On Sunday, September 28, 2014, the Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series (OMBC) held it’s final regular season race at East Fork State Park near Cincinnati. The championship at Mohican State Park will be the final competition on October 4th.
Race conditions were ideal on Sunday. The trail was dry and dusty in spots with no mud to slow racers down. Temperatures were a little chilly in the morning and a little warm during the awards, but it was 69 degrees in the woods during the event according to my Garmin – perfect for racing.
91 racers took to the line. According to race director Ryan O’Dell, this was the lowest turnout of the season. This makes sense though because a lot of the riders from the Cleveland and Akron areas sat this one out because of the long drive. It was a 20 percent increase in attendance from the prior year’s race at East Fork, which I think shows that the overall momentum of the series is heading in an upward direction.
The race had a new staging area this year and it worked out great. They moved the start/finish close to the historic Indian Mound. There was more parking, easier access to restrooms and more shade. I give the set-up two thumbs up.
But, even more exciting than the new set-up was the new section of singletrack. They added about a mile of singletrack to the course and it may have been the fastest and most technical section of trail in the whole race. My Garmin logged 20.6 miles in the race, which makes this the second longest sport course in the 2014 OMBC season behind Mohican State Park. However, it was also the fastest course of the year. I averaged 12.5 mph, which was much faster than I had gone in any other race this season.
- Drew Purcell, Ride On Wooster, Open, 2:13:15
- Jeff Rupnow, Paradise Garage, 35+, 2:16:35
- Brad Rogers, Y-Not Cycling, 35+, 2:17:28
- Tom Pollock, Backroom Coffee Roasters, 30-39, 1:34:34
- Nahum Burt, Breakaway Cycling, 30-39, 1:37:35
- Josh Kunz,, Ohio Fat Tires Racing, 19-29, 1:37:40
- Brett Saultz, 15-18, 52:06
- Dave Sandridge, Team Rocky, 40-49, 53:05
- Eric Smith, Smith Brothers Racing, 19-29, 53:51
- Llyn Harrington 50-59, 53:51
- Heidi Coulter, Lady Gnar Shredders, Expert
- Linda Miranda, Mirco Racing, Sport
- Chris Sharp, Rivers Bend Bike Shop, Novice
The Road to Success
The race started at the bottom of a hill in a parking lot by the lake at the end of Park Road 3. When Ryan O’Dell rang the starting bell we sprinted upwards and I felt like it was one of my best starts of the year. I stood up and pushed down hard on the pedals finishing the crucial climb in 3rd place. When the road flattened, I was determined not to do anything stupid, so I tucked in behind the first two racers and drafted them. Kunihiko Tanuma was right in front of me and I was definitely focused on keeping pace with him.
The opening stretch of road is 1.25 miles long and is one of the best places in the OMBC series to draft your opponents. Everyone else must have been on the same page because no one made a move for the first .75 miles. I was saving so much energy that I actually had to stop pedaling at times to stay behind Kunihiko. At around three quarters of a mile Patrick McConnell made an attack. It was aggressive and he was clearly trying to drop some riders and not let them catch his tailwind. I jumped on his tail in the sprint and then drafted him when his pace settled down. Once again, I felt like I wasn’t putting nearly as much power into the pedals as I could.
I had measured the length of the road before the race and knew exactly how far away we were from the singletrack. I had built up a large store of energy in my legs. At 1.08 miles, I knew I could sprint the remaining section of road. With little warning, I attacked and sprinted with every ounce of strength I could muster, figuring I could recover in the woods. To my surprise, I looked back and no one was there with me. I had dusted everyone.
This was an amazing start for me considering I wasn’t even sure I would be physically able to race. I crashed hard in the previous race at Chestnut Ridge two weeks prior. I hadn’t been able to ride or run at all because I was experiencing too much pain. It was depressing sitting around not being able to do anything. I felt like I was losing all the fitness I had worked so hard for, but it might have been the perfect taper. I was feeling rested and energetic. There was mild aching in my right shoulder and right upper thigh, but nothing like the searing pain I had experience when I I tried to ride the previous weekend.
When I decided to race the day before, I was just hoping the race was survivable, but now, entering into the woods, the race actually felt winnable.
Singletrack Choo-Choo Train
East Fork is one of my favorite races because it is all about speed. It’s not overly technical or twisty, which allows you to really open up the throttle. There are a lot of switchbacks and I was trying to power out of each one at top speed. With all the hairpin turns it’s easy to keep an eye on the competition. Each time I came out of a turn I looked over and saw a train of racers following me. Patrick McConnell, Kunihiko Tanuma and Eli Orth seemed to be the strongest of the group. As the initial miles ticked away the train behind me got shorter and shorter until about half way through the first lap when I could no longer see anyone behind me.
I was ecstatic. This was one of my best starts of the year. Throughout the season I’ve been plagued with issues – flat tire at The Wilds, broken pedal at West Branch, the slippery bridge that broke my stem at Dillon, and the most epic crash I’ve ever experienced in a wet section of grass at Chestnut Ridge. Could I finally avoid disaster? I continued pedaling hard, but with a “Don’t Do Anything Stupid” mantra. I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. My big goal was to finish without incident.
I passed a few riders from the younger sport age groups, but for the most part I spent the second half of the lap by myself wondering if I could keep up the pace.
When I crossed the road onto the new section of singltrack, a guy was handing out “Twinkie Dollars”. In the spirit of fun, and because I love Twinkies, I reached out and grabbed it. When I got into the woods, I couldn’t hold my bars securely because I didn’t want to squish the moist, delicious, yellow cake in my hand. I slowed down and fumbled for a few seconds trying to get the Twinkie into my pocket. This may have been mistake number 1.
I had a bottle of Gatorade on my bike and my plan was to drink it on the road section between my two laps. When I reached the road, I could see another racer, Mike Egnot from Combo Race Team, up in the distance. I started focusing on closing the gap with him and completely forgot to take a drink. Mistake number 2. How many more mistakes could I make?
I entered back into the woods and picked off a few more racers that had started before me. Things were still going well, but after a few miles I started feeling like my legs were on the verge of cramping. Why didn’t I drink my Gatorade? I fumbled for my bottle, but had a really hard time drinking and getting my bottle back in the cage. I slowed down and wasted a bunch of time and energy trying to make this happen. I barely drank a third of my bottle. Was I dehydrated? Low on electrolytes?Maybe I should have taken a Camelbak. How many seconds did I lose on this clumsy maneuver?
After a few more miles, I was still riding with excellent speed, but my legs weren’t feeling much better. At one point, I had to put my feet down on the ground because of a poor technical move. I could feel my quads start to seize up. I was definitely pushing my body to it’s limits. I slowed myself down on the climbs and my power out of the turns had to be ratcheted back. I needed to save something in case the number 2 guy started to catch me. I started to wonder who it was and how far back he might be.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
With about 4 miles left my bike crossed a series of off-camber roots. My rear tire didn’t feel right. I glanced back, but everything looked fine. There still appeared to be air in my wheel. Was my quick release loose? I hit some more roots and something still felt a little off. Should I stop to check it out? I was worried my rear tire might fly off of my bike if I hit a rough section of trail. All of a sudden I was slowing down a little for rocks and roots.
My anxiety started to build. I was still in first place and having an excellent race. I just wanted to survive. I’d poured too much work into this season to have it ruined again. It takes four things to do well in mountain biking:
- Excellent fitness
- Good technical skills
- A decent, well-maintained bike
My fitness and technical skills had served me well most of the season. I was definitely one of the strongest sport riders, but Lady Luck had prevented me from sealing the deal in a lot of races this season. Would I make it to the finish in one piece?
I continued to pour my heart into the race and the miles ticked away. I was on the final section, the new piece of singletrack. There was a dip in the trail that had been armored with flat rocks. It felt a little sketchy, but I had made it through unharmed on the first lap. I took the same line on the second lap, but the rocks had shifted and my front wheel came to a complete stop. My whole body was jerked to a halt. My shoulder and leg had held up well in the race, but all of a sudden a surge of pain emanated through both areas. Shit. Had I reinjured myself? Ow. That hurt. I gritted my teeth and dragged my bike back up the slope. It was going to take a minute to recover from that one.
A half mile though. I can make it.
Crap. My rear tire went flat. It wasn’t a loose quick release after all. It was a slow leak that turned into an all-out flat. I jumped back on my bike and pedaled as hard as I could. Obviously, this latest development stole a lot of speed from me. I alternated between riding on the flat and running the sections that were too technical to ride. My heart rate was ramping up higher than it had been the whole race. I finally exited the woods. I was still in first place and pedaling like a maniac but feeling like I was going nowhere. Could I make it? Could I make it? I was getting close to the final turn when Patrick McConnell whooshed by me.
2 seconds. I had raced for 5920 seconds and lost by 2 seconds. Ouch. That hurt more than my shoulder. Once again victory was within site and snatched away from me. I know I should be happy with a strong second place finish, but it was a bitter pill to swallow. I went through all of 2013 without any mechanicals, flat tires or epic crashes and this year I can’t seem to escape them.
I sulked and thought about my race while chomping on the mushy, yet still delicious,Twinkie from my back pocket. There were so many ways I could have saved those two seconds – like not grabbing the frickin’ Twinkie or drinking my Gatorade on the road like I had planned. Maybe if I had chosen a different line in that rock-armored ravine? Or maybe I should have switched to tubeless like 800 other riders had recommended? 2 freakin’ seconds.
Oh well. I have one more race to redeem myself. I expect turnout will be high for the championship race at Mohican State Park next weekend, October 4th. Everyone will be ready to throw down. It’s one of the most challenging courses of the series. It requires endurance, climbing, speed and handling and it is a course that most OMBC racers know well. Competition will be fierce.
My bike will be dialed in and I’m not going down without one last fight.
Jimmy’s Stats (According to Garmin)
Distance: 20.6 miles
- Time: 1:38:39
- Average Speed: 12.5 mph
- Max Speed: 27.4 mph
- Average Heart Rate: 163 bpm
- Max Heart Rate 174 bpm
- Normalized Power: 245 watts
- Max Power: 826 watts
- Work: 1269 Kilojoules