July 20th took us to US XC-SS Nationals at Bear Creek Mountain Resort, Macungie, PA
Leading up to Saturday's race the week was hoppin' with posts on Facebook from friends who were able to go up early in the week. I was stuck reading posts as I wouldn't be arriving until Friday morning. Posts included numerous photos and rantings about how technical and rocky the course was. They were "freakin'-oot"! LOL I was pretty stoked, as this is the type of terrain that I excel in. Granted, I was a bit nervous knowing that the climbing would be tough, and weighin'-in at aboot 40lbs more than my average competitor I knew I would have my work cut out for me!
The drive went ok, but with the family along for their support, we had to make a few extra stops. This caused my arrival to be slightly delayed to be able to get in a pre-ride, but then USAC (aka USUCK) had kept changing their event schedules, so I would've missed the pre-ride time-slot anyhow. So, I found my team's trailer then I got registered. Once I was done we headed to the hotel to get a room. We were initially going to camp, but thankfully there was a room available as the temps were ridiculously high with humidity (90's for both!). This would've made for a miserable experience and definitely hinder my race effort. We then met up with Matt for lunch, prior to his race that evening, then relaxed a bit more before returning to the venue. Once Matt's race started the family and I headed out onto the trail to get some photos. As we waited in the last rock section the weather began to turn bad with sounds of thunder and sprinkles of rain. Julie agreed that I head back and get my pre-ride in before the weather changed for the worst. So, I left her with the camera and the 2 boys and sprinted back to the truck to get changed. As I was finishing-up a friend, Gordon, met up with me and we rode the lap together on our SS's. We got on course just as the 50+ men began their 2nd lap and we were able to cheer-on another friend, Jim Frith, shootin' for the win! Just about 1 mile in the clouds opened-up and the lightening started crashing down all around us! However, it felt great and it was past us within 5mins leaving us in some sun and baking heat and humidity once again. Then in the final sections of switchback downhills it happened...I placed a foot down in a sharp 180 switch scoping out the decent carefully, so I thought, and pulled my bike along behind me with my outside/right foot still in the pedal and I felt a bump...D@MN!T!! As I looked back I noticed a small chip in my seat stay where the frame lightly touched the outcropping of rock in the inside of the turn. It appeared to just be cosmetic, but once I finished the lap, after another couple miles of rocky descents, I re-inspected the area and saw it turned into a crack 3/4 the way through the frame...AHHHHHHH!!!!!! After discussing it with the team owner, it was decided to tape it up with electrical tape. I would be racing it tomorrow morning....no back-up bike, no options. :(
Saturday morning had finally arrived. A good night sleep was had, albeit with nerves due to the bike issue, but I felt good. I was happy we had an 8:30AM start, as the heat is not my friend. At the staging area I learned that we would be the LAST group to go off behind the CAT1 riders. This would not be fun! However, I was lucky to get the 3rd place call-up due to my "USUCK" ranking being behind a couple of Pros who decided to race their SS's for fun. BANG, WE'RE OFF!!! I grabbed a Pro's wheel and sat in 2nd until we approached the last bit of gravel which turned upward to start the climbing single track, then I attacked taking the hole-shot! I was feelin' good, and even though I had my smallest cog on I was still geared slightly higher than the rest. I held the lead with no problems as we bombed through the 1st few sections of rocky downhills and short steep ups. Then the longer ups came and as we hit the 1st flat 2-track about 4 riders came by as I sat-in with my own pace...this was a long 3 lap race and I wanted to have enough to finish the climbs on that last lap. By the end of lap1 I was in the middle of CAT1 riders trying hard to pass, but they were just not allowing it. I had to take numerous "chances" making risky passes while I "thanked" them for holding me up...FYI, if a SS racer is catching you, you probably do not have a shot at winning your race! By the start of lap 2 the heat had quickly risen, and I was already soaked with sweat. To my surprise my friend, Jim, was on the opening set of climbs and would save my day! Both laps, 2 and 3, he dropped ice into the back of my jersey and my helmet. He could obviously see the strain on my body from the heat and humidity. At this point I was told by a random spectator that I was in 8th place, now I had to try to pick it up a bit as I could see 1 rider ahead and another closing in from behind. However, by the top of the climb I had to stop at a neutral water station to cool down my body. I allowed a couple riders to pass as I dumped about 6 cups of ice water on my head and body. I didn't want to have another trip to the ER for heat-stroke...NOT FUN! I then pushed-on as hard as I could, leap-frogging with about 3 geared riders I had caught. They would pass on the climbs, and I would fly by on the technical descents. I finally started to see 1 of the riders who had passed me during my water stop. Unfortunately due to lap traffic he was able to stay away. I crossed the line in 11th today. It was a great technical and demanding course and the bike performed AWESOME! Unfortunately my body just couldn't handle the heat...maybe next year! ;)
***Breaking News Follow-Up (no pun intended): Raleigh had a replacement frame to me within 5 days!!! ROCK-ON!!! (Again, no pun intended! LOL)*** Now to get ready for the US Cup East Finale!!!