So many big decisions…
First, I had to decide between two great racing options. 331 Racing was holding a time trial at Reagan Park near Akron, Ohio on the same day that the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization (Combo) was holding a time trial at Chestnut Ridge Metropark just south of Columbus. They both sounded fun, but ultimately I decided to head to Chestnut Ridge to support Combo on their big day.
Why was it their big day? It was the “Combo/IMBA Launch Party!” They were celebrating the fact that Combo was becoming an IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) Chapter. This is a big deal because Combo is hoping that they can use IMBA’s resources to help get funding for new and better trails in Central Ohio.
What’s The Weather Like?
The next big decision happened when I woke up in the morning. The weather looked a little daunting. Spotty rain showers threatened to put a damper on the day. Combo was the one group that I knew would certainly cancel because of rain. They wouldn’t want to tear up the trails that volunteers had worked so hard on.
At 7:24 a.m Combo President Ed Braunbeck wrote, “Only .1″ of rain reported at Chestnut Ridge last night. The trail will be in good shape for today’s event.”
That was all I needed to hear. I loaded up my car and headed to the park early so that I could warm up and pre-ride the trail. I’ve only ridden at Chestnut Ridge 2 or 3 times and I felt like seeing the trail beforehand would help me go faster in the time trial.
A light drizzle hit the windshield as I drove. Not too bad, but definitely not ideal. I was definitely worried that this event would still be cancelled.
I pulled into the parking lot around 10am. 3 hours before the scheduled start of the time trial. I got dressed and started riding a slow lap to warm-up and assess the conditions. The trail was in great shape, but the light rain continued and by the time I finished the lap the trail was starting to get damp. However, it was still very rideable.
When I returned to the parking lot the rain stopped. I ran into Paul Remonko, who was organizing the time trial. He was starting to setup, but was worried that the event still might be cancelled. The weather was still so unpredictable at this point.
On my warm-up, I had run into several thorns at eye level and a giant vine of poison ivy that had fallen across the trail. I offered to take some clippers and gloves and clear them out of the way for the time trialers.
On my second lap, the maintenance lap, it started raining again. This was so frustrating. I cleared the obstructions from the path. By the time I had finished, it was clear that they would have to close off some of the trail and use the “wet loop” for the time trial – if they were even going to hold it at all.
Back at the staging area it was clear that the whether was putting a damper on the turnout. Only about half of the racers that had pre-registered were in attendance.
That leads me to the final decision – a choice that I’m glad I didn’t have to make. It was Ed Braunbeck’s decision about whether to hold the time trial or not. You could it tell it was a tough one.
He told me that when he woke up he was excited that the rain had missed Chestnut Ridge overnight, but that the rainy drive to the park had been a real bummer. The launch party had already been rescheduled once. He wanted to do what was best for the trail, but also had many individuals, organizations and companies who had invested time getting ready for the day. I did not envy the position he was in.
Ultimately, he decided to go for it. The first annual Chestnut Ridge Time Trial was on.
Don’t Get All Gussied Up
The time trial was an informal affair. It was scheduled to start at 1pm, but didn’t actually start until after 2 because the course was still being marked.
19 riders were assigned into three groups according to expected finishing times. Group 1 was the fastest and group 3 was the slowest. I had the honor of being one of the four riders that were put into the first group.
After the pre-race meeting I ran over to the port-a-potty and when I returned it had somehow been determined that I was leaving first.
What? The thought of going first was a little unsettling. What if there were unsuspecting riders on the trail? What if the rain had knocked something new down on the trail. I couldn’t catch anyone. I could only get caught. That meant there was only potential for negative feedback on my performance during the race. I was nervous.
On your mark. Get set. Go.
I sprinted from the line through the mowed section of the field. My heart rate shot up immediately. With the iffy conditions, I had no idea how long the 5.5 miles would take. I looked down and my cycling computer had gone haywire. The screen was in some sort of calibration mode that I had no chance of fixing during a time trial. I was numberless. I was going to have to wing this one based on feel.
When I hit the woods, it was clear that this was going to be tough. The rain had taken it’s toll on the first mile of the singletrack and I was slipping in every corner. I could barely keep my bike upright in the bends. My focus was powering up the climbs, but I was forced to be very cautious on the descents. This was the worst the trail would be all day at Chestnut Ridge and it happened to coincide with the moment where everyone was going to push themselves to their limits. I was worried about crashing and starting to wonder whether there would be any DNFs on the day.
I pushed myself hard when I could, but wasn’t willing to risk crashing on the downhills. I thought that this would probably hurt me, but I wasn’t sure by how much. The slippery trails changed the nature of the race. It was no longer a complete hammer-fest. Now riders with finesse and strong technical skills could make us some precious time in the final results. I don’t consider riding in wet conditions to be a strong suit of mine, since I never train on wet trails out of respect for the trail builders and volunteers.
On several of the switchbacks I could see my teammate on Combo Race Team, Andrew Uithoven, the #2 starter, streaming along the trail behind me. This was both scary and motivating at the same time. It seemed like whenever my focus waned, I would see him in the corner of my eye. I thrust down into the pedals harder to avoid getting caught. Unfortunately for Andrew, a mechanical took him out of the race. He opted for a DNF after his chain got twisted in a muddy front derailleur.
I never crashed on the trail, but I was forced to hike my bike three or four times after my tires went astray in the muck. I know I lost valuable seconds in these maneuvers.
What Place Did You Get?
When I sprinted across the finish line, no one had passed me yet. I felt like I had done fairly well, but had to wait to see how far behind the rest of the field was. There was a big gap before I saw the next finisher, but it wasn’t enough.
Ultimately, I got 2nd in a time of 35:55. I lost to 14-year-old Brett Saultz, who had a time of 35:08. 43 seconds separated us. If I could have kept my bike upright I might have beat him. Word on the street is that he crashed several times in his time trial. Imagine how fast he could have been without the crashes! For being so young, this guy has a ton of potential. I look forward to seeing how he develops as a racer over the years.
Other notable finishes include Rob Yoakum and Kurtis Payton, who tied for 3rd place with times of 36:39. The top woman was Meredith Erlewine with a time of 40:59.
Overall, this was a great event. Organizer Paul Remonko dubbed it the “1st Annual” and I hope that they continue this tradition next year. If so, there will be plenty of room for record-breaking at future events. Combo takes great care of their trails and this was absolutely the worst conditions that they would allow an event like this to happen in. I know that there are tons of guys out there that could crush our times, so hopefully they will turn out next year and take the competition up a notch.
I do have a suggestion for next year though. Even though the time trial was “informal” with no entry fee and no prizes, it should still start on time. Some people plan their days around these events and wouldn’t be able to stay for a race that started an hour late. Also, some racers take this very seriously and want to time their warm-ups to get ready for the race. Knowing when you start is valuable information for this type of competitor.
That being said, the time trial was just one part of an epic day of mountain biking at Chestnut Ridge. After the race, the trail continued to dry and improve throughout the day. I did one more fun lap with my teammate Mike Whitlow. Combo brought a grill and cooked out for the riders in attendance. (I loved the double chocolate chip cookies.) roll: brought 27.5″ Giant Anthem bikes to demo and Pivot Cycles brought a huge quiver of bikes to try out. IMBA was in attendance to spread the word about how Combo’s new relationship with them will benefit Ohio riders.
Oh, and don’t forget about the night ride to end the day. I didn’t make it that late, but I saw the pictures and riding through the woods with a bajillion bike lights looked like an almost spiritual experience. Maybe my mom will let me stay out late next year. I might need a nap though.
When you add up all the great friends that you get to see, bikes you get to ride, and trails you get to spin on, it was an epic day. I hope to see you at the “2nd Annual!”