Thursday, June 27, 2013

Race Report: State XC Championship

I was unsure how this race would go. I hadn't been feeling too good on the bike the past few weeks, unable to put out consistent power, and I haven't mountain biked much at all this year. I think the race was actually only the 6th time I've ridden my mountain bike all year. My roots are in mountain biking, but I haven't watered those roots since my devastating mechanicals in the ITU Cross Tri World Championships last May. Nevertheless, I pressed on and decided to do the race since it was in my backyard. The race would cap off my 6 week stay in Memphis this summer for an acute care rehab rotation for PT school.

I decided to not make the same mistakes I made in the first race of the season at the Pick Your Poison XC here in Chattanooga. The guy that beat me at that race would also be on the start line in Memphis, along with good friend and former co-worker Matt McCulley and one more racer.

We started hard from the gun, but I made sure not to be the first one to hit the trail, I did not want to lead everyone. I fell in behind Matt for second wheel. Taking an alternate route on a steep downhill section, I fell back one place and was now sitting 3rd wheel. A few miles later, I heard the guy riding in 4th crash. After a few miles of him not catching back on, I figured we had dropped him and he would no longer be in contention for the race. The 3 of us rode through the start/finish to start lap two. Matt attacked hard through the technical section of trail and stayed away for a few minutes. We caught back on after the steep section and continued to pedal on in our 3 man formation. The two lead riders gap'ed me a few times and Matt was even out of sight once or twice. I keep pushing on calmly and usually made up the ground when the trail went up.

In tight 3 man configuration.

About mile 6 into lap two, the rider in 2nd wheel attacked in an open section. Matt, who had been leading the entire race, sat up. He asked me if I was going to chase it down. I then realized Matt had no intention of chasing the rider breaking away. I had to jump. I closed the gap down pretty quickly and was on the lead rider's wheel by the time we dropped back into the tougher trail section. The pace had picked up. The trail was more fun and dangerous now. The two of us rode together through the start/finish again and started lap 3 together.
Railing a corner.
I had noticed this rider wasn't racing with a camelbak, but using one water bottle. I also noticed he hadn't been drinking much and he actually dropped his bottle at about mile 10 of lap two. I was expecting him to fad before the end of the third lap, especially if we kept up the pace we were setting. And this is exactly what happened. This is where I must credit and thank the people at BRL Sports for their awesome drink ENDURAFUEL. It kept me moving, hydrated, and fueled with amino acids and complex carbs in the hot and muggy woods of Nesbit Park. There was no fading or cramping for me. Anyway, riding through the steep section at the beginning of the 3rd lap, this rider went off course a bit and barely caught himself before crashing. I slowed up a bit and waited for him to get his feet back in the pedals and moving on the trail. Instead, he told me to go on, that his "leg had locked up." So I took off. I shifted up and darted down the trail trying to get as far out of sight as possible in case he was only sidelined for a few seconds. I rode the rest of that lap solo, getting to push myself as hard as I wanted and really enjoy the whole trail. I took a few more risks, and then would back off a bit. My riding was getting a little sloppy and I knew the most important thing was not crashing, not having a mechanical, and most importantly not flatting. I railed corners and hopped over roots praying not to hear that hissing sound that can and has deflated my heart in the past.

Up and Over.
Closing in on the finish, I finally felt comfortable about my position around mile 9.5. I settled in and railed the last downhill section and cruised across the bridge into the finish for the solo victory. It felt great to come away with the mountain bike state championship, something I wanted to achieve but hadn't fully committed to. Goal #5 check. And it also puts me in the lead for goal #1. A good showing in Memphis for the Chattanooga based road and cyclocross HUB Endurance Cycling Team. BTW, Matt came back to catch the 2nd place rider 50 meters from the finish and beat him for 2nd place in an awesome sprint finish with a bike throw. Awesome job and congratulations to Matt McCulley. Oh, and unfortunately I think somewhere along the race course I might have cracked my Niner Air 9 Carbon frame around the seatpost. Haven't heard anything back from them yet, but hopefully they work with me on this.

The next big challenge will be the State Road Race Championship. Thankfully my performance has been coming back over the past week and a half with some good power numbers for the times I think it will take to complete the climbs on the course. With 5 mid race climbs, it will still be a hard and challenging race. May the best rider win. I must admit that my real focus has already moved away from the road and is centered on the track. I've been enjoying my time in Atlanta and have a few big races and a training camp lined up for the rest of the season. I'll say bye to long endurance rides and pick up on all intervals of 5 minutes and less.

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