Tsali, Bryson City, NC - US Cup East #2 / MSCS #3: I think I was did this as I had set myself another high goal of winning the overall US Cup East Series this season. The weekend of Tsali was a 2-day race event. Saturday afternoon was a time trial for bonus points towards the series overall with a max of 5pts up for grabs, and a min of 1pt. The TT loop was the 2nd portion of the race course last year, and knowing it had the toughest climbs I opted to gear down a bit from a 34/17 to 36/19 (as my 34 ring was destroyed from use in 2012). The TT blew-up my lungs and I definitely found my current new MaxHR of 205bpm! I hit this mark 3x's, and near the middle of the course I thought for sure I was about to blow chunks and pass out as I became dizzy and nauseous. The gear choice was perfect, as during the 3 big climbs of the loop I found myself torquing the bike to its max as I crested each of them! As I crossed the line I watched for the following SS racer who started behind me. I was confident I held him off as I had not seen him within the 1min time gap during my course checks. Sure enough I had over a couple of mins time gap. What I didn't know was that there were other riders who chose to wait until much later due to the non-structured event. When I checked the results after all were done I found I was beaten by 28secs! This resulted in a 4pt bonus. I contributed this to the lack of pre-ride warm-up, as I had approximately a 30min standing wait after my warm-up to my TT start. Even with this result I chose to keep the gearing I used for the XC on Sunday. This was my mistake, as at the rider meeting they announce the course change. I assumed the SS course would remain the same which had numerous short climbs off the start. Instead they took us almost 3x's further up the gravel start jeep trail before getting into the single track. I immediately found myself spinning-out to stay on the leader's wheel as we gradually created a small gap to the field. He was obviously running a 2:1 ratio which I had used last year for a commanding win. Then as the course raced-on I knew I was in trouble as 2 other riders eventually passed me as I was spinning-out on the long fast sections of trail. As I crossed the finish they surprisingly announced I was 3rd. However, upon posting results my recollection was right with a 4th place. Another reason I was disappointed was that this was my 1st weekend racing with Cycleworks, of Mt. Airy, NC, and at the same time I had not made the podium for the 1st time since 2010!
Now on to this weekend!!
Stump Jump, Spartanburg, SC - MSCS#4 / SC State Title race 2 of 3
This weekend, as most know, was the inaugural race for the new race rig, a custom built Raleigh Talus Carbon Pro 29 SS!! With just 3 rides on this bike prior to this weekend I was excited to put it through the ringer! Earlier in the week I had to travel to Atlanta, GA for work. Doing so by car allowed me to make a pit-stop at the trail for a pre-ride at the halfway point to stretch the legs. The web-site talked about a new course, so I took a map and made sure to scope it out. Saturday afternoon I returned to the race venue for 1 more pre-ride, which was a good thing, as I then discovered there was no course change as they ended-up marking the same course as the last 2yrs. The new rig has a 34T Q-ring with a 16T cog. After discovering the course to be the same as before I chose to stay with the taller gear as the Q-ring brings "Free Speed", well for me it was free climbing! I was ready, as was the rig! My only concern was the fact that I had a sinus issue creep-up Friday, and during my pre-ride Saturday I was coughing so hard I came close to up-chucking while trying to ride on more than a few occasions, now I was worried... Race morning I ate my oatmeal after showing Bradley, a teammate the start climb and descent into the single track, and downed some liquids. On the start line I was again coughing-up phlegm as we were getting last min instructions from the official. This included NOT riding on the asphalt after crossing the road at the start of the lap (about 300yds), but riding the asphalt to the finish (only about 100ft). As we took-off I easily took the lead and tried to settle-in to ease the coughing that had commenced. However, this was short-lived as an unknown rider attacked and took the lead up the gravel road and across the asphalt into the grass shoulder. I jumped on his wheel, and before I knew it he was back up onto the asphalt! WTH?! I yelled out at him that we were not to be on it and that he could be DQ'd. He quickly looked back and coasted to let me by then immediately jumped onto my wheel. From this point he hung-on to my wheel like a darn slinky! I quickly learned he was a strong rider, but he lacked the technical agility. So, with each technical section I attacked to create a gap which he would then gradually claw back onto my wheel. I was still coughing, but not as bad, during the 2nd lap and I was desperately hoping he would just CRACK! I was even successful in using lap riders on 3 occasions to open a gap for additional stress. Still he crawled back! Finally, as we approached the last mile of the race I slowed-up to try to entice him to take the lead. He never did. I then wondered if he was even going to attack as I had called him out with his course DQ at the start. We were then on the final approach to the finish...A slight descent down the gravel road we climbed at the start. I held back not pushing the pace. He rolled-up on my left, inside line, and hung briefly just behind my shoulder. Then he attacked, game-on! We were in a dead sprint side-by-side when he finally landed more grip and pulled slightly ahead. Then the final left-turn off the gravel into the grass! I swung wide recalling that the inside pitched-up while the outside had just a couple small dips. I stood on the pedals and yanked the bars. As I took a peek to my left I saw him make a slight twitch and lose speed as I continued to accelerate over the small knoll of grass smoothly. He recovered, but he went from a bike length out front to barely holding the rear half of my bike as I lifted my front wheel in victory over the line!
WOW, that was the closest finish I can recall in my career! Definitely one of my favorite finishes now, even though he could've been DQ'd, he was a great competitor and pushed me the entire race! Being back on TOP of the podium never felt so good! Now I'm excited about the SC race #3 this next weekend in Columbia, SC. I just hope this sinus thing gets the hell out! Still, there is limited pressure, as all I need to do is finish the race to retain my SC State Title!
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I?! Till next week....
A BIG thanks to Robert Marion, for the speed racin' machine!