|Waxed and ready to ride!|
I had been looking forward to this race for several months. Any race with a big field and great atmosphere is always a lot of fun. I pulled into Yankee Springs about two hours pre-race and already the place was boiling with excitement. The night before it had rained just over an inch so I knew the course would have its share of slop, but I also knew it would be fast.
As I started my gear sort and was preparing to get my bike out of my backseat I couldn't help but notice the two car doors sprawled wide open into the side of my car as three guys worked their sort off out of their open trunk. I had to get my bike from the driver's side because the passenger side was blocked with my son's car seat. I looked over my shoulder a few times and noticed these three guys looking at me but never making a move to free up some space for me to work. Then I started to pay attention. They were speaking German. While I have nothing against German's, past experience brought three words to mind: arrogant, inconsiderate, asshole. Spot on. Those guys were pricks, through and through. After I threaded my frame through a maze of car doors and hairy German legs, I collected my essentials and headed out to find Tony and Matt, which turned out to be just a few cars down.
The day was damp, gray and very still. We collected our race numbers and headed out to chat with some of the members of the Rapid Wheelmen and Team JTree. Cycling is better than running in terms of camaraderie. There is a different buzz and people tend to congregate in groups (teams) opposed to the lonely distance runner. Likely it's because in cycling people work together in a way that runners do not, but whatever the case may be, it's a damn good feeling to be around a bunch of friendly, happy people with coolers of beer fully stocked for post-race celebrations. I'm in!
We killed off an hour chatting and then reluctantly shed our dress to reveal thin layers of spandex. Or as Tony calls it, our bat suits. Some people are very intimidated by spandex (Jason), but there is a time, a place and a reason. It was cold at first but as we spun several laps around the Gun Lake boat launch/parking area my blood warmed my extremities as the chia seeds in my stomach started to churn. Game face on, it was time to race!
Tony and I took off in the third wave with about 350 other riders and just about 2 minutes behind the previous wave of about 350 riders. We started poorly positioning with about 75% of the wave ahead of us. I immediately tried to ride to the left of the pack to make my way towards the front, but the peloton proved dangerous and congested. There were a few spills and one woman sitting in the ditch looking dazed (likely collarbone) but nothing major as I was able to slowly work my way towards the front. After about two miles the pack started to thin. I had hoped to jump on with a fast group early but my attempts were futile. I was mostly standing up, passing and expending a lot of energy in the process.
Just a few miles in we made a left on a tight sandy two-track. It was narrow with overhanging foliage, very congested and further complicated by the lead moto for the fourth wave laying on his horn trying to clear the way for apparently ghosts because I didn't see anybody following him. This went on for several minutes. A loud motorcycle spitting out a lung damaging elixir of hot gas, oil and sand. Guys around me were kind of pissed. I heard somebody shout out, "IF YOU WANT TO PASS YOU BETTER USE THE WOODS" and another, "WE HAVE A RACE TO RIDE TOO" and "F*CK YOU!" It was beautiful, almost poetic.
Once we turned right off the two-track things started to thin out considerably and I was able to focus on my race. I did a quick assessment: Lungs feel like they are filled with shards of glass, check. Legs feel like molten metal, check. Left hand is sound asleep, check. Toes on right foot sleeping like a baby, check. Sweat pouring directly into my right eye, check. I knew I just had to settle down and the rest would sort itself out. By mile eight I had settled in.
I desperately needed to find a group to ride with, but was having a hard time. I was passing, always passing. Occasionally a group of guys would come screaming by and I would jump on only to fall off the back on the next big hill. As this was going on there were a few guys that I had been leapfrogging for a few miles. I rode right up next to one of them, looked him the eye and said, "Are you ready to work together?" He said, "HELL yes" and grabbed my wheel. This was around mile sixteen. For a few miles we pulled each other up and down some of the more difficult hills on the course in a fluid and flawless effort. Taking turns and heavily hoping more people would jump on the back. Nobody did.
Around twenty I saw a solid line of about 20 guys that were moving fast and hard to catch. As I grabbed the last wheel in the line I gave a glance over my shoulder to make sure Mr. Cyclo-cross was still in tow. He had fallen off and as we made eye contact he waved me on and shouted, "GOOD LUCK." I gave him a point thanking him for his help. I was happy to be in a bigger line and was able to replace some calories and drink some water on the fly. As I worked towards the front of the line I felt energized. When the lead rider pulled out of line and flicked his elbow I felt a charge of adrenaline rush through my body. It was my turn to pull. What an incredible feeling! Before long a faster group lead by a tandem cruised up beside me. As they picked us off one by one I waited for my opportunity...as the last wheel in the line scooted by I jumped on. Perhaps it was a selfish move to leave the line that just pulled me for several miles...but that's racing.
The race was approaching the late stages and I knew there was one more nasty section of sandy two-track coming before a six mile section of paved road to the finish. We hit the final two-track and it was immediately congested. Everybody walking the steep sandy section. I rode until I lost momentum and then pushed my bike through the sand...legs on the borderline of cramping, lungs burning and sweat burning my right eye as if it was being injected with a syringe. It was a tedious section and I was happy to get back on my bike and weave my way around cross bikes through the sandy descent. There were several water holes on this section that people were attempting to dodge. At that point I really didn't care and was bombing right through the center sending a wall of cold, mud-water towards the riders on my right and left.
The paved road was a welcome sight. I knew all I had to do was clear the first seemingly never ending hill and then bomb my way to the finish. This was also the section of the course where the 24 mile route merged with the 36 and 62 mile course. So the amount of traffic increased but they were slower riders so it made me feel like I was really flying. At one point I hit 37 MPH. Good stuff.
As the route turned left onto the Yankee Springs entrance drive two guys jumped on behind me. I was afraid they were going to let me pull them to the finish and then make a last minute pass to gain position on me. I told myself that was not going to happen. I thought about slowing down to see what they would do, but as it turns out, I'm not wired that way. Instead I dropped my chain down to the smallest cog in the rear, put my head down and gave it everything I had. Snot dripping from my nose, sweat pouring into my right eye and I was spitting. Or foaming at the mouth rather. It was beautiful and I can't wait to see the official finish line photo. When I crossed the line I looked back and saw a good 100 yards of restate between myself and the next rider.
I really wish I could say this was me, but it wasn't. Darn, maybe next time.
After my initial recovery period of nearly 20 min. it was time to start my beer therapy. I had tons of fun fighting the German's again to get my bike back in the car. Seriously...you wouldn't have believed it had you seen it yourself.
It was another great race that I really enjoyed riding. I finished 23 out of 129 in my age group (35-39) and I believe 133 out of around 900 overall. I'm happy with the results. Official RESULTS can be seen here.
Here is a good video of the course from the pro race: