Wow! What a year!!! Our young phenom, Jerry Dufour won first place and our own Joe Dabbs second place in the BamaCross Series. Team Momentum won the BamaCross Team trophy again for the second consecutive year. We had so many podiums it was hard to count. I could be wrong but I think everyone on the team seems to have podiumed at least once.
And then my good friend, and former Momentum team member, Hardwick Gregg, won Nationals! The day before Hardwick’s win, he told Randy and me that if he had known the weather was going to be so bad, he wouldn’t have signed up for Nationals. He was a little discouraged at that point and didn’t feel like he had a chance in his race. After his win he told me that everything just fell into place for him during the race. He couldn’t believe it had happened.
Not so much for Momentum Teammate, Randy Kerr, and me. I think both Randy and I could have podiumed but things didn’t fall into place for us. After quickly moving from 40th up to 18th, Randy’s chain started coming off repeatedly. In my case, I got off to a strong start, moved into second place, but then crashed hard on an icy rutted downhill, breaking my shifter, jamming my brakes and bending my derailleur hanger.
But that’s what cross is all about isn’t it? If everything always went smoothly, would you really keep doing it? It’s the contrast between those days when everything falls into place like it did for Hardwick and those days where you say to yourself, dang, I could have, should have, would have, if it hadn’t been for…..my tire, my wreck, my chain, my shifting…pick your favorite.
That’s what keeps me going, the quixotic quest for that perfect day, when it all comes together and everything goes buttery smooth, almost effortless, like you are floating on a magic carpet, the foes falling in front of you, your legs closing the gaps without effort, and crossing the finish line with just enough gap to raise those hands in triumph!
Keep up the pursuit my friends. The pursuit is itself a triumph.
There was a time a few months back I went in to a two week slump in my Ironman training. I trained a little, but basically dropped off for that two weeks. I saw Hannah Pate one day having coffee at Octane. I talked to her about her experience racing Ironman Florida. She reminded me to ‘own’ my race and be fully present in the moment. She said something that later on my friend Gina Hamel also said – Enjoy every moment of your Ironman because it will be over before you know it. One final thing that helped pull me from my fear of failure was from a podcast another friend Jimmy Harrison shared with me. It wasn’t anything hugely profound, but something I needed to hear. ‘If you let fear take control of your race it will win, not you.
I started using visualization during my long training days and quietly in the evenings. I never listen to music in my training. I day dream about racing a perfect race. I hear the words “Heather Hagan, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” I mentally race my race over and over. I even throw obstacles in to the mix and have to mentally recover and develop a plan B, then plan C until I succeed.
Race day I woke up as planned at 4:00am. I planned to eat right away then hang around the condo foam rolling and stretching for an hour before leaving. Pat and I gathered my special needs bags and morning clothes bag and walked the 1 mile section of Valley Trail to T2. At T2 I was body marked and dropped the special needs bags off. T1 and T2 were in different locations. So, a continuous loop of buses shuttled all athletes to Rainbow Park, the location of T1. I rode the bus and ended up sitting right next to a guy Pat and I drove the bike course with on Thursday. Pat rode his bike and met me there. I checked the pressure of my Speed Concept’s tires and added a wind vest to my bike gear bag. I had 30 minutes until start time to chill out with Pat and put my wetsuit on. 10 minutes to start we kissed our goodbyes then I stepped in to the herd of athletes plodding towards the timing mat.
The Whistler course is a deep water start. All athletes must cross the timing mat before the cannon booms, but you don’t necessarily have to go in to the deep water until you want to. I made a final adjustment to my goggles before dolphin diving in to the cold water. The start line was 200m out from shore. I used this distance to find my breath and calm my heart rate. I got to the start area and treaded water about 6 rows back. About 30 seconds before the cannon I made a last minute decision to move to open pocket about two strokes away. I was ready.
The cannon boomed and it was happening, the beginning to a long day that would fly by. For the most part the first lap of the swim was very crowded, but manageable. A few times I got in to a traffic jam of people. To resolve this I would take a strong right arm stroke and raise my chest to find an open spot then adjust. This maneuver got me out of tight situations about 5 times on the first lap. I never inhaled water, got kicked or pushed down. The second lap thinned out and I remember with every breath I was watching my own Ironman race in awe. I watched the graceful paddle boarders and looked off to the snow capped mountains. I was swimming and enjoying the moment. Before I knew it, it was over.
I ran through transition and found my gear bag. The changing tent was a scene of all female volunteers with very naked and half naked athletes. This wasn’t the moment to be bashful. So, I ran to the far end of the tent (closest to the exit) and stripped off my bathing suit to change in to my Team Momentum race kit. I chose to make a full clothing change. Pat had a wonderful suggestion for me to wear cleat covers on my shoes for the run to the mount line. Brilliant! The cleat covers were already on my shoes from the preparations the previous day. They prevented grass and dirt from interfering with clicking in or out of my Speed Play pedals.
On the bike I cautiously rode the first hill crowded with athletes. I mentally shifted gears from the adrenaline rush of the swim to calm ground that was going to have to remain steady during an extremely challenging bike course. Many pros there have compared the Whistler bike course to Kona; Whistler for its unrelenting final 12 mile climb and Kona for its wind. The first section of the ride was through Whistler Village towards the Callahan Climb summiting at the Olympic Ski Park. This climb was a hint of what was to come. Callahan took me about 45 minutes to climb and 8 minutes to bomb down!
I turned back to Hwy 99 through Whistler and the invigorating crowds towards Pemberton. There was another roller coaster descent down to Pemberton. The people of Pemberton were eagerly awaiting and cheering wildly. The aid station in town was the only time I got off my bike. I handed my bike to a volunteer and hopped in a vacant port-o-potty for a pee stop. I’m not sure why I bothered with the stinky poop hut since I had already proven to my poor bike that I was well hydrated.
The Pemberton flats were a little monotonous but beautiful. I saw some whacky people out in the meadows. I saw a young girl playing a violin and teenaged boy playing an electric guitar in the front yard of the family farm. A man on a galloping horse road next to me for about 30 seconds. It was amazing!
I knew I had the climb back to Whister looming ahead. So, I took my arm warmers and vest off then doused myself with ice water from a volunteer. I wanted to prevent any major change in my core temperature. I focused on taking long, deep breaths in the minutes before the base. I made a commitment to myself to push through smiling because I was doing exactly what I set out to do. Mid way up the ascent I saw a few people walking their bikes up a steeper section and a couple of people sitting on guard rails with their head in their hands. I shared some supportive words and spun on. Almost an hour and a half later I reached a section outside of Whistler that turns from 10-12% mountains to 5% rollers. Soon I reached the home crowds of Whistler.
I made a full change to 3/4 length Skins Active compression tights and a tri top. I had a Gore vest and Lululemon arm warms I would meet with in my special needs bag for the chilly night. Relying on my own two feet instead of my bike I took off for the run. I had a little bit of cramping in my abdomen the first two miles. The pain was of a level that would be distracting, but not truly a danger. I had a few Gas-X tabs in my race belt ready for this expected event. I took one tablet to be cautious. Ten minutes later I was powering my run by the winds of a gas turbine engine. The funniest part was everyone else was farting too! After 30 minutes of expelling thankfully only gas I felt 100% and picked up my pace. It started to get dark around 7:30. Soon the entire Valley Trail was dark without much lighting at all. I walked much of the next mile or two. Pat rolled up about mile 20 on his bike. He rode with me lighting the path with the bike’s headlight for about 4 miles. Pat stayed with me until we got back to an area close to the village that had lighting. After that he kissed me then departed for the finish line.
I had the next 20 minutes to reflect on my day and the past 10 months of training. Was it all worth it? Without a doubt, I was experiencing one of my proudest, exhilarating moments of my life. I could hear Dave Ragsdale’s voice declaring official Ironman titles upon people. I was so close, but was I ready? I looked to the front and behind to see if anyone was going to jeopardize my chance to have the finish chute all to myself. The last quarter mile the course brought us in to the Upper Village where crowds were standing behind blockades banging noise makers against the fencing banners. I saw a volunteer pointing both arms towards the right. She yelled above the crowd, “This is your last turn before the finish chute!” I took a deep breath when I felt a lump in my throat as I began to cry. Then I reminded myself a final time that all I wanted was to feel the euphoria of having the lights of the official Ironman finish chute radiate on my skin like the sun.
I made the corner and I was there. Everyone was looking towards me and I smiled ear to ear. I started down the middle of the chute then turned to the crowds lining the right side of the chute to bring them in to my joy. I high-fived every hand that was extended. Everyone was yelling my name! When I heard Dave Ragsdale say my name and my hometown I passed through an inflated arch and stopped. I made eye contact with a man on the front row and heard him yell, “Keep going! You’re not there!” WOW! I get to do this again! I had 10 yards to go. I sprinted on then heard by my first name only, “Heather from Birmingham, Alabama…YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
It couldn’t have been more perfect. The catcher braked my sprint and handed me off to receive my medal. My handler from there walked me through the Ironman bling of getting my finisher’s shirt and hat then having my picture made. I immediately left the athletes only area to find Pat. All I wanted was to go home to our condo and relax. My celebration had already reached its climax. The stars were aligned and I felt every single person’s supporting hand upon me. My Ironman experience was perfect.
Race update: We added Masters 30+ race start with SS and Cat4 and also opened Cat 4, 5 and all Masters races to Cat5. This way those who want to race any of those categories will be eligible to purchase one-day license during registration. This will limit the confusion and keep the race day pretty much the same what we all have gotten used to.
So what’s it like to race a pro mountain bike race with a national field? I found out first hand this past weekend at the annual Bump and Grind mountain bike race at Oak Mt. State Park. The front row of the start line was full of big name factory sponsored racers, followed by me and about 20 other non-factory (i.e. non-salary) pro racers in the next few rows. The race started with a brutal acceleration and mad sprint down a 40 yard straightaway towards a 180 degree left hand corner. I managed to go into the turn about midpack and could hear tires rubbing and gears clicking as everyone tried to fight for prime position going into the singletrack. 6’5” Ryan Trebon took the hole shot into the singletrack and lead the parade of bicycles through the first few winding sections of trail. The pace was fast enough to drop the back half of the pack and keep anyone from passing, but still fairly controlled. The 3 mile fire road climb emerged about 30 minutes into the 28 mile race. Once the climb started, the big names showed off their freaskish power to weight ratios and gapped me and about 5 remaining others by over 45 seconds. Fortunately for me, that was the only real extended test of pure power to weight ratio. I held my position in the top 10 for the rest of the race, including some of the more technical climbing sections. I managed to catch one of the specialized factory team racers on the last short climb of the race and finish 8th place. Overall, it was an exciting event, and one of my strongest race performances to date.
I think I’m getting old. Sunday was my 3rd race in 4 weeks,and I just don’t feel all snappy like I used to after multiple races in a short period. I am also training through these races, so I hope that is also contributing to the fatigue, (not to mention the ton of work/travel I’ve had going on). But even with the little more than normal tiredness that I usually have, I have been feeling pretty good for the most part and can feel the fitness getting better. And of course, when my fitness is growing and I’m getting good results, it’s easy to keep the mojo flowing and the training going!
So my two part blog…
Week of 4/22….training has been going really well. And because of the 2 races coming up, Coach<http://www.coachdrewedsall.com/> had me go into a semi taper. The week was mostly recovery rides with openers, and only one really hard day on Wednesday. The weekend’s forecast was nasty, and I knew that I would be facing some muddy conditions. Because of baseball duties, I was unable to leave until well after lunch. And losing an hour on the way over, I knew we were going to be pressed for time. Jerry and I rolled out of town and made rather good time to Ft Yargo<http://yaba.homestead.com/Trails.html>. Despite the rain chances being well into the 80%…it managed to hold off for our pre-ride<http://app.strava.com/activities/51278608>. We railed the trail and had a blast. It was fast and flowy, with not much climbing at all, and I really enjoyed it.
SERC/US Cup #3<http://www.goneriding.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=43&Itemid=69> Race day greeted us with wet grounds from the night’s rainfall, and a strong chance for rain by mid race. This time the rain would not disappoint, and started falling pretty steady after one lap and throughout the end. My age group had 15 dudes and I was kinda unsure of how I would fair against them. Things started pretty fast, but we had a decent drag to the start of the trail. So there was plenty of time to get positioned. I would end up about 8th in line. But, within 2 min into the trail, a guy hit the deck, and I would scoot around him and one other guy. Once the trail opened up and we hit the first climb, we surged and went around one other guy, and dropped the rest
of the field. So, one guy was off the front and I was in the 3 man chase group. The 3 of us would battle for the next 2 laps and were all really well matched. I seemed to be faster in the tight trails, but they were climbing a bit better. As we came through for the last lap, the pace increased slightly and I started to get antsy. I would put the first dig in as we entered the woods, but I didn’t go anywhere. Then, as we hit the climb, they both put an attack down and I couldn’t respond. I was able to pull them back once on the next little bit of trail, but they would again ride away as I faded more. I rode in for a very happy 4th place<http://www.goneriding.com/images/pdfs/SERC/results/13serc3y.pdf>.
Week of 4/29…training for the most part was on the down low. Again, coming off a race and going into another race weekend, the week was mostly recovery. However, as mother nature continues to elude us this spring, the forecast was gloomy and lots of rain predicted. So my desire to race was fading about as fast as my effort in the last lap of the last race. For some reason on Friday, I decided to hit up some hills on my ride and pushed it a little too hard. I felt great! The legs were ready for sure. Sometime that night, I decided not to go to TN to race, but to head south to avoid the rain, and race another MORCS<http://www.morcs.org/> race. (plus the wife was there and that kept her happy). Hattiesburg greeted me with beautiful sunshine, but unseasonally chilly temps for this time of year. Once in town, I headed out for a little trail riding, a little road riding, and then enjoyed some grub with the family and had a pretty laid back evening.
Race day came early, as I had an hour30 drive to the venue. Plus, I had to register, so I needed to get there a little earlier than normal. I also ate McDonald’s for breakfast which is, I think, a first ever for a pre-race meal. But my parents had zero to eat, so I had to make do. I got some hot cakes and coffee and off I went. The day was full of sunshine but chilly still. After I got there and got myself signed up, I suited up and headed out for the warm up. Some friends took me on some of the beginning sections of the course, and it was about like I assumed it would be…rolling, twisty, tight, and fun. I warmed up for about 20min and then headed to the starting line. But I was very disappointed when I rolled up to the line only to see Andrew<https://www.facebook.com/#!/andrew.b.sorey?fref=ts>, my buddy from Jackson, at the line. I had anticipated there being several other guys from MS and LA there but it was not to be. Andrew lead for the first 2 laps and kept things very honest for us. We pushed a good pace but it wasn’t quite as intense as I wanted. On the 3rd lap, I put a dig in and started to ramp up the pace but would end up having all sorts of issues with traffic and with the course getting slick, and made tons of mistakes. I crashed twice and had a pretty good chain suck problem going on. I managed to ride hard though and build a good lead on Andrew by the end of the race. It was a fun day for the most part and the event was really great and run spot on by the Mt. Zion<http://www.singletracks.com/bike-trails/mt-zion-bike-trails.html> boys.
2013 marks my latest start to the racing season since i began racing in early 2000! There are multiple reasons for such a late start, but i guess they are all just part of life! My time continues to be absorbed by travel due to work, WORK, and family duties. So, after missing the first two races that i had put on my schedule because of work and bad weather, i finally got lucky with both and had a chance to sneak over to Oxford, MS and race there second race of the newly formed MORCS.
A couple things to note…
This was a true test for me as i really have no clue as to how my fitness is. I know I’m getting stronger based on my workout numbers but you never know how things will play out when you’re going full gas for 2+hrs.
The weather for the weekend was perfect with sunny skies and warm temps. Clear Creek Rec Area has great campgrounds with clean bathrooms, so it was an easy decision to camp and be right by the race start. With everything in full bloom, the green on the trees is a brilliant emerald green and really is beautiful to be surrounded by while in the woods.
Race day morning greeted us with cool temps and a very laid back vibe. after an lite breakfast of granola and milk along as a cup (or two) of coffee, we slowly broke down camp and got ready for the race. After i was dressed and spinning around warming up, i thought about what my plan was for the race. I knew the compo was slim and that really, Andrew Sorey was probably the fastest guy on the line. He’s also young and i know he is always wanting to beat me, so i knew he would try and set the pace early and gap me. So, my plan was to let him do just that…lead the first lap and if my legs were able to respond after lap 1, I would put some work in on the 2nd lap. Each lap was 13 miles, so longer laps than normal but we were only doing 2, so overall the race was shorter than normal! (thank goodness) I warmed up for about 25min with a few openers and toed the line with about 10min to spare.
Once the gun went off, things went exactly how i expected. Andrew went hard and took the hole shot. I slotted in behind him and stayed tight on his wheel. we quickly created a gap on the rest of the cat 1′s and continued to distance ourselves from them. we were going hard but i was very comfy with the pace and just tried to stay steady in my efforts. Andrew is tall and pretty powerful and was really pushing the pace on some of the flatter sections of the trail but every time things went uphill, i would quickly roll right up on his wheel. As we quickly railed the super sweet flowing trails of Clear Creek i started to thing about how I wanted lap 2 to go.
as we came through the transition area Andrew pulled off the front to grab his feed, i rolled through to the front. i didn’t accelerate though and kept the pace the same. we were together as we entered the woods for the second time and were rolling fast. on the first climb, i punched it just a tad to see what would happen and immediately got a 5 sec gap. i decided to increase the tempo just a bit and within in 5min of steady riding, Andrew was out of sight. I knew i had the gas to keep it going and just rode. Things were pretty uneventful after that and i would ride solo for the rest of the race to take my first W of the year.
I love the unique awards from races these days!
A couple highlights for me…
1. I loved the Santa Cruz Highball!! very nimble and snappy in tight trails and climbed great!
2. After a couple months of consistent training, my fitness is starting to return and that’s very rewarding to see. Thanks Coach!
3. This is my first XC win in quite a long time and it felt great to stand atop the podium again!
4. The Clear Creek trails are super fun! They were very well built and flow great!
We arrived in Saint Francisville around 10PM, which was taking into account the daylight-savings time change. Knowing that we had an early morning, we checked into the hotel did what any good athletes would do… We went straight to the room to foam roll and we were off to bed to the nearby pizza parlor and quickly inhaled giant plates of lasagna and two pitchers of beer. In my carb-filled stupor, we returned to the room and I decided that running a 25c tire on the front would be advantageous. After making sure that nothing on my bike was going to catch my attention the next morning, I was off to bed. I had thought about this race non-stop for the past two weeks. I have even lost sleep thinking about each and every variable Heather and I have discussed leading up to the day of the race. I knew my body was prepared, so the most important factor the next day was keeping my head about me for the duration of the 106 miles. Since my cross-country trip this summer, I haven’t put in a 100 mile-day, or anything close. Once cyclocross season was over, my riding became almost entirely lactate threshold and VO2 intervals, with a 3.5 hour ride with tempo intervals here and there. My base is strong, but the kind of intensity I had anticipated undergoing for 4.5+ hours was intimidating me a little. Luckily, I have a great coach. I knew that Heather had more than adequately prepared me to push myself beyond what I ever thought to be physically capable of. My numbers reflected this. So, the rest was ultimately going to come down to eating, drinking, and not flexing my muscles too early.
We woke up at 5:44AM (because I have OCD and don’t like numbers that aren’t divisible by 4). We lumbered down to the main lobby of the hotel to pick up our packets and bib numbers, and naturally, my number was 113. So not only was it an odd number, but it was a prime number: my other numerical pet peeve. Kyle, Heather, and I made some waffles, drank the last drops from one of many pots of coffee, and returned to the room to get prepped for a long day.
Kyle and I watched the Pro/1/2 group roll out and decided to hop on the line. We carried our bikes down the stairs, and I followed Kyle as he did a cross-style mount on his SuperSix. I clicked in my left shoe and when I put my weight into my right shoe, nothing happened. I pushed again, but it felt as if my speedplay was sitting flush with my cleat platform. I stopped to see what was going on with my cleat and then I saw it. No spring.
My jaw hit the pavement. I was in such a rush at the shop the day before, I dropped my shoe while installing a shim between the platform and spring bracket on my cleat. I thought the metal area and plastic area had stayed together, containing the “C” shaped spring that lies between them (the piece that enables the cleat to serve any purpose). It must have fallen out and I was in too big a hurry to pay any attention to its being gone.
Needless to say, I had a little bit of a panic attack. Not like hyperventilating or pants wetting or anything like that (pants wetting happened later on), but I immediately went to the first team tent I saw. I asked for a mechanic at the Kona tent, and he looked totally blindsided when I asked if they had any spare Speedplay cleats in their van. The mechanic said they didn’t bring much of anything in way of parts. So I turned around it seemed that Heather and Kyle were both asking around too. Kyle rolled over to the USAC official and asked him where the director could be found. Luckily, he was standing feet away, talking into the microphone! Embarrassed, but completely desperate, I said to him “look, I did something really stupid. I lost the spring in my Speedplay cleat and need a replacement cleat or I can’t race.” Without hesitation, he calmly said, “Zero? X2? What are they?”
He picked up the mic and says, “Okay, everybody. Listen up, this guy needs a Speedplay Zero cleat. So if you have a spare pair of shoes or a cleat handy, this guy could really use it. Thanks.”
Literally, at that moment, I felt a hand on my back and someone say, “Hey man, you need a Speedplay cleat? I’ve got some extra shoes in my car. You want to throw it on real quick?”
We walked over to his car and started removing our respective cleat bolts, and Heather said, “Wait. What size are those?” They turned out to be a 45 Bontrager RXL, and fit me better than my Sidi Ergo 2s. In fact, they were the most comfortable road shoes I have ever put on my feet! He told me to race in them and just find him when I got done! This guy has some majorly good karma coming his way.
Now, I’m not a religious person, but I feel like I should be when these moments happen in life when it seems like something in the universe is changing the world around you JUST to save your ass.
I got on the line and my heart rate was already 110BPM. The group was quite large, and I pulled in five rows back in the 64-man 3/4 Category. Kyle was on the far right in the row in front of me. We started out, and I made my way to the right side of the pack. I wanted an easy out if the road became rough early on. The group was gathered fairly well spread out, but once the 1-lane country road started, sections became narrow and riders had trouble funneling through.
I thought a few of us were going to end up in a pileup on the second wooden bridge (not even 8 miles in), when the bridge was at the bottom of a short hill and a group of riders had nearly stopped in the middle of the bridge, causing several of us to lock up the brakes and hold on, while riders behind us had been going equally as fast. Two riders brushed me coming around, nearly barreling into riders in front of me.
I stayed in the middle of the peloton going into the first gravel section. I knew that the gravel would separate the pack quite a bit. I wasn’t looking to blow it out whatsoever, but I did want to get in the front of the group, just in case there was a promising breakaway and I had an idea of who was off the front. I used the first gravel section as a time to make worthwhile passes that would establish my place in the front of the pack. There was one pileup at the beginning of the gravel, when the course took a sharp right-hand turn uphill. The turn was littered with large rocks atop loose gravel, so those out of the saddle lost their line and caused everyone adjacent to lose theirs as well. I saw riders stopping and getting tangled up, so I took the turn way to the outside. I was almost track standing, waiting for the bodies to clear. Then, right when the group started to move again, it stopped. I put a foot down, but got back on and pedaled through the rest of the gravel section. I rode past someone who was running up with their bike and asked them if they were also having cross withdrawal. They didn’t reply. J
I was in a pack of twelve or so riders after the first section of gravel which consisted of 4 riders from the 4th Dimension Team and a smattering of other clubs. But the lead was short-lived. Minutes later, a group of 30 or so riders worked their way back up after the gravel turned back to pavement. It was obvious that a major strategy of doing well in this race was to avoid being held up by other riders, whether it be getting stopped behind them on technical terrain, or having your line obstructed when just trying to keep your wheels straight in loose sections. I ended up staying towards the front of the pack, often spending more time on the front of the line than I wanted to. But the wind had not gotten bad yet and this was good time to get my legs to open up a bit, so I just spun around 22mph until someone else wanted to set the tempo. There was one rider who went off the front SUPER early. He was a rider for 4th Dimension, and I could see he was really digging in. I thought to myself that it would be stupid to chase this early. I looked at a guy next to me and said, “We’ll catch him. No way he can sustain that for the duration.” The guy replied, “I don’t know, man. I think that guy competed in RAAM last year.” (This sentence should go in with the Shit Cyclists Say video.)
He also said that during some crit last year, he did his laps faster than the pros as a Cat 3. In other words, this dude was strong. When I looked up, he was already out of sight. I still didn’t have any interest in chasing or trying to make a breakaway of my own. I wanted to have a good finish, so I wasn’t about to risk that for a fighting chance in hanging with him even if I could catch up.
We hit the second gravel section, which was the longest and definitely most challenging. It was a combination of large, loose rock gravel, deep sand, and long steady climbing. Picking your line was tough through a lot of it, and people were having trouble putting enough trust into digging in their front wheels and plowing through. You had to anticipate which way riders were going to fishtail so to not get caught up or run into. This was impossible to do, however, when you were right next to someone when they lost control of their bike. I was subject to this twice, once in the second section in the middle of the road, and once in the third gravel section, putting me in a runoff ditch, bikes and all. Luckily, both of these happened going uphill. So, I lost some momentum. But this was much better than had I been bombing down at 33mph and run off the road.
Between the second and third gravel section spills, they not seem like huge setbacks; however, they allowed for two more riders to make their way out of the gravel a little faster, and get that much more of a lead once their tires hit the pavement again. At this point, the official told me that first had 3 minutes 30 seconds, second around 2 minutes, third and fourth had around 1 minute 20 seconds. And then I crested the small hill after the third gravel section and saw the fifth place rider only 20 seconds in front of me. This was around 84 miles in according to my Garmin, but I had been having issues with my GPS auto-pausing on and off all day, along with issues reading my power meter. So I didn’t know if my distance was accurate. I closed the gap, but during this time, I was all alone for a short time so I could re-search for my power meter. It turned out that we only had 15 miles or so, so my Garmin was off by 7 miles. He and I traded pulls for a bit, but I could see he was hurting. Another rider had worked his way up to us, which was a godsend for the guy I’d been working with. Me and our new comrade took 30s pulls for 10 miles or so, and somehow, a guy named Dan who none of us had seen since mile 25 came rocketing up into our line. Dan had chased for 70 miles, and still had the gas on. I was so damn impressed. Towards the final 2 miles, there was a shallow, but very steady climb. This was my chance to take a bit of a gap and secure a top 10 finish, so I powered up and dropped the group by 100 feet or so. Then, Dan did it again. He rode up on my wheel, and we traded long pulls until we saw the 1km sign. Then I decided that I was going to bury myself into the final climb and try to drop Dan. This failed attempt ended up in me continuing to pull Dan up the hill, and once it leveled, he hammered down and pulled away in the final 20 feet. I rolled in; legs on fire, in 6th in the 3/4s. Found out at the post-race dinner that I had finished 3rd in the Cat 4s, with a time of 5:07:43. I would have been happy with a top 10 finish, but was absolutely beside myself to find out I not only had come close to top 5, but had managed to earn a spot on the podium and still had an absolute blast! I will absolutely do this race again next year. The course was far more fun than I had expected, and I had pretty high expectations from everything I had read and heard from those who have raced it. I would even go as far to say that this was an easier undertaking than Southern Cross; however, for this race I had gears, so I understand that its not a fair comparison. Kyle Boudreaux was the race director (and guy with the microphone who helped save my race) and did a phenomenal job inside and out, along with everyone involved. Definitely want to send a big thanks to the organizers, volunteers, support team, and that random guy who lent me his shoes for the race. And most importantly, to the team I traveled to Saint Francisville with: my mother, who chose a pretty crazy weekend for a visit, my stellar teammate, Kyle Campbell, who had some issues early on in the race and still finished strong in the top 10 of the Cat 3s, and of course, my coach and teammate Heather for her unwavering support in everything I do.
Now that the cyclocross season is over, it is time to turn my attention to the upcoming mountain bike season. While getting my gear ready for a ride this Sunday I noticed that my Maxxis Ikon (pictured below) tires have worn to the point of meriting replacement. This got me thinking, “What tires should I put on?”.
Last year I did all of my racing and riding on Stan’s Crest wheels with Maxxis Ikon tires and I liked the combination as a do-it-all set up. Somehow a couple of weeks ago I snagged a pair or Bontrager RXL wheels in great condition for $49 so now I have another set of wheels to set up, too.
So here is my conundrum:
With two nice, lightweight sets of wheels, should I set up one wheelset with very aggressive, knobby tires, maybe Maxxis Ignitors (see below) or something similar, and set up the other wheels with some fast-rolling, low-profile, ultra-lightweight tires like the Bontrager 29-0 (see below)? (Thus giving me some options on how to address different courses and conditions)
Am I better served putting two sets more sets of Maxxis Ikons on each wheelset…dedicating one wheelset exclusively to training and another to racing? I already know I like the tire and I’m drawn to the idea of being intimately familiar with the way that the Ikons ride.
Like many other racers, I’m particular about the tires I ride on the trails. I’d be interested to hear advice from those of you on the team.
What would you advise me to do? What tires do you recommend for cross-country racing?