)
This first climb was a medium-high intensity effort due to all the traffic. Last year's strategy was to blast out of the gate to get ahead of everyone knowing there was some tricky technical climbing. This year I figured riding amongst Elites / Experts it wouldn't be an issue. Everyone kept going pretty decently, but it wasn't as smooth as I'd hoped. Several times I had to come to a complete stop or get off the bike. Towards the top following a rider on a SS we approached a little bridge - he got on the wrong line and very quickly flipped off onto his back. I yelled out "you OK??!" (He was) and continued on towards the exposed rock summit area. No time for enjoying the beautiful vistas..
Into the descent.. A truly killer descent. Again this year I planned on using my top secret line at a 90º bend in the course that wasn't obvious. Unfortunately the guy in front of me knew the same trick. Drat. As we continued on down through the awesome technical descent I just couldn't get my groove on. So often you have to commit before you are ready to enter warp phase. Today was just warped. It's not as though many spots can be gained descending - so I just accepted the lackluster performance and withstood the spine bashing that goes with less than ideal line selection.
Towards the bottom, the Runoff lulls one into thinking "it's all downhill"... Uh.. nope. It's the cruelest punishment - just plain delicious course planning here. I pushed up and around these punchy climbs into what is easily the most fun part of the course - nice pump track style singletrack with plenty of off camber terrain, close trees and rocks to screw up on. YEE -FREAKING-HAH!! After exiting this area I came upon the RN and Steve Kilburn (another Bikeman rider) in the wide open grassy area near the start - then reached down to find my Gatorade bottle gone. Crud.
I pass Rick and Steve then pull over to get my water bottle off the T-bar. They pass me back and head up the hill. I hate being passed - maybe that's why I usually start slow - or something. This induced an idiotic "response" pass after I took a few swigs and placed the new water bottle into the cage. A hard fought & strenuous pass as they were a solid 200' up the trail by the time I got rolling again. I went by them at a decent clip which seemed to have spurred Rick on. As we got into the switchback climb he just kept coming, and coming - AND COMING. For certain Rick had found his sweet spot this season. Then it happened. I popped. This has never happened before. I don't do "pop" Oh the humiliation... Why here?? Why now?? I won't bother asking "Why me??" That's fairly obvious dummy- You have simply used up too much good karma this season. At one of the ski-trail crossings there is a fairly steep climb - I get off the bike to push (Argh!!) and relinquish the spot. Yick. Passed by Rick. That rhymes with ...
I get back on as soon as the trail levels - shift to more reasonable gears and plug away. Rick stays within site and I get to the top to start heading down. I gain on Rick quickly then tail him for awhile through the descent. That is until things start heading up again. Between the interspersed uphills and traffic - Rick just drifts away...
For awhile I am all by my lonesome. I ride at a steady pace through the flattish parts then start heading back up for the "short" loop. I look back and see.. Big Al. Our team manager. Great. Effin' Great. Al doesn't come out much for mountain biking - but trust me, he gots the power being a CX hero and all. We steadily climb up the switchbacks and he steadily gains on me. Thankfully things start heading downhill before I am decapitated by another Bikeman guy. That lasts only so long though. Sure enough on one particularly steep climb right after a little wooden bridge (anyone who raced must know the spot) I have to get off and Al chops my head clean off. He drifts off in the same fashion as Rick. It's all turning into a bad dream now.
I finish up the third lap and start heading up for the final hurrah. I look back and see.. Steve K. WHAT THE $%*#!! (Swearing is forbidden and one may be disqualified according to Mike's speech at the start)
These freaking Bikeman guys are a freaking plague!! Make it stop! Make it stop!
I plug away at the climb and Steve just keeps coming, and coming... and you know the rest. Wait!! You don't! Somehow I manage to maintain some distance with Steve. Actually, if you know Steve you know exactly how. He is extremely powerful at the expense of weight. For once I am one of those skinny bastards. Not only do I maintain a gap - I start feeling kinda OK. I am cleaning all the climbs that I walked the prior 2 laps. Where were you then Mr Watts?
I keep on going into the final section of tech thinking Steve will catch up on his FS bike but it never happens. Finally I round the bend towards the grassy field at the end. Just as I get into the field the rider ahead of me looks back and BOLTS. I start BOLTING BACK. It's a certified BOLT-OFF and I lose by 2 seconds.
Who was that I was BOLTING with? Big Al himself. Hah! Seems I gained some time on the last lap.
If I were racing Expert - that would have been the battle for first. Outbloody standing. Maybe I do still belong at the bottom of the Elite pile. The overall winner Andy Freye was a solid 15 minutes ahead. Maybe I don't belong in Elite. Tweenerdom. It's a sad lonely place..
Overall 5th in Elite amongst 7 finishers and 9th overall.
There's me with the camera reflecting while reflecting - how poetic.