Monday, May 01, 2017

2017 Austin Rattler

For this year's Austin Rattler, my main goal was to improve on last year's surprisingly good finish (it's tough for Mainah's coming out of winter to compete against guys who are in mid-season form...) and my best bet for doing that was to get a much better starting position, even if it meant getting to the start line 1 hour before the start.  I burned WAY too many matches last year trying to get past the hordes of dudes in front of me so I was hell bent on being at the front this year.

Race morning, I arrived at the venue with my bike 100% ready to race so I very quickly dropped my cooler with bottles on course and then took my bike over to the start corral and leaned it against the fence right near the front.
Race morning was cool enough to necessitate the need for the Stio coat.  Man that thing is versatile. 

Back to the car for final prep and over to the bike 10 minutes later to see that they had put the starting tape up right on top of my bike so I had an almost front row position (the pros were starting in the very front).  40 minutes of additional waiting and we were ready to go.

When the shotgun went off, the 30-ish dudes in front of me and the 600 behind were off in a dusty conga line.  I was immediately amazed at how much more comfortable the pace was this year because I wasn't frantically trying to get past 100+ riders before we entered the wood.
After the initial shuffling, I found myself around 20th riding the opening dirt roads at a pace that I felt was sustainable for a 4+ hour race.  Unfortunately, that didn't last long.  On the first quick rocky uphill, two or three guys fell immediately in front of me (on a friggin dirt road!) which let a 100' gap open between the top 10-12 guys and us.  100' isn't a big deal in single track but it sucks when you're in a paceline at 25mph!  Myself and a couple of others tried to bridge the gap but after a few minutes it was clear that, although we were catching them, I was going way into the red and was going to pay for it later so I decided to learn from last year and dialed it back.  Hopefully I'd see some of those guys later.

I found myself in a bit of no-mans-land for a bit but soon was joined by a guy riding at the same pace as me.  It was nice to have the company and it was definitely helpful to have a drafting partner on the fast sections.  About 1/2 way through the 1st (of 3) laps, we were joined by a couple of fun loving Texans who were eager to up the pace.  I was happy to let them pull (because they were oh-so eager!) through the last fast sections with me helping with the effort but in a conservative manner.

Our happy foursome, me dutifully sucking wheel
When we hit the later sections of singletrack, I found myself at the front of the group.  I got into a nice singletrack trance and soon found myself alone having gapped the other guys.  It wasn't intentional and it was way too early to ride solo so I decided to change up my pre-race fueling plan.  Initially, I had planned to stop for my fresh bottles after the second lap but, with my gap, I decided to stop after the first lap to allow our group to get back together.

sucking more Texan wheel
My plan worked perfectly with all four of us back in our bromance shortly into the second lap.  Somewhere along the mid-point of lap two, we lost one of our riding partners.  I'm not sure what happened, he just sort of drifted off the back.  Lucky for me, I still had my two happy Texans chatting away and doing their fair share of pulling.  We were also steadily picking up people being dropped from the front group so things were looking good!

 Lapping through and loving my Hei Hei DL

When we got to the last half of the lap where all of the single track is located, I found myself at the front again and, once again, I got all single tracky and soon had a big gap.  This time I decided to see if I could make it stick.  25 miles solo with about 8 miles of fast dirt road was going to be tough to hold those guys off but I knew that I'd need to make a move at some point so I went for it!

Solo suffering
At the beginning of the third lap, my legs started to cramp a bit (hello last year!) so I took a Hot Shot! and within a few minutes the cramps subsided but I knew the cure was only temporary so I tried my darndest to keep the pace high without going into redline.

I succeeded in getting through the opening miles of road without the happy Texans from catching up.  I knew at this point my chances were good as long as I didn't cramp up or crash.  There are a few sections on course where the trail doubles back so you can get a good sense of how close people are behind you.  Through the first few, I saw no competitors approaching but I was catching a lot of riders.  I was lapping some but also picking up the ever more shredded lead group.  Some blew up so completely that, when I'd catch them, they didn't even try to grab my wheel.  I'm pretty certain I would have been in the same boat if I hadn't dialed it back on lap one.

A hard charging Texan 
On the very last out and back section of trail with a few miles of singletrack to go, I finally saw one of the happy Texans closing in on my wheel.  Frick!  We waved, exchanged pleasantries and then I ran for my friggin life.  Up to that point I was being relatively conservative with my pace but I now knew I had to drill it if I wanted to stay away.  Thankfully, it was mostly single track from that point on and I knew from the couple of laps that I was at least on par with Nevada (turns out that was his name as I peruse the results).
Yay for finishing with no-one on my wheel!

About 10 minutes later, I crossed the line in what turned out to be 10th place, about a minute and a half behind Lance Armstrong with Nevada coming in merely 20 seconds later.  Damn, that was close! 

 I figured if Lance got to see my wenis before the race, the least he could do is take a pic with me after...

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