Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First Time for Everything

With three first place victories under my belt in the ICup series thus far, I was feelin' pretty good about myself heading into the Draper ICup race. I even preregistered for this event! I was THAT excited. Then reality (and the crappiest weather Utah has ever seen) hit me like a ton of bricks.

As I kept refreshing weather.com every five minutes during the week leading up to the race, I was confused as to the forecast: cold, rainy, and even SNOWY. 38 degrees Fahrenheit was the temperature at race time. In fact, had I not preregistered for this race, I wouldn't have even driven to the event. Ed's alluring tweets of 'great conditions' somehow convinced me to make the drive to Corner Canyon and see how things were looking.

As it turned out, aside from a few muddy bogs and cold temps at the beginning of the race, the overall conditions weren't too bad. Finally, something positive from the last week of hell's fury in the form of rain.

Leading the pack out of the start area--a first for me

As the Expert Men 19 - 29 lined up at the starting point, I looked around to evaluate my competition. A few familiar faces, one of which was Justin Griffin--the phenom 15 year old kid who led the entire St. George race except for the last few minutes when I passed him on the downhill for the victory. I pretty much knew there'd be some stiff competition for this race.

From the start, I felt surprisingly fresh (unlike at Soldier Hollow the week before), and jumped into the 'shakeout loop' in first place. Justin was on my wheel the entire time and as we entered the tunnel and began the climb into the main loop, there he was, stickin' on me like glue. If someone is sticking on your tire for that long, it usually means that they can ride faster than your current speed and are just waiting for an opportunity to pass. It turned out this was the case. Once the trail opened up to double track, he zipped past me. I kept him in sight pretty well for the remainder of the first lap, but he'd probably gotten ~20-30 seconds on me.

Have I mentioned before that I have never DNF'ed nor had a mechanical problem during a race? Well, as I was bombing downhill near the end of the first lap, I'd gotten in a great rhythm and I figured I was catching up to Justin. Well, as I upshifted to get up a quick climb, I heard a "SHKKDTTK" from my rear derailleur and knew something was amiss. A quick check confirmed that I had a problem: the rear derailleur cable had snapped and so I couldn't shift in the rear and I was stuck in the smallest cog in the back, essentially leaving me with a VERY hard gear--nay, an impossible gear--to use in the climbs.

After pushing my bike for a bit, I hopped on to see how ridable it was on the way back to the starting line

At this point, I figured my race was over so I started pushing my bike back to the start line. As I was walking, though, I thought to myself, "Well, you can't shift the rear, but you have 3 gears up front, maybe you could try to finish the race." So I jumped back on my bike and finished the first lap, but knew I couldn't do the rest of the race with the current gearing I had. So I pulled out my multi tool, tugged the remaining derailleur cable out as far as I could, manually pushed the rear derailleur up into the 2nd to highest cog (easier gearing for the climbs) and locked it into place. It worked! So I had three working gears (by shifting the front derailleur), but always struggled to get into the 'hardest' gear up front (largest chain ring) because my bike was all muddy and I was cross-chaining the bike (largest gear in front and rear). BUT--I could finish the race.

Deciding to finish the race, I turn around and head back to the trail

So, I hopped back on my bike and began the last 1.5 laps with a gear that would allow me to climb well, but completely spin out on the flats / downhill. The time I spent walking back to the start line and fixing my bike was probably ~5 minutes, but I didn't know how many people had passed me. I knew I wasn't going to win, but I wanted to have as strong as a finish as I could with my handicapped bike.

As it turned out, I had pretty good gearing for all of the climbs, but on the long flat road out north before the BST switchbacks, all I could really do is coast because I'd spin out otherwise. After knocking out lap #2, I realized that I'd passed a few of the people who had passed me in the interim. I was actually feeling VERY strong at this point in my riding and was somewhat frustrated that I couldn't go faster due to the bike.

Shooting downhill trying to keep momentum as pedaling yielded no results when I had speed

Anyhow, on the final 1/2 lap, I caught and passed another expert 19 - 29 racer--which meant that I wouldn't come in last. Nearing the end of the race on the final 'shakeout loop' I actually saw one of the other expert 19 - 29 racers no more than 30 seconds ahead of me. He saw me too. I sprinted through the next 1-2 miles as fast as I could, but without the appropriate gearing, I just couldn't bridge the gap. In the end, he finished eight seconds ahead of me. So close, yet so far away.

One of the flat sections where I continually would spin out in my attempt to catch the guy in front of me - harumph!

Looking at the results post race, I found out that I'd actually come in 3rd out of six (one guy DNF'ed due to a mechanical). I was ~8 minutes back from Justin in a 2+ hour race. In hindsight, if I hadn't wasted 1-2 minutes walking back to the start, and had worked on fixing my bike more quickly, I probably could have caught and passed the guy who beat me by eight seconds. I do wonder, though, whether I would have taken 2nd overall had my bike not had a mechanical. I know myself enough to recognize my strength comes after 45 minutes of riding--the way Justin was cruising though makes me think he would have been too tough to catch.

A couple firsts for me: first time I had a mechanical (no DNF though), and the first time this season I didn't take first. Seems like the perfect time to move up to Pro and get my butt handed to me, right?

Next post will be of a much more humbled rider.

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