US Cup East #9 took us to Fort Payne, AL this past weekend. We've been hearing about this venue all year. This is a bonus round, which gives 15pts to all who cross the start line, which apparently is given to help entice racers to come to the venue. It's been said that many have been injured and many have damaged wheels and bikes on this course...Sounds like my kind of course!!!
As we approached town, within just a few miles of the venue, the roads suddenly began to pitch skyward. This had Matt and I wondering just how brutal this course was going to be. I was already wondering how low of a gear I should ride! When we finally pulled-in to get ready for a ride we were greeted by our team owner, Robert Marion. He told us the course was slightly shorter, but that they kept the "good" stuff in. We also chatted with our team mates Eric and Betthany O'Connell. They told me there was no climbing, that it was a mostly flat course...I knew better than to listen to them, especially after the Bedford race! LOL Finishing my pre-lap I was excited and ready to go! My gear selection was a no-brainer. The course had some demanding climbs, but there were plenty of sections to get speed and some awesome rock gardens for some extra "play" riding to keep you on your toes! Once everyone was done and things were tightened-up with the team trailers we all crammed into 2 vehicles to head out for some dinner. Just before leaving Robert had mentioned that he had a nick-name for me, "Capt America", which I told him, "Sorry, my pals in Canada gave it to me years ago!" LOL This is where it gets funny....Just as we got to the center of town we came to a stop at a light next to the town park. Someone mentioned people in the field doing push-ups. As I looked over there was a "larger" dude buckled-over shirtless, apparently recovering from his effort. I pointed him out as a candidate for Capt America to Robert while laughing. Robert immediately threw out a challenge for a free dinner. I had to run out onto the field next to them and knock-out 3 push-ups after taking my shirt off. I accepted and everyone immediately told Matt to pull over to let me out as they prepped their video camera! I jumped out of the truck and ran out onto the field, knocked-out 3 push-ups military style and yelling them out, then ran back. Just as I reached the road Robert yelled-out that I had to go back and give high-fives! So, I returned to the group and gave a high-five to the guy I called-out a few minutes earlier. As I ran back I could hear them all laughing and cheering me on. As I made it to the road I gave them a bicep flex-pose! LOL ...winner, winner, pasta dinner!!! And the dinner was a good one! Thanks again, Robert!
Race morning had me waking up staring at the wall next to the bed with the cockroach from Beatlejuice staring at me! Yup, we found the crappiest room in town at the Mountain View Inn of Fort Payne. DO NOT GO THERE, TRUST ME! LOL I could fill an entire paragraph with the room issues alone! LOL
Once at the race venue, DeSoto State Park, we were informed that it had rained pretty hard overnight. However, during my warm-up it appeared to not have much of an affect on the trail. It appeared to just make the already standing puddles a little bigger. As the riders' meeting began to start with the customary playing of our National Anthem I had to break my silence to yell at a pair of inconsiderate guys about 30M in front of me. They were chatting loud enough that I could hear them over the anthem. I yelled out at them to stand at attention and remove their lids. They did stop talking, but failed to remove their lid...WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE THESE DAYS?!?! And they were not the only ones! Numerous racers failed to show their respect to our flag and those who have sacrificed their lives to defend it and allow us our freedoms! Please do your part and instill the practice in others to show the proper respect if you see it not being given.
On the start line I met up with a few familiar faces, but I was surprised to see a small field given the bonus point to be had just for starting. The 15pts makes this a MUST if you plan to take a shot at the series title! Off the line I found my main competitor sprinting against me for the hole-shot. It was clear that he had a good gear, maybe even the same as mine chosen for the day. However, this did not stop me. After about 20M I overtook the field and led the SS group into the woods. The first section was mostly downhill with a few techy rock sections. As we rode-on I quickly became confident in my pre-race thinking...this was my race to lose! Each technical section I creeped away from the group, then on the 1st pitch up of greasy
/rooty climb I was passing the Pro Women racers. Just as I reached the 1st woman she began to stumble and came to a stop and I quickly jumped around without hesitation. Seconds later I heard some yelling as the riders behind me got bottled-up due to her stumble on the trail. I immediately continued my attack and quickly passed a couple more Pro Women placing a good buffer back to the remaining SS field. Hitting the first rock section after a road crossing, clearing a rock drop, and entering the 1st major climb, I found myself with a good gap of at least 15secs as I looked down to the left as I turned up a steep switchback. I continued to make clean quick passes on all the Pro Women and finally made my way through the GrandMaster50+ Men. I sat in for a bit and recovered while the 2nd place rider bridged-up. As we passed near the start area at the edge of the woods I heard a few cheering for him. We were now 2/3rds done with lap#1. As we entered a series of rock sections I was disappointed to not make the final pass of the Pro Women leader. It wasn't until after the 1st downhill switchback that I was able to get by and get my flow up to top speed through the remaining rock sections. By the time I reached the last technical switchback rock climb I again had about a 15sec gap pulling away while passing more CAT1 Men racers while doing so. As I exited the climb and the woods I was on the pavement which was the fast descent to the start/finish area. As I approached I tossed my glasses into the trees behind our vehicle, and before I knew it I was hittin my brakes as I missed the turn into the grass due to my speed. I made a quick acceleration while looking back for the chaser, but he was not there. I lost a few seconds, but hammered on hard to get out of sight again.
Lap#2 was flawless with more clean passes with just 1 short delay. At the same steep switchback of lap#1 where I had a small 15sec gap it was nearing 30secs as I was almost cresting the climb this time when I finally caught a glimpse of the chase! I attacked again and didn't look back, until the top of the final switchback climb where the chase was just starting the climb as I was exiting. This gave me a huge lead of at least 2mins!!! Lap 3 was more of the same until the 2/3rd mark near the start area. There was a large mud pit in a left turn which was very fast. Well, at this point I was being cautious and conserving some energy/power for the last big climb just in-case it would be needed. This caused my speed to be lower and made me drift inside only by about 6 inches from where I was hitting the mud on the previous 2 laps. All of a sudden I was watching my front wheel disappear into the unknown depths of a huge pit. The slow motion button was activated and I saw my wheel turn left as I went Superman over the bars hands first into the pit! Now I've done-it, I thought...It's been proven time and again that when I slow down stupid things happen. Now the chase would definitely be coming! As I grabbed my bike I quickly took a few pedals, thankfully while checking over the bike. After about 10M my chain dropped off the rear cog. Initially I put it back on and spun the cranks thinking it was just mud/sticks that caused the mishap, but once again it dropped for a 2nd time. This time I spun the cranks a few times and noticed I slightly bent my hanger which my chain tensioner is mounted to. I quickly gave a couple of easy pulls on it until it appeared to be straight again, and I was off. This time it held and I was quickly up and sprinting to make up lost time of at least 1-1/2mins!! I then paused my effort to free my hands in a straight section and removed my mud soaked gloves tossing them trail-side for recovery later...I had a race to win! As I hammered-on I entered the series of rock sections. About halfway through, there he was, the chaser! He had made up time due to my error and was within a minute. Now it was a race to the final climb, as I was certain that if I exited the climb to the road first I would secure the win! There it was, I was cresting the climb and with relief I looked down to the right to see the chase a couple switches back...it was then a smooth coast down the paved hill to the finish line for Win#5!
Now it's time to focus on the US Natl's in PA. We'll be driving up Thursday and the race is Saturday morning. I'm hoping to have a good performance. The course is technical, which is my favorite, but there are a few Pro Men now signed-up. Hopefully my skills and power will outperform their fitness!? We'll see!!