It was a beautiful day at Dillon State Park. The Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series was holding it’s 9th race of the year. The sun was out and temperatures were expected to rise from the mid-70s to mid 80s. Earlier in the week there were two nights of rain and that may have scared away a few racers. Even so, 124 racers showed up to test themselves against the toughest rock gardens in the OMBC series – a 34 percent increase over the previous year.
For the most part, the rocks, roots and trails had dried nicely. There were a few muddy spots, but the rocks weren’t particularly slick. It was supposed to be about 80 degrees at the start time, but the temperature on my Garmin Edge 800 was reading mid-70’s when we hit the woods – close to perfect. This conclusion is supported by the fact that there were only 6 DNFs that day, 4.8% of the racers. However, there were many people that finished with broken derailluers and bruised egos, but that’s only because finishing was just a few hundred feet further than going straight to your car in the parking lot.
That being said, it turned out to be a far from ideal day for me – dun, dun, duuuuuuunnnnn!
You can find the full results for the race at ombc.net.
- Lorena Brown – Expert
- Vicki Munnings – Sport
- Lori Lott – Novice
- Ben Ortt, Expert Open, 2:22:30
- Joe Lautzenheiser, Expert Open, 2:38:43
- Jeff Rupnow Expert 35+, 2:38:55
- Nahum Burt, 30-39, 1:25:23
- Bill Mickey, 40-49, 1:26:01
- Jim Costello, 40-49, 1:27:57
- Jeff Harper, 30-39, 57:48
- Jamie Sharp, 40-49, 59:43
- Cameron Reagan, 19-29, 59:56
I showed up early for the race, which I am prone to do, and helped Mitch Gay set up the Combo Race Team picnic lounge. Afterwards, I spent some time getting ready and testing out my bike. After the West Branch race, where my pedal fell off, I wanted to make sure that my equipment was dialed in. There were only a few races left in the 2014 calendar and I didn’t want anything to screw this up. It was one of my last chances to score big!
I did a short warm-up over the first three miles of the course. I felt loose, agile and rested. I was floating through the rocks pretty nicely and was feeling confident that I could perform at the top of my game. As I exited the woods, my tire started getting squishy on the way back to the car – a pre-race flat. Was this foreshadowing? I returned to the Combo Pit Tent and jokingly asked is anyone wanted to replace my tube. (Yeah, I know. I should go tubeless.) Mitch, the team manager, stepped up and offered to fix it for me. I expected to find a thorn, because I have picked a ton of those on previous rides at Dillon, but he actually found a nail. Thanks Mitch!
The bike was fixed and I felt good. The race started with a fast sprint down a park road. It was probably my best start of the year. My feet easily engaged with my new pedals and I was able to focus on keeping up with the pack. In the last hundred yards before the field loop started, I surged forward from 5th to 2nd. My legs were feeling great.
Home Field Advantage
Brian Gonser was leading the pack. This is his home course and he told me that the rocks are a strong point of his. The easy section through the field is full of sharp turns and because of that it is not an all out sprint, but a series of short controlled bursts. Several riders lost position by going too hot into the corners and having to slow themselves down before flying into the weeds. I focused on staying on Gonser’s rear wheel and not making any stupid mistakes. As I sped through the grass I debated whether to try and pass Brian. Should I let him set the pace and follow his well-chosen line or try and get in front of him and slow him down to my pace in the rocks? I decided not to pass and that might have been my first big mistake of the day.
When we entered the woods Brian was flying through the singletrack. I was holding my own, but I was working my butt off to keep up with him. I felt like we were going the same speed, but that he was riding much smoother and more efficiently.
I reached the first rock garden in 2nd place, but Bill Mickey, Kunihiko Tanuma and Jim Costello were close behind. When the rocks got a little hairy, my bike came to a complete stop. Mickey and Tanuma passed me. I was now in fourth place. I needed a top-3 finish to improve my series score, so this wasn’t going to work.
Working My Way Back
Mickey has won four races this year and is the series leader in the Sport Masters division. He was pushing the pace hard and I was struggling to keep up. I had felt smooth in my warm-up, but now I was not in good form. There may have been some panic creeping into my ride. I kept having to put my foot down to catch my balance. I wanted to tackle the terrain like a billy goat, but at times I felt like a clumsy penguin waddling through the forest.
I held my ground up until the second rock garden with Tanuma in front of me and Costello behind me. Several times Jim would yell up to me “Nice line” when I crossed a big rock with an unexpected line. It was nice having his encouragement. It helped build my confidence back up.
When we reached the second rock garden I made my best move of the race. As I approached the rocks, I pulled my bike to the left side of the trail and dismounted. I started running my bike before things got lumpy. Just as I did, a younger, slower rider came to a halt right in front of Kunihiko. He came to a complete stop. I was able to easily run right by him.
Third place. Nice. Now I could focus on Bill Mickey. I have barely been able to keep up with him through most of the season. I’ve closed the gap in recent races, but he has still always triumphed in the end. I was determined to stay with him at Dillon, but I wasn’t sure if that was realistic.
I chased him for several miles. He would pull away from me when I made a stupid maneuver – like fall off the skinny boardwalk or pick the wrong gear on a steep climb. Then I would have to rally to close the gap. This happened several times and it was mentally exhausting.
Then, something strange happened. I caught Bill Mickey. And, for the first time all season I felt like I could be going faster than him. I trailed him for a while. We caught up to two riders – I think they were from the Sport Singlespeed category. They were holding a good pace, but I felt like we needed to go faster if we were going to have any chance of catching Brian Gonser.
I shouted out “Hey, when you get a safe spot can we pass?” But, no one moved. It was still a pretty good pace, so I didn’t make a fuss. Then a few minutes later, something happened that completely surprised me. Mickey said, “Let me know if you’d like a pass.”
What? Did this guy have a fever? Was he drunk? Was this some sort of reverse psychology move? I haven’t been in front of him all season. He didn’t seem like he was riding as aggressively as he had the rest of the season. The Bill Mickey I know doesn’t sit patiently behind slower riders. He attacks and passes with the best of them. I’ve watched it happen. I was slightly awestruck. Was this the chink in the armor that I had been looking for?
“If you want to give it up, then I’ll take it when you get a chance,” I replied.
But, we stayed in our positions. Eventually we passed the single speeders and I trailed Bill a little further. He was going just fast enough, and I was riding just sloppy enough, that I was worried that I would pass him and stumble right in front of him. Eventually, my legs recovered enough though that I thought I could handle it.
On a short climb, I passed on the inside of a curve when he was taking a drink. Second place.
The Beginning of the End
I sped off down the trail and for a little while I thought I might have dropped him. But, then I heard his cheery voice behind me. Shoot. I may have been in front for the first time, but this was still a race. Would this come down to a sprint on the final stretch of road?
We weaved through the forest at top speeds and I had it in my mind that we might even have a chance of catching Brian Gonser if we kept up the pace. Let’s get him. That was my motivation.
The lake was on our left, so I knew we were getting close to the finish. We had covered about 10 miles and neither one of us seemed to be relenting. We came to a series of ravines where the trail dipped down onto wooden bridges. The slopes on the opposite sides of the bridge are steep, so you need some good momentum to climb them. On the third such bridge, I attacked with the speed I thought I needed. The bridge was covered with a moist layer of slime. Suddenly, my tires slipped out from under me and I fell violently to the ground.
I was hurt, but I didn’t know it at the time. The adrenaline was still pumping and the bruises had yet to fill with blood. I yanked my bike out of the dirt and tried to run up the hill.
The handlebars were limp and wobbly in my hands. I tried to hop on my bike, but I had zero steering. The impact of the fall had snapped two bolts off of the stem. I pulled my bike to the side of the trail at the top of the hill and there on the side with a flat tire was Brian Gonser. He generously offered me his tools, but in the madness of the moment I could not think of a way to fix it. (Chris Knapp later showed me how I could of fixed it enough to get back).
My race was over. Brian’s problem wasn’t fixable either. Kunihiko took a wrong turn and lost tons of valuable time. For the first time all year, Brian and I were in front of Mickey, but we couldn’t seal the deal. We both took the walk of shame back to the finish line. 4 freakin’ miles! Brian, Kunihiko and I started strong, but ended up being three of the bottom four racers. We probably would have DNF’d, but like I mentioned earlier, it was only a few hundred more feet to finish. Bill Mickey’s tire started to go flat, but he was able to hit it with CO2 and still win our division. His FMBR teammate, Jim Costello, finished with a strong second place.
And that’s how mountain biking goes sometimes. You can be feeling energetic, well-trained and ready, but sometimes it’s not in the cards. Maybe I should have been more careful on that bridge. But, you can always be more careful. Mountain bike racing is the delicate balance between risk and reward. You need to be aggressive if you want to win, but sometimes the dice don’t fall in your favor. I only hope that I have better luck at Chestnut Ridge in a few weeks.
My only consolation was the post-race swim. There is something cathartic about relaxing in the lake with other weary racers. Kunihiko, Mike Klein, Steve Little, a couple other guys and I soaked our aches away. I could have stayed there all day, but I had to rush home for a preschool parent orientation. …back to real life. 🙂
Three more races this season. Will you be there? What are your goals for the rest of the season? Let me know in the comment section.