Confidence sums up what I have taken away from the first MTB race of the 2012 Season. The Iola Bump n Jump this past weekend was a fun mud fest, but my bike did not fair well in the area of going FAST…
Lining up for the season opener I have never felt so calm and ready. Usually there are some anxious jitters and second guessing about where one stands. Once I got to the line Sunday I felt completely collected, knowing exactly what the task at hand was and the tools I brought to the table.
The main reason for this is the new coach, everything he has said would be in place is observable through experience in riding/racing and in the power data. Another reason is Mid-West Racing has shifted from being a main focus to a semi-focus. My highest priority right now is to do well at Pro XCT’s and World Cup races, with secondary focus being on the Mid-West events, being the WORS races and Triple Crowns (Ore to Shore, Cheq. 40, Iceman). So coming into the race I was looking for a win while keeping priorities straight. We lightened the training load a bit this week, by about 7-10 hrs, but I still came in with 18 hrs in the legs for the week and in the middle of a base period.
Feeling fresh and ready on the line Don said goooooo! and up the first MTB climb of the season the pack went. I was pretty passive for my style and it was obvious people were HUNGRY for the front, but the goal was to observe the front while staying in contention. I made sure to be in striking distance of the lead and sat about 5th-6th wheel, with the plan of getting to at least 2nd wheel by the 1st or second single track without killing myself.
Even with all the rain, I did not think the course would be too bad. Iola is a sandy course, there might be a bunch of wet spots and slippery mud, but not peanut butter right?….OH WAS I WRONG. In hindsight the front of the race was the place to be, I can usually ride anything as long as the way is clear, but the mud made for a whole lot of traffic.
After the initial split up in the main mud section of the course Matter, Mark Lalonde, and Isaac Neff had a small gap. This point of the race was very telling of the new tools I am bringing to the table this year. You would think having to chase would be demoralizing, but in years past if I fell off pace in these familiar sections of trail I would be drooling over my handlebars, hanging on for dear life just to get back in contention…not this year. I set what felt like a high-tempo pace with the lead still in sight, never going red in the least bit. The lead was coming back and it felt fairly easy to pull it in, huh that is different… Confidence +1.
Going into the second lap my plan was to go to the front and stay out of trouble AKA dismount traffic, but soon as we started climbing the gears started skipping. Each time through any mud section it just got worse and worse. Now I know everybody had issues with this in the mud, but I got ears and I got eyes, it would be like 1-2 clicks for people around me putting down full power afterwards and just riding away. On the other hand with every revolution of any REAL torque I would lose half my pedal stroke. Neff, Matter, and Lalonde were away again through the mud and the clicking was getting worse and worse…so while I am thinking there is no way this is just MUD, Matt Shriver came up on me while I was stopped checking for a stick or something jammed in the drive train, nope just MUD! Rode a comfortable pace with Matt for the rest of lap 2 while managing the gears going crazy. Starting the climbs going into lap 3 I could see the shattered lead group, we were reeling in 2nd and 3rd place, but Matter looked like he might already be out of striking distance in 1st.
Going into the giant bowl I took the inside line and tapped the brakes a bit too hard, made for an awesome 20 ft. slip n slide experience, but Shriver hit it hard while I got going again. I crawled just about back to his wheel before the mud, but by this point my gears were all but done. I fell back to 7th place this time through the mud sections, getting on and off continually with gears crunching and skipping every 1/4 a revolution now. Thoughts of pulling the plug and not breaking my bike started rolling through my head. Somehow I mentally found a happy place with my wasted efforts going into each pedal stroke and began reeling in 6th and then 5th place. Going into the last lap I could see Mike Phillips just around every corner and salvaging a podium spot was just enough motivation for me to put up with hammering through every incessant twang and crunch of any gear I attempted to make work. At one point I remember finding that bouncing my body into each pedal stroke as much as I could up “the wall” climb would at least keep the traction going while gears slipped surrounded by running lap traffic racers and Phillips in sight galloping up the hill as well. I actually brought back a ton of time on that section.
I closed the gap to Phillips by the last quarter of a lap and I knew it was a game for the 1st one into the second-to-last section of single-track. Prior to the finish at Iola there is a wide open 1/8 mile section leading into a very rooty section of single-track, then a short burst into open 2 track and then single-track pretty much to the finish. Barring any big mistakes the 1st one into those roots should usually win, given they have at least half a match left to burn afterwards.
It was obvious Mike thought the same and into every open section he was going full throttle to the next, there was no way I could come around with any sprint effort skipping the gears over like crazy. It definitely had me concerned about getting past at all before the finish with all my torque/gear issues. I started waiting for any mistake at all, in the single track or wide open, to take the lead and GO! It got kind of crazy with lap traffic, we were zig-zagging all over the mucky trail jockeying for position, dodging people, into trees, into branches, you name it!. It was really fun racing! We came out into that 1/8 mile and we hit it hard! I skipped over a few gears, but once I got the wheel spinning Mike bobbled a tad and I took the opportunity full gun to the finish for the last spot on the podium…
Finish Line/Checkin the gap
In the past I would not fair so well or keep my cool in these kind of situations…again Confidence.
This was not the result I was looking for, but sometimes racing is not about meeting the expectations of every specific race. This race had much more to do with yearly progression goals. The seasonal expectations were we well beyond met in how I felt, how I managed, and how I mentally persevered through the race.
Usually I walk away from a less than expected result with my mind scrambling for what I could have done different, and what I am going to do better, how I am going to train harder...
Sunday I walked away with no regrets or new plans, just Confidence in where this season is heading.