It was in the 40s when I pulled into the parking lot. At 9:30am, I was one of the first racers to survive, which meant I got a killer parking spot within a stone’s throw of the action.
I immediately started getting dressed because I wanted to get down to business. I was having minor mechanical issues, a worn rear cassette, and I was trying to decided whether it needed to be replaced to prevent my chain from skipping. (Thanks to Josh Kunz for bringing me one!)
More importantly though, I wanted to preview the course to check out the conditions of the trail. There was a good amount of rain that had fallen late in the week. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be sliding everywhere. The Wilds was a short course with a 5.4 mile loop, one lap for novice, two for sport and three for expert/pro. It is, most likely, the shortest, fastest race on the OMBC calendar this season. I figured that since it was so brief I could afford to ride the whole loop as a warm-up and still have plenty of energy for the race.
By the time I got my kit on, the sun was already starting to beat down on the parking area. I rode about 50 feet and realized I was already overdressed. Temperatures quickly rose into the high 60s and low 70s – perfect conditions for racing.
I was pleasantly surprised by the course conditions. The trail was mostly tacky, with 7-10 mud spots. My bike and I finished the day looking pretty muddy, but 98% of the filth was from 2% of the course. I think if anyone was scared off by a potentially wet course, then they missed a truly awesome racing environment.
The Wilds was a short, fast race. Beforehand, I heard some grumbling that some folks thought it should be longer. Some people go into these races with the idea that they want to get “enough” miles to make it worth the drive. I have a different opinion on this.
I like it when there is variety to the courses – short vs. long, flat vs. hilly, easy vs. technical. I think these variations provide different challenges. The Wilds favored fast, high-powered, technical riders, whereas the next race at Scioto Trails, will favor lighter riders with good endurance, tempo-riding and solid climbing and descending skills. It won’t require the explosive sprints that were required at the Wilds. If the courses in a season provide a mixture of challenges then the overall winner will be someone who is a well-rounded racer.
The course started on the “Field Loop” with a wide downhill mowed section of trail that had two jumpable bumps. There was a mile or so until the single track started and this section was long enough for the racers to spread out and find their places before the trail narrowed.
One of the great things about this course was that there were plenty of opportunities to pass. Even though I didn’t hit the woods in as good of a position as a I wanted, I never felt trapped behind another rider. Throughout the singletrack section of the race the course continually opened up and gave wide berths for overtaking the competition.
The trail was littered with roots and rocks and some of the more technical rock gardens took down riders who chose their lines poorly. One in particular, was a traffic jam each time I came to it. Every section of the trail was rideable, but the challenges were just tough enough to trip up a few riders and reward the more skilled ones.
The Wilds was not defined by a lot of climbing, but had several short, punchy climbs that required some momentum to conquer. Most of these turned into hike-a-bikes for the weariest riders.
Overall Results (I think you will need to sign in to view them.)
I have been working hard this spring and I even did a pre-ride of the trail. I haven’t really been training in the higher power zones that are required for sprinting and climbing, but I felt like I was fairly ready for this early season race. However, with the race being so short, I felt like that there were a lot of factors that could affect the final results – the start, passing, mechanicals, course conditions, crashes and which other racers showed up. Small incidents could have a big impact on the race. I was excited about the possibilities, but wary of the unknown.
I was guessing that the race was going to take just over an hour as a sport level racer. With such a short race I figured I wasn’t going to need much. I opted to leave the water and nutrition at the car. I didn’t see dehydration or bonking as a big factor on such a mild day. I also calculated that if I got a flat, fixing it would take me completely out of contention, so I left my tools and extra tube in the car to save weight on the bike. Worst case scenario, if I broke down I would have to walk 2.5 miles back to the car.
I was stream-lined and ready to go.
For whatever reason, I was a little lackadaisical getting to the line. I’m usually fairly aggressive (without trying to look like I give a crap) about trying to get a good starting position. The front row was already full, so I carefully decided to line up behind my frenemy, Chris Knapp, who is a strong sprint starter and someone that I knew would not impede my start.
Race director Ryan O’Dell fired the starting gun (just kidding, we don’t have a starting gun). Racers shot off the line and I quickly found myself in 7th or 8th out of 21 racers in the sport masters division. Chris Knapp was heading up the wolf pack and was quickly expanding his lead. My goal for the day was a spot on the podium, so this clearly wouldn’t cut it.
I had work to do.
I had to make up some ground in this early mowed section of the course before we hit the singletrack. Passing traffic was a big impediment in my last race and didn’t want it to hold me back again this time.
I quickly got aggressive and started passing people on the wide path. I was pushing myself to my threshold and beyond to try and get around these guys. My body was on the edge of blowing up early, but I knew that surviving this first mile would have a great impact on the final standings. I could catch my breath on the singletrack – or could I?
I quickly moved up the field and entered the woods in 3rd or 4th place. Soon after we entered the woods though, we started running into the slower guys from the sport veterans division.
Chris Knapp was still not in sight, but I knew that if he was in the lead he wouldn’t sit behind these guys and coast. I had to be aggressive.
“When you get a safe spot, I’d love to get a pass,” I would shout when I got within 20 to 30 feet of them. I always try to sound cheery and polite despite the urgency I’m feeling. I don’t want to startle anyone or pressure them into doing something unsafe.
Everyone that I passed was courteous and very cool about it. I never got stuck behind anyone. By this time though, the singletrack had narrowed and I was forced into the weeds to do most of my passing. There were thorn bushes everywhere. They were scraping my shins and one high branch smacked me square in the face, leaving a thorn stuck in my nose. Should I have been wearing my protective sunglasses? I was kicking up branches and leaves and they were bouncing into and out of my spokes and drivetrain. This was dangerous territory and I started worrying about how one of these pieces of debris might lead to a mechanical.
All of my fretting aside, I was having a successful first lap.
I was still left to wonder where Knapp, my nemesis, was. I hadn’t seen him since the start. Had he gapped me so much at the start that I would never be able to catch up?
With about a half mile left in the loop, he finally came in sight. This was highly motivating. I was determined to catch him and pushed my heart rate up a notch or two. I was going to grab onto his rear tire and not let go.
I finally caught him just after we passed through the gate and pulled up on his side.
“Chris, what place are we in?”
“I think we are in first and second. I got a strong start and I haven’t been passed yet.”
“Do you want to lead or do you want me to go?” I asked. If we were 1 and 2, then I was fine sitting on his rear tire for a little while to catch my breath.
“You take the lead,” he replied, “I went out a little too hard and it’s starting to catch up with me”
I moved into first place. I was ecstatic. It’s been a long time since I held this position. I was determined to keep up the intensity and charged ahead. Within a half mile, Chris was no longer in my rear view and I was still feeling strong. Was all my winter training finally going to pay off?
The second lap was going great. I continued to pick off sport veterans and hold my position.
There were only 3 miles left and I felt like I had the reserves to finish strong. And then…
It was one of those slow flats. I had at least a minute or two between the moment that my tire got squishy to the time it was completely flat. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in all that passing I had picked up a thorn. Oh why oh why hadn’t I switched to tubeless?!?
(INSERT LOUD CURSE WORD WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS AND EXTRA LETTERS HERE.)
I left all my gear at the car, so fixing it wasn’t even an option. What the frick was I going to do now?
I made the calculation that even if I could fix it, my slow mechanical skills would take me out of contention for the race anyways.
I had never ridden singletrack on a flat. I wasn’t sure how much it would slow me down. I knew that there was a good chance that doing so could ruin my rim. But, I was still in first and I was hoping I could stay there.
I pedaled my butt off. I just wanted to hold these guys off.
Chris seemed surprised to catch me and then he realized my predicament. He kindly threw off his pack to help me out. I appreciated that. I probably would have left him bleeding in the woods to be eaten by coyotes and vultures. I guess I’ll have to be nice to him next time.
I picked up his pack but continued to ride with the same strategy. I was just hoping to hold on to a podium spot at this point. That flat slowed me down tremendously, and one by one, the other sport masters rode by me. My motivation was waning.
Each rider would pass by and say, “Dude, did you know your tire is flat?”
(INSERT LOUD CURSE WORD WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS AND EXTRA LETTERS HERE.)
I finished 9th out of 21 riders in the sport masters division. It was disappointing after such a promising start. However, the race helped build my confidence for future contests. If I can avoid mechanicals, I have the potential for a strong finish. This is going to be a fun season!
An OMBC First: The Marriage Proposal
Chris Knapp ended up finishing second in sport masters. He got passed near the end while hike-a-biking a short, steep climb. I think he was still pretty excited though. 2nd out of 21 meant that he collected the largest cash purse of his mountain bike career.
This would not be his biggest prize of the day though. He had his eyes on something much more important.
Ryan O’Dell called the sport women to the podium. After the photo, but before they could return to the audience, he asked Sarah Boylan to stick around. He said that they had a special prize for her for moving up to sport this year and handed her a gold bag.
She pulled out a big shiny ring and Chris Knapp approached and got down on one knee on the podium. I was a little nervous for him, but luckily she said “yes”. The crowd erupted with cheers and the happy couple sealed the moment with a kiss.
It was the first marriage proposal ever at an OMBC event. (There was an OMBC wedding last year at Lake Hope.)
You can learn more about Chris and Sarah with the following links:
My Race Stats
- Sport Masters Division
- Distance: 11.1 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1096 ft
- Time: 1:14:18
- Average Speed: 8.8 mph
- Max Speed: 20.3 mph
- Average Heart Rate: 145 bpm
- Normalized Power: 248 watts
- Average Power: 206 watts
- Max Power: 845 watts
- Total Work for race only: 955 KJ
- Total Work for race plus warm-up: 1430 KJ
Gearing Up For Next Time
Overall, I would describe this race as fast, fun and exciting. The roots, rocks and mud spots added some technical fun to the speedy course. The weather was beautiful and the turnout was great. Even though the flat tire derailed my victory, it was still a great day to hang out with everyone.
Congratulation to Chris and Sarah for adding that nice little final touch to the event.
Please share this article with your mountain biking buddies and encourage them to come out to the next race, May 4th at Scioto Trails. This will be a completely different racing experience that features lots of double-track, gravel-grinding, long climbs, steep descents and twice the distance. It will test your endurance and your courage. It’s going to be a blast!
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