The Middle Mountain Momma
was today. You can read my course preview
and last years race
report for some perspective.
First of all thank you to Kyle
and his volunteers for putting on this race. I've said it before and I'll say it again, without promoters, there wouldn't be racing. Also thanks to the presenting shops: East Coasters
and Shenandoah Bicycle Company
What an incredible day. The drive up reminded me how beautiful Virginia is. Crystal clear day, sunny with the colors just so vibrant. With the bad luck in weather we've been having at races the sunshine was welcome.
Today I ran the hardtail (except with a Juicy 7 front disc).
Truth be told, I've been having a 'grass-is-greener' dilemma lately between the hardtail and dually. The HT just seems so much faster on the climbs and I broke a timed PR up a hillclimb by over a minute with it. In some other timed runs it didn't seem that much slower on the downhills than the dually either. So I opted to run it today given the amount of climbing: 5000'.
In hindsight it might not have been the best idea, but at this point just can't be sure. The course is really rough and there were many situations where the dually would have been better. The high intensity of racing put the hurt on the legs much sooner than in JRA. So I was feeling every bump in the trail throughout the day. The burning question in my mind is if the fatigue saving qualities of the dually would have allowed me to go faster overall especially at the end. I'm not so sure if it was body fatigue or just plain dead legs towards the end though.
They started the experts off in two waves with the senior big guns going of first and then the Masters (two classes 30-39 and 40+) going next with a minute time gap. In watching the first wave start the first thing that occurred to me was that they looked to be going slow. Nowhere near the typical rocket start of most mountain bike races. I wasn't alone because I heard someone else echo the same sentiment.
When we started, it was the same thing. It was slow. I mean like not fast and almost easy. Finally, Thomas of SBC
had enough and sprinted by everyone. Smart move because unlike last year I ended up in a big pile of people when we hit the single track. The first section of single track is pretty technical and some of it was wet. There ended up being some serious bottle necks at the start.
This start pace was really surprising. Next year I think I'll go for the gold just to be able to hit the first section w/o traffic. It's actually easier to have the trail open than to be behind 'truckers' where you get the accordian affect. And have to slow down and then accelerate or get off and walk when you might have been able to ride something.
For one of the first times ever, the beginning section of track felt easy. Unlike years past where I seem to blow up just trying to stay with anyone I was able to stay with the group relatively easily. Even when we got to the big ring single track it seemed like we were going too slow.
When we hit the meat of the climb, I kicked it in and started to pass some people on the climb. I felt like I was climbing really well and just tried to take it steady. In hindsight maybe I was overdoing it a little. On the last section up to the top the terrain changes to loose shale. This proved to be really difficult on the hardtail.
At the top it levels out and turns to big ring singletrack. A group of two passed me like I was standing still and then as it turned down two more passed.
Next year I think I'll shoot for taking it a little easier on the first part of the climb in order to have gas to kick it in where the steep shale starts. And to have the ability to really get on the big ring plateau.
Once on the downhill I was riding pretty well for being on a hardtail and 80mm fork. I let Kenny, a fellow Masters 30-39 Expert by me and followed him around a switch back. He slides out and I promptly run over his hand. In the end he ended up beating me by 20 or 40 seconds or something like that so next time I'm going to run over a wheel or something that will buy me at least a minute.
I'd had to dial out the engagement point on my Juicy 7s because they weren't stopped well. This turned out to be a big mistake because when the engagement point is too far outboard my hands hurt like a mother when one finger braking. This downhill is really long. And my left hand was just on fire. It's amazing I made it down in one piece.
At the road my time was about 1:10. This was 5 minutes faster at this point compared to last year. I took my dose of Sport legs here and immediately realized that I'd mistimed my intake. I'd taken a dose at -50minutes from the start. And then another one right on the start line. These things take about an hour to kick in and last about an hour/dose. So by taking this dose at 1:10 I was going to have a lag period which meant leg cramps for certain.
The climb up Ross Hollow went pretty well. Seemed to be climbing decently. Where it kicks to the right the 1st Place women expert passed me and then I passed her. We hit the trail junction of Mountain Top and Mountain Side with me in the lead. I've never ever cleaned this section in a race or just riding for fun. Like that guy in Water Boy she said "you can do it" and lo and behold I did. Unfortunately a short bit later I slide out on some off camber shale and also stopped her too.. bad form on my part.
I followed her up the steep riding of the next few hills. Without a doubt this rider was one of the best climbers I've ever seen male or female. She cleaned the steep grunts amazingly strong. My legs just reached a point where they wouldn't turn.
The next sections of the ridge went well. Just riding steady and got lulled into downhill mode only to recall that there was more climbing to come before reaching the final downhill. Kenny had caught up to me on the climb. I guess I didn't ride over his hand hard enough. That dude can climb for being a big guy. Once again my braking was off. I'd dialed the engagement back in a little because my hands had hurt so much but now they weren't braking as well. Doh!. Coming around some of the right hand curves twice I was headed directly for a tree w/o much braking. Target fixation took over and I was staring right at the tree. Luckily at the last second I was able to look back on the trail and steer around it but I would have stacked hard had I hit my bar or hit it square on.
The downhilling went very well especially compared to last year. Except at the end, the super fun creek run turned a little harder on the hardtail and shorter fork. My rear tire was skittering more. And then I rode right by the turn to go to the bridge. The creek was up and I took a long time to carry my bike up the steps of the bridge. Last year we took the creek and it was way faster. Regardless of the water level should have done the same this year.
On the other side was some big ring track. My legs were just fried and couldn't get on it very fast. Upon crossing the road the leg cramps started to hit. Over the last few years I've been able to just grit it out and ride through them but they still hurt a lot. The creek crossings on this trail are very slick. On one of them I fell over, and then tried to pick my bike up and then fell over again this time all the way into the creek with my face in the water. Then my legs cramped as I was trying to get up. No joke, this is a nightmare I've had where I fall in a creek with leg cramps and can't get out. The cold water in the face was a good wake up!
Then I tried to ride the next creek crossing and fell over again. Luckily was able to get my foot out of the pedal otherwise it would have been very very nasty with the rocks around me. As I was pickup my bike, my shoulder blade muscles started to lock up cramp. That is a first. I think because of all the row-row-your bike climbing going on today.
Finally we got to the trail junction that takes you back to the finish. By this time it's about 2:25 into it and my goal time of 2:30 was slipping away fast. Robbie came by right about than like a rocket. I couldn't believe how fast we was flying. On and on the trail goes till finally we reach the last downhill.
Ugh it was rough. My hands were on fire, my rear wheel was all over the place there were wet sections. Chain had fallen off to the outside. But was able to pass another fool on a hardtail. A Klein no less, he must have been hating it at this point.
In the end I finished 5th in my class less than a minute off 4th. I'm pretty happy and thought that I'd ridden a lot better than last year. But when I got home and checked last years results my time was 2:40. So 4 minutes faster. This surprised me because I'm riding much stronger than last year, and my perception was that this year was a lot faster.
No matter. Improvement is improvement. The winning experts were in around 2:03. A major goal is to get to 20minute time gap from the winning expert/pro.
I'll be going back to the dually for Massanutten
and am going to do some more race simulations to compare the hardtail to the dually so that I can figure out where the grass really is greener. This was a good exercise to go through as I'd all but convinced myself that the hardtail was the way to go overall for me. I really wonder how a 100mm fork full disc hardtail would have fared. I'm so over the rear V brake that I'm forced to run. But this course is just so much trail chatter even compared to Dragon's Back that I speculate the hardtail may have cost me time at the end.
I was hurting afterwards for at least the next 1/2 hour. I probably wasn't sound enough to drive home either as I almost took the wrong exits twice on a route I've done many times.
My wonderful wife had an incredible dinner waiting for me. That hit the spot.
Notes to self
-3 bottles Power bar drink, 2 in frame, 1 in pocket. No bonking, drank a little more than 1bottle/hr
-Redo sport legs to have more overlap in doses
50 min before race, at start line and then at +50mins into it.
-no matter how hard you train it's never enough
-to simulate this course, need to get 2-3 hard hours on the legs and then hit some creek crossings/false flats. and rough downhills.