Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.
~Mark Twain, “Taming the Bicycle”
My Xterra season has finally come to an end for 2010. What was a slow beginning closed with the greatest gift of all, an overall win in Eureka Springs. As one chapter in racing closes another opens wide up and consumes me. This will make my third year of mountain bike racing and as of last week I am racing Category 1. To race with these animals is an honor.
It was a three for three finale in my last few races and a surprising abrupt end for the season. My last three races were Xterra Red River, Xterra Eureka Springs and Xterra Dawg Days. I made it to the top three overall in all three races(first overall in Eureka) and managed to run the fastest splits of those three races as well. I also claimed my first regional championship, in my six years of racing Xterra I have never been a contender for this distinction.
Normally I race Xterra Camp Eagle followed by Xterra Austin. These two races run back to back weekends, which means some driving will be had. I decided not to race Camp Eagle based purely on the seven hour drive. I managed to make it down to Austin for a quick pre ride with Doug Hogenmiller to do some course research for Xterra Austin which at this point was two weeks away.
Xterra Austin still ranks as the most challenging bike course I have yet to ride on. The race takes place in Emma Park. The course is made for motorcycles not lightweight cross country bikes. The course was running backwards this year. As usual I was apprehensive when riding the course with Doug. The ledges were just as steep as I remember them and the loose over hard-pack rocky trail still made me aware of how much further I have to grow as a rider.
Descending down one of the ledges I flew over the handlebars I was a little shaken but still able to ride on. After completing the first lap, Doug and I headed out for one more lap. The second lap came with some tempo and with that came some more accidents. Doug nailed his saddle so hard the metal rails disconnected from the saddle itself. Only a few minutes later I flew over the handlebars again destroying my cyclo-computer and breaking the carbon rails on my Fizik Aliante saddle. Some falls hurt more than others, this one took me a few minutes to get back up from.
I had landed on my right side bruising my hip, knee and hand. We reached the end of trail and ran into a fellow Xterra racer who had broken his frame on the course. Like I said before this course is made for motorcycles not cross country riding. Ride with caution and if you ever have the pleasure of riding Emma park wear protective gear and be sure to ride with someone.
I began icing my knee when I arrived back in Dallas and I thought it would only take a few days to recover. Xterra Austin was two weeks away and now I was in a predicament. I could not run on my knee nor could I cycle on it. The first Week I focused on yoga and swimming. By the second week I could ride but could not run on the knee. I realized at this point that Austin was out of the picture and that I would be able to race in Dallas instead.
It is odd how things work out some time, I had originally planned a three-day weekend in Austin. I would take Friday off and stay the weekend with Christina. I had forgotten about a deadline with Nissan on Friday and now with that race out of the picture I was able to hit the deadline. I did not want to miss the first race of the DORBA XC series and was originally torn on missing out on this race due to a scheduling conflict
What I did not realize while racing in Burns Park at Xterra Dawg Days is that this would be my last Xterra race of the season. It was a race that my main man Chuck Olinger won, his first ever Xterra win. I wanted to end the season in Austin as I feel Austin holds some of the strongest Xterra racers not only in the Southern region but nationally as well. Xterra Austin makes the perfect final race and a true clash of the titans scenario every year.
With Austin completely out of the picture I was now focused on my first mountain bike race of the season. I had won my division in Category 2 senior men in the DORBA series last year and was looking forward to a new division and category. I would turn thirty this year and that meant I would be racing in Masters men and for the first time racing expert level in Category 1.
The rush of racing never subsides for me no matter how small or big the race. I had one week to study the course and get my riding legs back. The first race of the season was taking place at the Oak Cliff Nature Preserve trail. I was familiar with the trail and was looking forward to racing the course once again. I had raced on the course twice before. The first year I bent my front wheel into a taco shape, second year had me placing 3rd overall out of 120 racers and winning my division.
I was mortified, excited and very nervous about this race. My main concern was being able to contend with these riders. I researched every name of the registered riders and did my homework to see what challenges I would face. Luckily I had met some riders during the week that were racing Category 1 and was able to get some training loops in with them. I needed to see how these animals road the course, which lines they took, how they braked, when they hustled and when it was okay to relax and get a drink in.
As the week progressed I swapped my rear tire three different times looking for that perfect balance between grip, control and of course speed. I found myself riding at a very low 21 PSI and maintaining plenty of control in the corners. I started carb loading two days before the race and by the time race morning came around I felt and looked a few pounds heavier.
Christina was off for the weekend as we had planned to be out of town, so I was accompanied by the most beautiful of all women on race day. The morning started with some great coffee and some cinnamon bread with butter. I was now ready to race.
Cycling Culture is a unique one, you never really know what you will see or find on race day. Whether it is the water girls or a man in a huge pink pig suit, you have to embrace and love the culture. After running through the instructions from the race director, we were divided into separate groups and rolled up to the start line.
In just a few moments the race was going to start, my hands laid softly on my grips I took one last look ahead and like that we were off. I was blown away by how much speed these guys carried right out of the hole. I fell to near last place and was barely hanging on. It was a short venture on the streets of a neighborhood before leading into the single track. I looked back one more time before approaching the trail and saw only a few guys behind me, the rest of the pack was in front of me.
TRAFFIC! It was all over the place, being a poor sprinter put me in the very unfortunate position of having to ride much slower in a backed up line of riders. While the race leaders were up front tearing up the trail, I was in the back sucking dust and riding moderately. When the trail opened up on the fields I begin pushing the pace to make some passes.
One thing I noticed when passing various riders was the incredible amount of professionalism displayed by the CAT1 racers. No ego, no BS nothing but respect for their fellow rider. I have encountered many riders in CAT2 who simply did not want to be passed for fear of crushing their egos. I was not too sure of my attack plan for this race, I just wanted to have enough fuel in the tank for a strong final lap.
Lap 1 came and went and with that came some new found confidence, the trail felt great beneath me. The bike was responding perfectly and the heat was still on the rise but nowhere near blazing. I had made up some spots and was around 10th place in my division out of 20 men. By now the riders were spread out, this is where I needed to be. I prefer to ride alone. Pacing another riders means following their line and for me I like to see clear ahead not the backside of a fellow racer. I set my own lines and any one who has ridden with me knows they are rough and rarely elegant.
Lap two was coming to an end and now I knew what had to happen. One more lap till it was over I was very pleased with how things had gone thus far. I began pacing one of the older lead masters rider on the last loop trying to save my legs for the last half of the race. My biggest concern going into this race was blowing up. I can recover from surging too hard on a run, however when I blow up on the bike it is game over.
Halfway through the third lap I was fighting for everything that was left. I had no idea what position I was in, I just kept pulling riders in one by one. I was now two minutes away from the finish line and noticed one more rider 100 meters ahead of me. I floored the gas with everything that was left in the tank, I never did catch that rider before finishing.
The race was now over I felt great, solid pace and no accidents. The bike performed flawlessly and having Christina there at the end was a real nice treat. Each lap was consistently paced at 36 minutes and some change.
Results were posted shortly and the rider that I never caught was in my division. He placed third and I placed fourth. I missed the podium by five seconds. When I decided to CAT up and race in Category 1, I said to myself as long as you do not finish last you will be okay. There is so much for me to learn out there on the trail by these riders. The most important thing I learned at this race was: Never leave anything out there on the race course, once you cross the finish line those seconds can not be undone.
My next race is this upcoming weekend, a course that will challenge everyone with short climbs and steep grades, Sansom Park ready or not here I come.
See you at the races.
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