This past weekend took me back to Ocala, FL, where I was just at a few weeks ago for spring training in a 6hr endurance race. However, the course and the bike were different on this trip. This trip was all business and no play, well at least the race, the hanging-out with the American Classic/Cycle Works clan was a different story! LOL The endurance race was on gears with the trail ran in the opposite direction and slightly longer.
We arrived early evening Friday with time to set-up before dark, then it was off for dinner with the Clan. Saturday morning we all moved to the race site, the Vortex section of the Santos trail system. This section uses a quarry area which houses some short steeps and rocks to provide some light technical trails for the race. Once camp was set-up I got registered, changed into my riding gear, and hit the trail for a pre-ride. As noted, the trail was all ridden in the opposite direction except for the first section of the Vortex. This created a much better flow for 2 of the more technical rock formations and kept me from even thinking about a possible foot-down scenario when clearing them. The course was easily 100% rideable, and super-fast! Once I completed 2 laps it was time to cool-off as the heat/humidity was generating added stress to the body as it tried to keep cool resulting in the need for heavy hydration for the remainder of the day. Then, once again, we were off to yet another buffet with the Clan for dinner and major laughs as we were all splitting our guts open and crying from laughing so hard!
Sunday morning brought some wind and clouds with a few peeks of sun. However, as we stood in que for our start the sky started to hint at rain with a few sprinkles, and before we knew it the bottom dropped-out! Luckily this only lasted for about 3mins and it was quickly gone. During this wait time I was trying to locate, and introduce myself to, my would be competition for the series. I found a couple and we had a short talk which included gear ratios chosen for the day. So far I had the largest gear ratio, 36/18, where the next largest was 34/18.
As always my plan was to take the hole-shot and set a steady pace. Off the line I re-calibrated my plan, quicker than Google maps re-routing, as one of the competitors exploded off the line with all of us in-tow. The start was a quick 40yds to a 90deg left-turn, then another 40yds to a 180deg right-turn with about 50yds into the fast sweeping single track. With each acceleration I found myself digging deep to keep on the leaders wheel. Just as I caught him we were braking for the next turn as it took me slightly longer to get up to speed with my bigger gear. I quickly thought to myself, "This is gonna be a great race with a show-down finish!" As we rounded the 2nd turn and accelerated from the 180 to the trail entrance I looked over and wisely let the leader take the lead into the trail. As we raced through the winding trail splitting trees and jumping logs I took a look back to see just 2 others from the field trying to bridge-up to us. I then yelled to the leader, "Hey, we have a small gap, but 2 are bridging-up, lets pick it up!" I received no response and we kept the pace which just held the gap consistent. Then it happened! As we approached a cut-through, placed by the promoter to shorten the trail, I saw the neon arrow indicating the 180 right-turn over to the return trail to the Vortex. I started to check my speed just as the leader yelled out, "F-word! Damn-it!" as he grabbed both brakes and commenced to slide sideways to a stop nearly going off-course. I immediately yelled out, "On your right!", and attacked! I put in a huge effort thinking that I could possibly end the race before it could even get started if this attack worked! I kept my head down and hammered out of every corner of the trail. Whenever the trail switch-backed I was looking across trying to get a time check. Each check appeared to produce a slightly larger gap. Then I was finally to the entrance of the Vortex....sweeeet!!
Entering the Vortex my excitement quickly began to subside as I then found myself running-up on the rear wheels of the Pro Women who had started just a minute ahead of us! I gave out a couple calls stating I was the SS race leader and what distance I was at hoping they would accommodate my quick pass. It worked! Just as we started the first ascent one went right and the other held left as I split the difference to the crest of the first up where there was a 180 right-turn. I yelled out a thanks to both and quickly hammered on up the remaining series of initial ascents. I then quickly, and as easily caught and passed the remaining women within that first mile of the Vortex. This entire time I was trying to keep focused while my mind kept wondering/hoping that the others were getting bottled-up in the traffic.
Once through the women I started working on the 50+ CAT1 Masters. After a couple of riders I finally saw my friend Matt Jones. As we approached the next climb I yelled out, "Here I come, Matt!" I was then quickly on his wheel waiting for a response/acknowledgement from him as I announce I was ready to pass. Then all of a sudden I watched his rear wheel lose traction as he spun-out on a root...I quickly came to a stop so I wouldn't take us both down, but I couldn't get out of my pedal and over I went! It took me 3 attempts of twisting my left foot, as I struggled to get up, to get it to dis-engage from the pedal. I was then back on his wheel again announcing that I was once again ready to pass. He then finally helped me get by at the top of a climb and I hammered-on as I joked with him about the incident.
It wasn't but a mile later that I had my 2nd incident. As I was making a left-turn off one of the ridge lines the trail took us across some black rock which was found to be slick from the slight rain, actually, it was like hitting a patch of ice! As soon as my front tire hit it sent the bars into an immediate left dive as the wheel flew out to the right. Luckily I was at a slower pace and didn't go completely down as I caught myself with my hands, but for the 2nd time my left foot was pinned under the bike as I had difficulty un-clipping. I again regained control and hammered-on continuing to eat-up the ensuing lap traffic.
Lap 1 (~5.5mi) came to a quick end at just over 25mins. This was more than 3mins faster than my fastest pre-ride, and this had me feeling good! To top this, I looked back as I cleared the Start/Finish area to re-enter the single track and did not see any other riders in the area. I then quickly forced myself to put in another hard effort for the following 2 miles to the return of the Vortex for Lap 2. Then, just before the final run into the Vortex I saw what appeared to be the initial leader's jersey flashing through the trees across the switchbacks! Hammer-Hammer-Hammer, went through my head! I needed to hold them off until this point on the final lap at a minimum to ensure they would not be able to pass!
Once again I had success navigating the Vortex while blasting through lap traffic. Again, through the transition area, I saw no one in sight as I started my 3rd and final lap! I continued to keep the pressure on, but then I started to hear what sounded like someone gaining on me! How could this happen? I saw no one near when I took my last look prior to entering the Vortex! Were they pre-riding? This forced me to push even harder, as I was not going to be caught or passed before the finish line! Then it happened, he was on me on the last group of technical climbs of the Vortex. I yelled back, "What group are you from?" I grabbed a glimpse of his number plate as he responded...it read 500! This was a 19-29 CAT2 rider. I still continued to push-on not letting him get close enough to pass even though he was no threat. At the finish we chatted and I had told him he needed to CAT-up, as he was the first to catch me from behind in a race. He told me he was thinking about it. LOL
Then David Berger, the race promoter of Gone Riding, came over with his microphone. Dave: "Hey everyone, the Single Speed winner, Bart Wellisley, has just finished the race! Bart, could you tell us how the race went and how it compared to the 6hr you did a month ago on these same trails?" So with that, I offered a few highlights. Me: "The flow was much better in this direction creating very fast lap times. There was 1 specific rock formation that I cyclocrossed in the 6hr due to having to foot-dab in my pre-ride, but in this direction it was a breeze." Dave: "Would you like to give a shout to your sponsors?" Me: Sure! I'd like to thank Spooky Bikes (pause for breath), Rudy Project (another breath), and GU Energy." Dave: "Well, I think you'll need an inhaler to go with that energy the way it sounds." (both of us laughing) - Later on the podium... Dave: "And in 1st place, Bart Wellisley, riding for Spooky Bikes! Just don't look at his bike!" (More people laughing!) Yes, I have Spooky stickers covering the Trek logos on my Trek bike frame!! My custom AL Spooky frame is in-process of being built. ;)
Thanks go out to my sponsors, Spooky, Rudy Project USA, GU Energy, GEAX. Thanks to the race venue sponsors supplying the awards, Leroy's Bike Works and KMC. Thanks to Christie Burnett and Gone Riding for the photos! Thanks also to Cycleworks Bike Shop (Robert Marion) for their hospitality and the loads of fun had with them throughout the weekend, can't wait until US Cup East #2 in Tsali!!!