Pats Peak has lots of climbing, which suits me. But the flipside is: what goes up...
Earlier in the week, there was intelligence on the HUP wire that only 75% of the course was rideable. Then my beloved and I were awaken in the early am by a rollicking, rowdy thunderstorm. I can't catch a break. After months of rain in New England, I figured that I was finally going to get a moderately saturated race course as opposed to the fully and supersaturated courses that we have come to expect now that we are on the same weather circuit as the Pacific Northwest. Did I mention that I don't own mud tires?
The venue itself is luxurious compared to many MTB race venues. The ski lodge was open and air conditioned (though not freezing), huge clean bathrooms (seriously the bathrooms were clean after 1.5 days of racing), multiple bike washes, ample parking, well run snack bar with decently priced well presented food and a PA system that was audible in the entire parking/lodge/staging area. Seriously good showing Pats Peak, thanks!
The course had been abused by 24 hour, 12 hour and 6 hour races Saturday and lower category XC riders all morning. By my noon start the course was seriously degraded.
The course started on an steep squelchy uphill. If you got out to the saddle, you spun out. I didn't get the hole shot, but I was in the lead group or 3 or 4.
The first 5th of the course is not very demanding, comparatively. There is some twisty slowsingletrack, broken up by saturated traverses across the grassy ski slopes. There were plenty of opportunities to bobble, lose traction, get bogged down and generally waste energy. I did all of these and still kept the leader in sight, Tim Trottier of Claremont Cycles. I trading blows with the Root 66 series leader and eventual winner, Craig Kennedy, from the starting line. I'd falter, he'd come around me. I'd catch him on a flat or a climb, come around him, open a gap, then falter again.
Kennedy and I traded blows and reeled in Trottier on the first significant fire road climb, permanently shelling the rest of the field in the process. Wisely, Craig allowed me to ride tempo up the climb and then only attacked me right before the gnarly singletrack. I didn't think to dig in and remain in front, though knowing my bike handling skills, or lack thereof, that would have been a serious dick move.
This section housed a plethora of roots growing in all directions. There were longitudinal roots to force your line. Roots running perpendicular to the course in tight off camber corners to throw you off of your line and kill what little traction there was. Did I mention the mud. Everything was covered in thick sucking mud. It was super slick. Furthermore, it was deep in the low lying parts.
Tim caught me and I allow him to pass uncontested. After gamely trying to ride this section several times, I settled on the humiliation of a run. I ended up nearly regaining contact while Trottier picked his line and I just long strided while wheeling my steed. My degradation in to 2/3's of a triathlete allowed me to keep the 2 leaders in sight.
I took some time back on the second major climb. This climb was a real spirit breaker. It ran up a steep winding fire road. If you picked your line well you could avoid the saturated grass. But as will happen, I'd sometimes have to correct and end up squandering my momentum by spinning my wheels in the mucky grass. To top it off, at the "top" after 100's of vertical feet of climbing, it curled to the left into the woods, but when you got to the left, you saw that you were actually little more than half done climbing.
The first part of the descent was manageable. It ran perpendicular to the ski slope and while fast, it didn't offer many threats otherwise. I was able to keep Tim in sight.
But then conditions changed rapidly when the course reentered the woods. It started out loamy and winding with a few roots to negotiate. Then it got steep and fast while the root multiplied. Everything slick with mud. Many of the corners had devilish off camber sections with slick roots running perpendicular, like tracks to help your tires loose purchase. I lost minutes in here.
After many minutes of struggling and riding the brakes, the course fed onto a series of fire road descents and comparatively less difficult single track. I dropped many hammers, convinced that the leaders were just ahead. I didn't catch any sign of them.
The finish is a cyclocross style downhill, complete with course tape and grassy off camber turns. It fed into a finish area with a big inflatable Red Bull gate right in the logical line coming into the finish. Seriously the course tape feeds you into the Red Bull gate. When you see a big gate while riding fast, you ride through it, right? We had been warned not to ride through the Red Bull gate while we were staged. Sure they warned us, but would you remember to veer out of the logical line to go under a gate off to the side? Yeah, you can make a mental note. But are you going to read that Post It while the snot is flying, while you are trying to claw back mere seconds from riders who had been sticking it to you for weeks?
Sorry, I just follow the arrows and course tape. Every indicator on the course told me to ride into that gate. I never even looked up to see who sponsored the gate; I was too busy trying not to vomit on myself.
I ended up getting balled out for riding into a spectator area. There was no tape to stop me, no person to guide me. I threw a curse word studded tantrum while I corrected. I am ashamed to have ruined Mike and Kathy Rowell's pre race lunch with my antics. Sorry.
There was tape on the next lap. But I still hate Red Bull.
Lap 2 and most of lap 3 were uneventful. I overtook riders from other fields and no one passed me. I ran when it was faster. I tried to stay off the sissy switches in the rough stuff and on the descents. Obviously, I was miserable and considered dropping out, which is how I knew that I was riding hard enough. Any point where I began enjoying myself or thinking of anything other than vomiting or dropping out, I shifted into a harder gear and/or increased my cadence.
I saw Trottier's yellow and green kit up ahead on midway through the 3rd lap, near the end really. He was blown, swerving all over the climb(s) like he was delivering the mail. I slowly reeled him in, finally catching him on the final climb. He told me that the win was about 2 minutes up the road; he's really a good guy. But he didn't hesitate to repass me on the sketchy descent and then put so much time into me that I couldn't even see him on the wide open finishing descent.
I got 3rd out of who knows how many guys. In my mind, there were only 3 guys in my race, Trottier, Kennedy and myself.
Natasha got 2nd out of all the cat 2 women and 1st in her category. Considering that she has not trained or even really ridden her mountain bike, it was a stellar performance. She has decided to upgrade. Is it humiliating or hot to have a wife who races in a higher category than you?
Overall, the Red Bull gate debacle notwithstanding, this was a great race. Challenging course, logistically well run, good vibe, well supported, well attended. Swag for podiums was thin (basically Gu-type products and an XL T shirt), but hey they had to give me something to complain about, right?