The 2014 Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series held its final race at Mohican State Park on Sunday, October 5th at noon. It was originally scheduled for Saturday but was postponed to give the trails a chance to dry out after a bout of rain. The trails were in good shape. The dirt was tacky without any signs of mud. Leaves were strewn across the trail and were a bit slick at times, but not too bad. At certain moments, they camouflaged the trail and made it hard to follow, but this was not a serious problem.
The temperatures were a little brisk, but the wind was low and it wasn’t hard to get comfortable. My Garmin logged an average temperature of 43.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the woods. By the time the race was over, temperatures had risen into the 50s and riders were hanging out in perfect fall weather.
The big story of the day was definitely the tight race in the Men’s Expert Open. Three bikers, Ben Ortt, Steve Twining and Drew Purcell, were all in close contention to win the series. All three showed up to take a stab at the big prize. In the end, Twining, from Team Lake Effect, bested Ortt by 12 seconds to become the winner of the 2014 Ohio Championship. According to my sources, because of the postponement of the race, Ortt had to work overnight and had very little sleep before the race. It would have been interesting to see if the race dynamic would have changed had the race been held on Saturday. Twinings time was a mind-blowing 1:52:04 – 3 or 4 miles per hour lower than the speed of light.
On the women’s side, Lorena Brown finished second to Wendy Zamzow-Blumerick, which was enough to lock in her position as the 2014 Women’s Champion of Ohio.
In all, 146 racers, including 17 women, lined up to race through the Mohican forest. There were only 5 DNFs for the day, so most expert and sport riders were able to negotiate the entire 25+ miles of epic singletrack successfully.
- Expert: Wendy Zamzow-Blumerick – Mom & Pop Racing, Sweet Bikes
- Sport: Vicki Munnings – Jinx/Eddy’s
- Novice: Chris Sharp – River’s Bend Bike Shop
- Steve Twining, Open – Team Lake Effect – 1:52:04
- Ben Ortt, Open – HWB, Santa Cruz – 1:52:12
- Drew Purcell, Open – Ride on Wooster – 1:58:35
- Brian Gonser, 40-49 – Bike Doctor, BriarCliffmx.com, Azonic – 2:13:48
- Adam Elser, singlespeed – FMBR – 2:17:34
- Tom Pollock, 30-39 – Backroom Coffee Roasters – 2:18:09
- Brett Saultz, 15-18 – 47:50
- Jeff Harper, 30-39 – 50:25
- Jason Rapp 40-49 – 50:27
I was lined up on the far left side of the start line with both of my feet clipped into my pedals when race director Ryan O’Dell sent us off. I thought I was ready for the sprint, but Brian Gonser, Chris Knapp and Kunihiko Tanuma left me in the dust and I entered the woods in 5th. That’s not too shabby in a division with 23 racers, but I was hoping to enter the woods in 1st or 2nd. The leaders were going at full tilt and quickly slipping away from me. I tried not to panic, figuring it would be a long race. For the sport racers, Mohican is the longest course of the year.
Regardless of how I finished, I was going to be 2nd in the Sport Masters division for 2014 behind Bill Mickey. The big matchup for the day was between Gonser, Knapp and Tanuma, who were battling for the 3rd place spot. You could tell by their strong start that they were ready to throw down.
I was feeling pretty good about my chances after my strong finish at East Fork, where I missed first place by 2 seconds because of a flat tire. I needed to finish in the top 2 to improve my season score, so I worked my way past Wayne Bowers and Tanuma in the first couple of miles to take 3rd.
I could no longer see Knapp and Gonser, and started to wonder how far ahead I had let them get. As I caught up to some of the Sport Vets, they were giving me intel on the competition.
“Knapp is just a little ways up. You can probably catch him. But, Gonser is long gone. He passed me like I was sitting still.”
This was the standard refrain that I was hearing.
Chasing My Nemesis
I put my head down and focused on catching Knapp, my nemesis, for the next 10 miles. Along the way, I was having a ton of fun. I was just glad to be able to race. After my crash at the Chestnut Ridge race, where I hurt my shoulder and upper thigh, I was worried that I wouldn’t even be able to compete in the championship. But, my wounds had healed enough in the three weeks after the accident that I was able to climb back on my bike and actually ride strong. I couldn’t wait to pass Knapp and crush the hopes and dreams of my archrival.
Along the way, I caught a bunch of guys in the 30-39 and singlespeed categories. Each pass buoyed my confidence. I felt like I had gone out smart and had plenty of energy left.
Eventually, maybe 13 or 14 miles in, I found myself on the rear wheel of sport-master-turned-singlespeeder Mike Klein. I thought it would be a quick pass where he would quickly fade from my rearview mirror. However, Mike had a different plan. He was riding strong and I found myself following him much longer than I anticipated. Eventually, I found a place to pass him, but he didn’t fade away. He stuck to me like glue. We rode this way for at least a mile and exchanged light banter while we pedaled.
Then all of a sudden, “I need to pass you on this climb. It’s a single speed thing. Don’t want to lose my momentum,” Mike said to me.
“No problem,” I replied, figuring I would just pass him back in a minute or two.
Kunihiko is Back
Meanwhile, Kunihiko Tanuma had caught up to us. Was he getting faster or was I getting slower? I managed to stay in front of him for a mile or so, before he made a move to pass me in the pine forest.
“Oh crap!” I thought. I’m going to have to work a little harder. I can’t let Kunihiko beat me. I mashed the pedals and watched my heart rate spike up from my efforts.
And, I’m going to have a hard time putting this next event into words because it felt so surreal… I basically glanced down at my Garmin for a second and looked back up to find that Kunihiko and Mike had disappeared. They vanished. It happened so quickly, that it literally freaked me out. Did I just make a wrong turn? Where did they go? They left me like I was standing still. And just like that, I was alone in 4th place.
I tried to justify it by reasoning that Kunihiko needed to catch Chris Knapp to get 3rd place. He had more on the line and needed to be more aggressive. My stakes weren’t quite as high. It didn’t really matter where I finished for the final standings. But, I began to wrestle with the fact that I might not catch my nemesis.
I kept trudging along with about 7 miles to go. Was it just my imagination or was my pace starting to drop? I wasn’t sure, but I still felt like I was moving fairly quickly.
A few miles later, Wayne Bowers caught back up to me – and then quickly passed me. He looked like he was feeling powerful and I tried to give him some words of encouragement just like he had done for me so many times throughout the season. However, this was the moment I knew the end was near. Once again I tried to buckle down and keep up after getting passed, but once again my legs told me I was done. They said, “We will keep propelling you forward, but we’re going to do it at our pace.” My heart rate spiked from the effort and then fell flat.
While the crash at Chestnut, had “allowed” me to taper for my strong performance at East Fork, it had also prevented me from training on a mountain bike at all. It had been over a month since I had gone on a long trail ride or had a workout with this much intensity, mileage, or climbing. Sure, I had finished strong at East Fork, but East Fork is no Mohican. I was actually racing with more power at Mohican, but I no longer had the endurance to finish the job.
This was where my crash ended up hurting me the most.
I was now in 5th. Could I hold onto it? I had started the race strong and put a gap on my competitors, but now I had no idea how quickly they were catching me. I put my head down and kept grinding, hoping to hold onto the bottom podium spot. I was in the final half mile of the state park loop when Cory Knight and Patrick McConnell caught up to me on a climb.
“Do you guys want by me?” I asked, hoping they’d say “no” or “we’ll just follow you, you look strong” or “you’re a handsome and smart individual that we greatly admire.”
Instead, they rode right around me and over the top of my podium dreams – leaving a giant rut in my XC heart.
I made one final effort to keep up but they dropped me fast, like they had actually pushed me backwards.
The final moments in the woods were melancholy. It had been a great season with some of the highest highs and the lowest lows. I had won my division twice, but had also been plagued with several mechanicals and crashes. Despite the adversity though, I had always finished the race, and despite going slower than I would have liked, I had no doubt that was I going to finish that day at Mohican – 25 OMBC races in a row with no DNF – the longest current streak in the race series.
I exited the woods onto the final stretch of road. Over my shoulder, I could see Jack Dalzell on a fat tire bike barreling after me. There was no way I was going to let a fat bike catch me now. I sprinted across the line and dropped my bike near the Combo Race Team trailer.
Brian Gonser crushed everyone that day with the fastest sport time – 2:13:48. Even on my best day, I don’t think I could have caught him. Chris Knapp finished 2nd and Kunihiko Tanuma finished 3rd. They finished 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively in the overall series standings.
My season was over.
I’ve tried to write about my 2014 races like chapters in a novel and now I was faced with the end of the story – an anti-climax. I didn’t finish like a champ or crash out in an epic blaze of glory. It was a mid-pack finish due to a slight decline in fitness because of a late-season injury. I grabbed a beer and blended into the crowd of racers waiting for the awards.
…a long, slow fade to black.
See you next year.