This past weekend a few hardy souls went out the Dragon's Lair on a quest for glory and gold.*note my camera had dead batteries so you'll have to use your imagination*
*you can read some other race reports from the CRC racing crew here
.. and one more
Many thanks to Kyle
and his merry men for bringing back this event and running it for the crazy people who showed up. Without people like this there wouldn't be mountain bike racing.
The Dragon's Back
is race 1 in the Virginia Series
. It has historical status in Virginia and is always an epic run. See here
for a previous description of the course. This race is a must-do
-event for any mountain biker in Virginia. My first time was 1992 and it was an eye opening experience compared to West Coast racing.
*Note* This might not be the best place for your very first mtb race unless the course sticks to the fire road/Ring of Fire. The single track climbs and ridge trails are recommended for someone with at least intermediate capabilities.
This year the conditions made for an even more epic event for all involved. The rain started moving in on Saturday. Sunday's radar image below provides an idea of what was in store.
Honestly, I didn't know how rough it was going to be. Historically, Dragon's Back has always done well in wet conditions. The terrain drains really well, and in the past the rocks seemed to ride ok. But let me tell you it was different this year.
The drive out to the trail was epic in itself. The back country roads had some minor flash flooding and you could just see huge amounts of water flowing in all the drainage ditches. The dirt forrest service road was muddy and very slick in some spots causing the car to slide several feet.
While it was rainy and misty the XC racers were fortunate enough to get a break in the rain and even got some sunshine off the start. In fact it was almost warm. The hard men and women of the XXC started in the pouring rain and most finished in the pouring rain.
There were only a few racers on the line at the XC event. While this might be good from a results perspective in that you have less competition. You can bet that those that do show up are pretty hardcore. We all lined up with the senior experts in the first wave and the masters (2 age categories 30-39 and 40-49) experts going next.
The funniest thing happened right before the start. There was a loud pfft sort of sound. We looked behind us to the Jr Expert row and a guy's tire bead had popped off and the tube had expanded out of the rim, but the tube hadn't popped. He carried it off around behind a vehicle to fix it and then we heard a loud BAM!. This was just an omen of the fact that the potential for carnage is very high at D. Back.
The rocks are sharp and plentiful. So pinch flats and cut sidewalls are always a threat. There are these little sticks that mysteriously find there way into your drivetrain all over. I must have stopped 3 times to pull out sticks. The weather today was a huge factor with potential for wind up on the ridge and more rain.
In addition, there is the very remote quality to Dragon's Back. On the ridge, you could be 100 yards away from someone but never know it. And it just seems like you are far far away from help. Consequently, I brought extra gear. 2 tubes, C02, and a pump, spare derailleur hanger, extra wind proof gloves and a vest.
There were about 9 of us in the Master Expert wave. My goal for the start was to NOT go out hard. The thing about Dragon's Back for mere mortals is that almost no matter where you are on the course, there is always some serious shi*t to come. Too many
times in the past I've eneded up on the last ridge and out of gas. The course map
tricks you into thinking that each section is not that long. 3 miles..pfft, I can do that in my sleep. That second ridge is the longest 3 miles in history.
In the Mountain Lake race recently, the fast start not only ended up burning matches, it burned my entire matchbook. I was not going to let that happen today. So my start was controlled. Pretty much let the people go and just tried to get the legs underneath me. Thankfully the fire road was not too slick and no one slide off.
The first singletrack is a prime example of how much of a bully Dragon's Back is. Basically it is like a slap to the back of the head. Energy draining small rocks and steep terrain. Thankfully it levels out after a bit.
The first climb I just tried to keep everything in control. The hike-a-bike sections were brutal. We all strung out on the climb, but the switchbacks allowed you to get a good look at the several racers that were just bearing down on me. Finally up on the ridge I was hopping to let loose and hold some momentum.
But today's trail wasn't like it was a few weeks ago. I just could not get traction on any of the rocks. Everything felt so slippery and the tires were just spinning. The front tire was washing out. There was just no opportunity to build up an head of steam before getting shut down by a grunt hill, slippery rocks, or downed trees.
My first thoughts were get me off this ridge. Then once on the downhill that changed to..get me off this downhill. It was downright scary. It felt very very rough and much steeper than it looked. My bike just didn't feel right and there was some loud knocking coming off my suspension. Even the bottom section which you can usually let it go on was rougher and tougher than usual.
At the bottom we turned left for the Ring of Fire. Basically it was a small river the entire way. At one point the trail was just a creek flow, and you had no idea where to go. Follow the water was my instinct which proved correct.
Eventually we dumped back onto the fire road. Which pretty much was the only place the entire race course that wasn't stressful. This fire road is a series of stair steps with a few downs back to the middle singletrack. It's easy to over do it but like I said before there is always something else coming up and we had to go back up the mountain again.
Up the second time one of the XXC guys passed me. This guy had been out already for 3 hours. And he was motoring. He even climbed some of the swtichbacks, unbelievable.
The second time up was in control again, just hold steady. I could see several guys down below coming after me. Again up on the ridge, this time left turn. And once again I felt like a small child. The rocks felt like ice. My rear tire would spin and I'd just pin ball around.
I'd upped my tire pressure and upped my rear shock pressure due to the volume of climbing and the potential for sidewall cuts. Big mistake. New rule, one or the other but not both.
I'd been hoping to save some gas for this ridge, because this is where people make some serious time. But by this time all I had left was steady state pace. Which is actually really good compared to years past. But with the tire spinning on the rocks I just couldn't put any significant momentum together. Ride a bit, hike a bit, walk some rocks, grind some grinders or walk them. Jogged a little instead of trudging along. The wind had started to pick up but not bad. Those who followed ended up hitting some sleet up on the ridge.
The whole time didn't see a soul until just before the end. Every year someone adds another roller to this ridge. Finally the downhill. Once again, small child downhilling. Downed trees, steep steep switchbacks. All walked. That last section through the creek crossing was raging with water.
Finally to the road. Every year in the past I've cramped really bad on the first big climb. This year the cramps had started slightly up on the ridge but they went a way. They came back just a tad but not enough to shutdown the legs. The road back actually went really well. Strongest I'd ever ridden it.
Rolling into the finish shoot was some thick mud that chain sucked more than a few people. About 10 minutes after I finished the rain came back with a vengance.
Mountain biking is like childbirth. Selective memory kicks in immediately afterward. So keep that in mind when I say I'll be back next year. I'm pretty happy with the race. No major carnage. Just steady and pretty solid. There were only 3 in my class
and I am honored to have gotten second to local hero Chris Scott
. Recall what I'd said about big time gaps from the ridge. 20min+ time gap here. My petition to USA Cycling to keep rockstars out of the vet class is in processing.XXX Helmick
was the true slayer of the day with a 2:11. I'd say times were off by 15mins from last year due to the conditions. That is some slaying.
Over the course of the next two hours you could see the shell shocked faces coming in. Some of those XXC guys/gals had the 1000 yard stare for real. Amazing people. Actually anyone that came out was amazing, and those that faced the Dragon for the first time in these conditions should consider this a feather in their cap.
For the first time in over a decade this thief made it out of the Dragon's lair with a some treasure. A piece of silver stolen from under the dragon's back.
By the time we'd gotten home the temperature had dropped almost 15 degrees from this morning's race. And the wind had picked up to 20mph+. We'd gotten pretty lucky with the weather, don't you think?
Personal race notes
-ran camelback with 60oz E drink. (2scoops/20oz). No bonk, sticky taste in mouth needed a little water to wash it out
-3 Sport legs at -10mins before start, another 4 at 1hr. Cramps came at 1:40 or so but then went away. Took them on an uphill section, didn't lose too much time.
-need to keep working on jogging hike-a-bikes
-have to learn how to mount/dismount
-Pace off start steady. Stayed steady the whole time, by the time I wanted to go hard there was no oomph to go.
-Last section on road really strong. Training ride from few weeks ago (4.5hrs on road then last 1/2hr super hard into the wind) was perfect training for this finishing leg.
-knee warmers, arm warmers, light base layer, jersey worked well.