I must say that this season has been a blast so far. I've had some serious results, been enjoying the hell out of riding my bike and feel like I'm getting kinda fast. It seems like a distant memory but I remember telling MJ on our Jan 1 ride at Castlewood in 14 degree temps that I was concerned with the transition from 12 hour racing to XC racing. With the exception of having one bad race in WI, which really wasn't that bad but came at a time when I was really hungry for a confidence builder, I have achieved all of my goals up to this point. Right now I'm taking a little break and reading calendars to figure out what I am going to shoot for next and reluctant to pull the plug when I seem to keep getting stronger, but pulling the plug too late would be the end of a good season. A serious national ranking has to make you feel like you are doing something right...
I had some bad luck and got food poisoning the week before Nationals, so I couldn't really tell if I was peaking the way I had planned. After two really big wins for me, Trumans Big Love at Landahl and the DINO AMBC Race at Muscatatuck, I wasn't sure if the legs came around too soon. I stuck to the plan and started to taper two weeks before Nationals and focus on keeping my weight down. Everything was going great until the Monday before the race when I woke up and started to get violently ill. I dropped from 154 to 150 in a two days and had a complete loss of appetite for the rest of the week. By Thursday morning I realized that there was no way I was going to even finish if I couldn't hammer home some calories. Usually I am going deep with the whole carbo load thing going into a big event, as my friend Tosh once told me "carbo loading is like peaking, you can only really do it a couple times a season." In a nutshell, I had a great race in VT but wasn't running at 100%. My master plan was to come back from Nats and still have race form for the Midwest Fat Tire event.
I was really excited to go race at Rock Bridge and was hoping that I could collect some points and feel out the form, but 6" of rain forced me to take drastic measures.
Keeven was the only one I could convince to wake up first thing on Sunday and head down Kentucky with me. I told him to get to my house at 4:30 a.m and saw the lights from the war wagon in the driveway at 4:29. My boy and I are much alike. We were headed down to Lake Barkley Kentucky for the Racer Rampage. Pirtle and MJ told me it was a totally rad, pretty technical course with super duper balls climbing. It was.
We lined up with about 6 other experts which was kinda a bummer. There was another race in Louisville and a DINO race and I chose the one with the best course thinking that people would show up, but they all showed up at the other races. A couple Wood and Wave guys were there, including Steve Wilson who has beat me in the past, so I punched it hard to get the hole shot. I was surprised to see that gap I opened up by the time I hit the trail and even more surprised to see that Keeven (racing 2 laps as a SS but with the experts as his competitors must have heard he was coming and stayed in bed) was making chase with a 36x20!!! I hit the hills and kept thinking that he was going to ride up next to me but was really focused and the pedals were turning themselves over. We had only pre-rode the first hill and I had no idea what the rest of the 8 mile loop was like.
I found myself killing the big ring in the saddle, flying through trail I had never seen and crushing the power climbs out of the saddle shifting down as I crested them. I don't know if I have ever ridden this well before. The occasional glance over my shoulder revealed that I was out of sight. It's one thing to push yourself to new limits with people nipping at your heels or when chasing the white toothed pocket rocket, but I didn't have any motivation like that, just the legs I had been trying to build all season.
The last section of trail before dumping you back out in the starting field was a hard pack dirt downhill with bermed corners and some structure to keep you on your toes. At one point I considered that I had no idea what was around the next turn and what might happen if I made a minor mistake, but the tire pressure was right and I had this stuff on speed dial. "I got her faaahking numbah, how you like them apples!" I came through the field, picked up a bottle, went around it and was back in the single-track with no one in sight. I had a big lead.
The first half of the lap was the challenging part, with some mega hills, but I found myself going up them with ease. I can't say what would have happened on the 3rd lap, but coming from a guy who usually is picking people off at 1:45 in the longer races, I don't think I would have slowed down. I had really good legs, it was coming so freakin' easy and the focus was intense. I wasn't thinking about anything other than pushing my bike to go as fast as I ever have. In retrospect, what I had been planning all season was coming together in such a fashion that I never would have imagined.
I cleared the first half of the course and was pretty stoked and let my mind wander to the sick descent that was to come as I weaved along the top of the ridge. I remember leaning into a turn and kicking the pedals to power out of it when I heard the hiss. I figured the top secret Stan's Race Day Sealant would work it's magic but it wasn't to be, so I stopped. There was a pretty 13 mm slit in the sidewall and the Stans was trying really hard so I gave it some Big Air and turned it on it's side... No luck. I kept expecting someone to come up on me as I changed the tube but they didn't. My luck with tubes remained unchanged as the air rushed out of the cracked rubber where the valve meets the tube. I have carried this tube in my pocket for every training ride and race this season and it was cracked. Game over. Keeven passed next, on his way to dominating the rest of the experts and then a Wood and Wave rider a couple minutes later.
I had a really nice walk down to the car. It was a nice day and the park was really beautiful. Somewhere along the way I realized how awesome this year has been and then it occurred to me that I blew a lead and any chances of paying for the 8 hour drive and wasn't even sweating it. Weird. Having built some confidence, I find that my anxiety is way lower and I am racing better.
The promoter told me I beat Pirtles course record, but he was wrong and I was off by 15 seconds or so, either way, that's a huge confidence builder for me as well. I knew I was feeling good but without some numbers that doesn't mean anything when the field is small. Keeven destroyed the other experts by minutes after his two laps, and I'm sure he could have done another one.
I have to say that my fitness definitely peaked and I am feeling good about things. I am really pleased that I have figured out a little more about myself and am looking at the rest of the season and setting some new goals.
You all have two days to get to DQ to try the most kickass blizzard of the month, The Thin Mint, which totally erased all thoughts of not winning.