One aspect I love about mountain bike races are the numbers. They are usually colorful, have the race name on them, and best of all you don’t need to pin them to your jersey! I assume for various reasons they go on your bike instead; The dirt, crashes, and finishes usually do not end in a sprint are most obvious to me. Not pinning your number to your jersey also helps the jersey looking clean without tiny holes all over them (unless you crash of course).
Last weekends Growler really beat me up. It took 2–3 days plus a massage before a started feeling normal again. By Thursday I was feeling better and made the decision to race the Firebird XC which happens to the the USAC Colorado State Championships as well.
Eagle Colorado is about 30 miles past Vail or a 2 hour drive from my home on the front range. Anytime you get to drive into the “High Country” from Denver during late Spring is a nice treat for snowcap mountain views. I’m actually not a big fan of driving. I get restless easily when sitting in a car for a long period of time. Lately though I’ve been listening to various audio books which has helped tremendously. Most of the time they are non-fictional stories, autobiographies of athletes, or someone with a special story about their life. It makes the time go by and I can feel as if someone is chatting with me in the car. This week I’ve been listening to Jens Voigt’s “Shut Up, Legs!” book. A great story about his life.
I arrived in Eagle an hour and a half before my start, put my number on my bike, and did some light stretching in the shade.
The starting area was a 10 minute bike ride from where I parked but I wanted a longer warm up as I had a feeling the start would be crazy fast given the short race distance (18 miles). The actual start was half way up a dirt road climb which added some extra warming up. There were so many groups at the start and I quickly found out they were staging each category in ten second intervals from each other. I really don’t understand why they would stage all of the junior categories before the adults. Since we were going off in ten second intervals they wouldn’t be on course much longer than anyone else. Starting them behind the adults in my mind would have made more sense. Sure there are some crazy fast juniors but I passed 75% of them in the first five minutes.
In any case, I knew the first 5–6 minutes were all uphill on a dirt fire-road before we hit singletrack. For this reason I wanted to pass as many juniors and other categories as possible before being forced to slow down on singletrack to pass. I signed up for the CAT2 30–39’s. When it was our turn to go the start was fast and one rider took off from the beginning but I passed him after a minute or two.
Right before we went off I had planned to ride 100% all out for that first climb. I know I’m not the best descender so I wanted as much of an advantage from the climb. This effort really hurt! You know the effort I’m talking about; You may do it a lot during training rides but its the one you rarely do during the beginning of a race. I didn’t care, I wanted to go completely all out and worry about how my legs and lungs felt later.
Once climbing on the dirt road I passed a steady stream of juniors and adults. I made it onto the singletrack but right away I got stuck behind some slower riders. The trail continued to climb on the singletrack but I was forced to slow my pace until I could pass riders. This slow and then fast pace to pass someone lead to an inconsistent tempo and probably cost me a 3–5 minutes overall. The brush on the sides of the trail was ankle high and it made it quite difficult to pass anyone. Most riders try as best as they can to move over when they sense someone coming up on them, as I do the same for those trying to pass me. However, I caught this one rider who didn’t want me to pass. Every time I tried to make a move past him he would accelerate. I was growing frustrated but kept my cool and waited while until the trail opened up a bit more. When I passed, I went by hard and fast so there was no way he could close the door on me. At the top of the climb it opened back up to a double-track dirt road which was bumpy but gave me opportunities to pass other riders.
Next came the descent. I had no clue what to expect as I had never ridden here before. Since I worked so hard on the climb I wanted to capitalize on my effort and take some extra risks on the descent. These trails didn’t have any serious tech sections like the Gunnison Growler did but since I had a dropper post I figured why not use it! If I could ride a little faster downhill maybe I wouldn’t get caught. At least that was my thought process. I took every downhill switchback as hard and as fast as I could. Sometimes I’d pass a rider without even saying anything because I was already moving with a great deal of speed. It felt nice to pass riders going downhill. Normally I’m the one getting passed so it was a fun change.
Newbie mistake: Since the course wasn’t too technical I locked out my rear shock. This allowed me to push the short punchy climbs a little harder out of the saddle. The only problem was that it bounced my bike around a bit more and during the decent my only water bottle popped out. I was going too fast downhill to stop and retrieve it so I kept going. This made the race brutally hard. Sure the course was only 18 miles (1:25:00 minutes of riding) but it was hot, almost 80 degrees. During the entire race my mouth was so dry I couldn’t even swallow. I had no spit and it was not a good feeling. Next time I’ll check to make sure my bottle is more secure and I’ll consider using a different bottle cage. Lesson learned!
After the downhill section the trail spit you back onto the dirt road which the race started on. We would do this exact same loop again and then on the downhill go a different direction for the second half of the course. On the dirt road climb again there were a lot less riders to pass. I continued to push the pace but my mouth was so dry and sucking in the hot dry air mixed with the dust and dirt already in my mouth didn’t help. But that was my situation and there was nothing I could do.
The second half of the course started with a long switchback descent. At the bottom I didn’t see anyone in front of me. I gave a quick look behind and noticed a bright orange jersey catching up. It was a rider I had passed going downhill. A few minutes later and he passed me. I wasn’t sure if he was in my category so I didn’t let him out of my sight. I followed his wheel for the remaining miles but he did drop me on the last climb before the finish. Lucky for me he was in the singlespeed category. Up the road I could also see one of my juniors Nathan. I was making up ground on him but had a feeling he noticed me and didn’t want me to catch him. With less than a mile left I knew I wasn’t going to get caught. The race finished on a BMX track which was pretty cool!