The important thing in life is not the victory but the contest; the essential thing is not to have won but to have fought well. – Baron Pierre De Coubertin
Certain things are hard to forget and other things just need to be forgotten. Last weekend I rolled up to the staring line at my first XC mountain bike race of the season. The race was at the Oak Cliff Nature Preserve which is a hop skip and a jump outside of downtown Dallas.
I had participated in this race last year and did not finish, I bent my front wheel in half on my second loop. I tried to finish after I bent the wheel back but it wobbled too much and I had six miles left to cover before completion, my first mountain bike race ended in failure.
When I was a child my father taught me how to ride a bike, I was scared and it was anything but a hallmark picture, tears fear and blood are the only things I remember. One never forgets how to ride a bike; one just learns how to ride it better and faster. Racing is the next training ground, there are no training wheels but plenty of learning is to be had in the trees.
I wanted redemption for the series and the course. This race last year set the tone for last seasons multiple mechanical difficulties, its unfortunate when these things happen whether its multiple flats, destroyed drive train or bent wheels. Last season in Xterra and in XC racing I experienced it all.
This year I have already tested with three different wheel sets and multiple tire combinations looking for that “perfect” setup. Right now the bike feels great.
I started training on the course two weeks ago; the course for was to be raced in the opposite direction as the prior year. The course might as well have been a completely different set of trails. The zigs and the zags that were once familiar were just faded memories, now it was time to study and learn a completely different course.
I found the course to be more difficult backwards than forwards. There were three different areas that I had to ride a few times before finding the perfect line. The next weekend I road the course Friday and Saturday before the race on Sunday. By this time I was clearing all the technical obstacles on the course, with ease but more importantly with confidence.
I ran into Sammy Paulus on Friday’s ride, Sammy was the very nice man who found me unconscious earlier this year in Oklahoma while pre riding for the Xterra Red River course. It was great to finally meet the man who saved me, had I not been found who knows what may have happened. Thanks again Sammy.
I went to sleep Saturday night with ease I had ridden the course as much as I had planned and I felt ready. I woke up early on Sunday morning I wanted to clean and lube the bike. I then had two double shots of coffee and made an incredible MP3 list to rock out to on the way to the race.
The music was a mix of some of the eighties and nineties music and a lot of the stuff I grew up listening to. It was no further than a mile from our house when it settled in. The passion for racing and the emotions that quickly followed, tears streamed down gently and I could not help screaming from the tops of my lungs. I was glad to be alive and ready to race. The moment was consuming, it reminded me of when I first started racing how epic everything felt before the start. The weather was perfect sunny bright and hot. I arrived to the Preserve and needed to get checked in, the race would start in one hour. I checked the bike a few times, pumped up the tires and road a short bit of the course to make sure the tire pressure was perfect. Now all that was left to do was wait. There were approximately 130 racers in the category two division.
The first group was the single speed division. These animals willingly ride with only one gear unlike myself who has 18 gear options. I found a calm nature in me right before the race start. The single speed group was off and now my group was ready to leave in two minutes. I inched up to the start line and there it was…. doubt. I was having doubts already I surveyed the competition and had plenty to look at.
I have always said in the world of mountain bike riding and racing you need two things confidence in yourself and confidence in your equipment. I thought of my last six hour mountain bike series in the winter and how I covered 72 miles and was up there with the top guys. I thought about what had happened and what had not happened yet this year; this was no place for doubt. 15 SECONDS! The call from the race director disturbed my thought processes and images. I looked at my gears and made sure I was ready. I pulled my right foot up to the top of the crank. It was go time now. Breathe in and breathe out, now unleash hell.
There was a ¾ mile stretch of road that went through the neighborhood that we had to ride through before settling into the single track. I got a great tip from Tim Rawlins who raced CAT 1 earlier in the morning, he told me “Don’t go all out on the road, let the lead guy set the pace, get on his rear wheel and then jump him right before the single track entry”.
The pace was fast, the lead guys were setting a tempo that was hard to rival with, the last portion of road was all uphill before the single track entry. I jumped up to third position before we hit the dirt. I wanted to be first but third is what I had to settle for the two other riders had more sprint in their legs than I had.
My initial concern was the first few minutes of riding it takes me about three minutes before my brain and body balance and then I can go full throttle in the trees. After a mile of riding on the trails we had already starting making passes on the first group that let out. So far the pace was fast but not out of hand. I had my sites on the second place rider. When he made a pass I made a pass and so on. Eventually a few riders got between me and the second place rider. The bottlenecking scenarios already started to happen on the trail. A few of the single speed goes would make a mistake and that would cause a back up on the trail.
Eventually I passed the second rider and now I was in second place, first place was gone and I could not see him on the trail. I kept telling myself this is a long race you will catch him just focus on getting some passes in. So that’s what I did, I was halfway through the first lap and my eyes finally locked onto first place. I was very excited at this point. I had a plan that would simulate what I did when I raced pure running races. I would stalk the rider; I wanted to see who this rider was and how he rides. I pulled up behind him and settled in for a few miles. He was fast no doubt he could hold a solid line. He had a tendency to lay down his foot into the fast hard corners.
The heat was settling in my bibs and jerseys were saturated and I consumed as much fluid as possible in the straight open fields. The game was over now; I had established myself on the field and had seen everything I needed to see. He was fast and it was an honor to be here now and to have made it this far. The trees had opened up and there was a steep climb approaching. I hammered it and made the pass. I was now in first place.
The traffic now was slimming down; I could now focus on setting my own line and riding the way I wanted to. So far the bike was doing everything I needed it to. The tire pressure was perfect; the brakes were hot but working one hundred percent. My energy levels were not dropping. I was now approaching lap two of the course. When I rolled over the timing chips I got some cheers I believe it was Sammy and Tim but I do not recall I was focused on grabbing an extra water bottle and taking in as much as possible and then poured some on my back and then threw it in my back pocket.
My Gatorade supply was about ¾ consumed, I decided I would not drink that until halfway through the second loop. By now I was catching the faster Single Speed guys they were not easy to catch by any means. I had cleared all of the technical areas I had difficulties with in training flawlessly, the race was going as planned. However my legs simply could not turn over the cranks as fast as I wanted them. I kept telling myself “second place is right behind you, stop slacking, stop getting comfortable”.
Getting comfortable is what it kept coming down to, this racing requires a substantial amount of focus and determination. If my legs were not burning in the open fields then I knew I was not trying hard enough, at no point should racing ever feel good or easy on the body.
I had depleted all of my Gatorade now, I grabbed some water from the bottle I picked up at the halfway point and took in as much as I could. The trail got technical and I dropped the bottle. I now had no water, which was fine I practice this in training; this was not going to be a problem, years of deprivation training prepare you for these moments.
When I studied the course before I had planned on using the big ring on my bike 90% of the time and the middle gear 10% of the time up front, today however it was 99% big ring and 1% medium ring. The middle ring would only see two minutes of use on the course. The climbs started to take their toll however; the lactic build up was growing in my legs. I had made it to another open field and started to crush the pedals with all I had, I wanted to build a gap, there had been no one behind me that I could see for the last few miles.
At full throttle I dropped into the descends that took me deep into the trees. With too much speed the bike got away from me, the back tire was off the ground as well as the front, I tried to pull my body back to counter balance the descend but it was not going to happen. I tossed the bike to the left and prepared for the crash. I landed on my right hip then rolled onto my back while sliding downhill on the rocks.
I went into the downhill way too hot and took a fall because of it; as I laid there on the ground I quickly slapped each collar bone. Both still in tact and unbroken. I said aloud to myself “get up fatass we got a race to win”. I picked my bike up and jumped back on the saddle. I was shaken up but needed to regain focus quickly, luckily nothing on the bike was damaged the gears were still shifting like butter and I was ready to wrap this up. I could feel the open wounds bleeding on both of my arms and legs, my right hip felt like it hit the side of a brick wall at twenty miles per hour.
The last part of the trail was nothing technical just pure aerobic depleting insanity. I kept the pace up and finally got out of the trees to the last few turns before the lap would be complete and the race over. I could not help but look back, if an attack was going to happen and a position to be lost, this is where it would happen. There was no one behind me the coast was clear.
The finish line was now in front of me I coasted over the timing mats and the race was finally over. A race that set the tone last season was now a memory. Today was my day and now I could relax and reflect on the race. I had won; second place was over four minutes back. I ran into Sammy and he saw how dirty I was and remarked how every time he sees me I am falling, which was true, every time Sammy has seen me I have been bleeding from somewhere. It was a great way to start off the XC Dorba series I can’t wait till the next one.
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