Sunday, May 22, 2016
I lined up near the front with all the big guns. I looked around and knew right away that I was being - what's the buzzword for it? -- "aspirational". I had JP from MTBNJ on one side of me, Ross Anderson from Finkraft on the other, Igor & Utah from NJ, Ron Harding and Mike Montalbano in front of me, and then Giant Pro/Former Olympian Adam Craig off to my right. It actually made me laugh. But I did have a reason for being there -- I figured I was going to get dropped when it got serious (and correctly guessed that would be right about at the fork in the road), but I also knew that with 90 or so racers in Open, being near the front was just common sense because someone was going to fall. It always happens in large fields. I just didn't want it to be me and I figured I'd get safe and then fall into that no-man's land between groups on the road by the time I hit the Schofield climb. And that was largely what happened, except for one brief moment in the first quarter mile when I was actually out front of everyone. And that was a conscious choice too because we were just starting that little descent and I was right behind Adam Craig and the dude goes into a super-tuck. That scared the ever loving shit out of me because I knew there was a massive set of potholes at the bottom and even though I'm sure Adam could have bunny-hopped them in without getting out of his tuck, I didn't want to be the douchebag responsible for bumping the back tire and possibly killing an Olympian because my own pothole-coping game set is decidedly weak. So I jumped around him and went through the section onto the little incline in first overall and prayed that someone would be there to photograph that I was leading this group of monsters (and if that happened, I'm pretty sure I'd have faked a mechanical and just called it a day right then.)
But it wasn't to be. And I eased off the gas (lest my lungs start bleeding out of my mouth) and let the whole crew by as they all started to go batshit crazy at the fork in the road. In like three seconds, I went from first to probably 20th. And then we turned into Schofield and I pulled the pro move of totally losing it and bailing before my face hit a tree. I got up, grabbed my bike and decided all was good (adrenaline is awesome because it turns out I jacked my shin pretty bad but didn't even feel it until after I got home several hours later.) But then I had to get back into the conga line. And that wasn't happening. I watched as at least 40 or 50 riders came through before I could get back on the bike. The nice thing about that is that my HR was all the way down by the time I could go again, so I was much fresher on the actual climbs than almost everyone in front of me. As I was climbing, I thought, "Okay, shithead, now you've got something to do today." And decided I would spend the day just seeing how many of the racers ahead of me I could pull back. I also told myself that no matter what, I'd ride everything. That last one went out the door after a valiant effort on that muddy field climb. I made it pretty far up, but slid out just before it got to where you could actually ride it normally. But I managed to pick off like 10 riders right there.
And I picked off another ten on the steep climb (Major Mike) a bit later . I don't even know if I knew any of the people I passed because I was all in on just moving ahead. I picked off a few more somewhere on the dirt road climb, and then another ten in those rolling sections that end with that rocky step up (I took the left side line to get around a guy there and thought "Damn, I've never ridden that line before".) At some point, my entire ride because just hoping to see a few more riders ahead of me so I had something to chase because I didn't want to have a reason not to push.
I went over 40 people total when I came around Chris Michaloski on the dirt road and saw an MTBNJ kit ahead of me. Turns out that was Iggy and it took me a while to run him down. Man, it's frustrating to see someone ahead of you and not be able to close them down! I really thought he was out of reach and I think it was only the fact that I was running a bigger gear that ultimately let me catch up. I caught him in the last singletrack section, but then when we hit the dirt road, Iggy, Chris and Dano came rolling up behind me in a train and I just said, "So, does this mean I get to pull you guys to the finish?" Iggy later told me that he wasn't about to pull a roadie move like that on me and he went around me right away and I pinned myself on the inside of his wheel. Chris was much smarter than I was and knew exactly how far we had to go and just steadily built a lead that never felt like it was too far to make a run on - until it was too late. By the time I saw the flags, I knew I couldn't catch him. I cut back around Iggy and felt Dano on my wheel and was just barely able to hold him off. In the end, I finished 26th, which I was really happy about since out of all the people I passed, the only one who came back around me by the finish was Chris, so my day of bridging to other racers went about as well as I could expect.
I cleaned up and then spent a little time hanging out with Mitch & some of the other MTBNJ crew, enjoying some Newburgh Cream Ale and the best peanut butter brownies I've ever had before pulling the Irish exit and hitting the road for the long drive home. All in all, I'm really happy with how the day went even though I probably could have finished little higher if I never crashed. This race is so different than any other I do anymore and I'm well aware that I don't have the top end speed of the guys up front. Congrats to Utah for killing it and finishing a close second to an Olympian! I don't know how they go that fast!
So now that I don't have to pretend to be an actual racer anymore, it's back into my "comfort zone" with my next race, the 24 Hours Round the Clock out in Washington over Memorial Day weekend.