Sunday was my first race of the season. I was a bit apprehensive since I felt I hadn’t been getting enough training time in but thankfully, the course was new to the state series but it was the location of numerous local yocal races which I had competed in so I knew the course inside and out. Sunday morning I met up with teammate and team manager Big Al and another teammate who happens to be riding pro this year for both Bikeman and Salsa, Andrew Frye for a quick pre-ride. They hoped to get the inside skinny on the course from me since I knew it so well. Since I knew that the course would be muddy, I had thoughtfully brought my single speed for the warm-up so that I wouldn’t mess up the drivetrain of the Dos. After a quick pre-ride lap of about 22 mins. we went about cleaning up and finishing our respective warm-ups.
Because of the pre-ride, I was a bit late getting to the start line but was still able to nose my way into the front row almost dead center. Perfect position. My plan of attack for the day was simple. Since I knew the course so well, I decided to try to get out to an early lead so that I could ride my own pace and not get bogged down behind others getting used to the tight, twisty nature of the course. I also knew that because of the constant accelerations that the course demanded, my 29’er would be a disadvantage if I were to be stuck behind people riding 26’ers.
The starting line.
As the gun went off, or should I say “the marshal said go”, myself and another 29’er rider (riding a single speed fisher rig) got the 1,2 spots across the first, soft lawn section added to separate the field. I honestly think the 29” wheels helped us here because we were able to roll a bit easier across the grass. Maybe it was just a coincidence but I don’t think so. We dove into the woods with Tom first and myself right on his heels.
Upon entering the woods, we were immediately in the first of several mud holes. I knew from the pre-ride that trying to ride this section would be slow and hard on the bikes so I immediately picked up the bike and ran through. On the other side we remounted and started up a short incline. Knowing there were very few places to pass, I took this opportunity to pass Tom and make a sprint for the top of the hill. When I crested the hill and switched back, I could see that the field was already getting bottle-necked a ways behind me so I poured it on to try to distance myself from the pro-expert field.
Over the course of the first lap, I was able to open up a one+ minute advantage over the rest of the field. An advantage I knew I would need since there were some very good pros in the field. As mentioned, my teammate Andrew was back there, Seven super stud Skip Brown and New England honch Matt Boobar.
Halfway into the second lap the inevitable happened, Andrew and Skip caught and passed me. No problems though because I knew that I could never match their pace for the whole race. I could still see Boobar about a minute back so my game plan was to try to hold him off for as long as possible knowing that the first experts couldn’t be far behind. The next three laps consisted of my trying to ride nice clean lines which turned out to be extremely easy on the Dos. The layout of the course turned out to be perfect for a 29’er despite the constant acceleration because most of the rockiest, rootiest areas were in the turns so I was able to maintain my momentum much better than the 26’ers. If they had been smooth, tight turns I probably would have been at a disadvantage but thankfully that wasn’t the case. By the start of the final lap, I was beginning to feel the first twinges of cramps on all of the climbs and hike-a-bikes so when Boobar finally caught me with ½ lap to go, I let him go by so that I could nurse myself in and not completely implode. Thankfully I had put enough of a gap on the rest of the field in the first lap that I was never in danger of being passed after that and rode in 10-15 secs behind Boobs and maybe a minute before the next rider.
Since EFTA lumps pros and experts together, I didn’t get the win but I did manage 2nd in my age group behind Boobar. Overall, I was very happy with the result since I had only been hoping for a top 10 overall.
Skip Brown looking on in awe as I explain to him how I'll beat him a little bit more next time.
As mentioned earlier, the Dos was sweet and I am now confident in my pre-season choice to jump head first into the 29’er world. I am also very happy with how my drivetrain performed. Despite some of the nastiest, stickiest mud I have raced in, the SRAM XO rear derailleur didn’t miss a shift in the entire race despite the fact that it was complete jammed full of trail debris. Truly impressive. The Avid BB7 brakes were stellar as well. This was my first race on disc brakes and I now know what I was missing. It was nice to be able to come out of a muddy section and be confident that my brakes would still be there when I needed them.