When East Fork was rained out, it left a huge gap in the OMBC mountain bike race schedule. It’s been 13 weeks since Ohio racers last met at Great Seal. That gave riders with a late start this spring time to train and allowed others to lose focus on their goals. I wasn’t really sure which category I fell in. I’ve continued to race at Mohican 100, Tour of Franklinton & the Tri-State 6-Hour race at Hueston Woods, but none of these is quite the same as doing a 30-mile XC race. I’ve definitely been hitting the singletrack more often lately, but is it too little, too late?
The weather in Ohio seems to have dried up and that was evident on the drive up the gravel road to race parking. The car tires kicked the dust up everywhere and I pulled the bike off my rack covered in a thin layer of dry soil.
The singletrack was perfect. The mud holes had dried up and most of the trail was tacky. There were a couple of spots that were sandy and a little too dry, but that’s being very nit picky. If you couldn’t like it on Sunday, then you don’t really like mountain biking. Anyone who wasn’t happy with the trail conditions, should throw their bike in Lake Hope and retire from the sport.
The temperatures looked more daunting in the weather report than they ended up being at the event. The thermometer hovered in the mid-70s in the woods. Warm enough to work up a good sweat, but dehydration was not a factor for most riders. In fact, out of the 176 racers that showed up, there were only 6 DNFs. 97 percent of the riders finished their race successfully. I think that’s pretty high in a sport where so many variables can disable you.
Ben Ortt continued his dominance of the series this year and finished in 2:04:21. That’s over 14 miles per hour. Insane. After falling short in the final race last year, the former OMBC champion has won every race in the series this year. On the women’s side, OMBC Champ Lorena Brown won her race over Vicki Munnings by just 18 seconds. She’d better watch her back.
Here are a few highlight times from the day:
- Ben Ortt, HWB, Santa Cruz, 2:04:21
- Jeff Rupnow, Paradise Garage, 2:05:59
- Drew Purcell, Ride On Wooster, 2:10:21
- Jeff Harper, Mid Ohio Velo Sport, 1:18:09
- Steve Burden, 1:19:04
- Brian Bors, 1:19:14
- Joe Worboy, Breakaway Quickdirt, 46:53
- Chadd Hartman, 48:12
- Doug Armstrong, Breakaway Quickdirt: 49:48
- Lorena Brown, Expert, Wells Fargo Advisors, 1:58:33
- Samantha Brode, Sport, VeloFemme p/b Litzler, 1:23:34
- Katelyn Cassell, Novice, 56:16
During the warm-up my legs felt dead. I rode up the initial gravel climb and thought, “Oh man, this feels hard. Can I even do this today?” My last several mountain bike events all involved enough cramping and/or bonking to fill my head with self-doubt. I tried to shake the feelings and move on. I just had to ride my own race and not worry about what everyone else was doing.
We lined up and waited for… …GO!!!
I was in the second row and watched the racers in the first row quickly create a small gap. There was a moment of panic. Why am I so slow? How was I going to rally? Several of my rivals were in that front group.
I put my head down and focused on climbing up the initial rocky slope without overheating. We reached the top and descended to the gravel road that would take us to the trail.
I latched on to the rear wheel of Christopher Seeley and tried to soak up his draft. We usually have similar fitness levels and I knew if I could keep up with him I would be off to a good start. I caught my breath and let my heart rate drop a tiny bit. As I reassessed the situation, I realized that the small gap the leaders had opened up had not really grown at all. We were holding our ground and still in pretty solid position.
We caught up to Scott Young, who has beaten me in several recent races, and I got another confidence boost. We were getting closer to the woods and I attacked so that I could move up before hitting the singletrack. I left Seeley and Young behind and entered the woods in about 8th out of 13 riders.
Once in the woods, I think I ended up behind Dustin Clegg, a West Virginia rider. The Lake Hope race is a dual points race between Ohio and West Virginia, so it attracts a lot of racers from the other series. Just in front of Dustin was Vince Urichich, a new rival this season that I’ve had trouble keeping us with. I really wanted to catch Vince, but didn’t want to crush myself trying. For me, beating him would feel great.
I followed Dustin and Vince for quite a while and I felt strong. I wasn’t having any trouble keeping up and I was just having a lot of fun riding. I had shaken those dead legs off and it’s probably the best I’ve felt all summer.
After a few miles, I glanced down at the numbers from my power meter. My normalized power was over 330 Watts and average power over 270 watts. Uh-oh. I usually don’t pay close attention to my wattage during a race, but this was way higher than it was supposed to be. I felt so good that I had completely ignored how hard I was pushing it. There was no way I could maintain this for 30 miles. I didn’t want to be writing yet another article about bonking.
So, I did something that can be painful for a racer… I slowed down – not everywhere, just on the climbs. We reached a long sustained ascent and instead of attacking it at full bore, I let Dustin slip away from me and I tried to stay below the red line. I could catch him on the downhills and the flats. This strategy worked for several miles, but eventually Dustin and Vince left me on a climb and I lost touch with them.
Even though I had been dropped, I still felt good. I was riding my own race and I felt like I could maintain it to the finish line. My mental state was in good shape. My hope was that if I raced smart that I might be able to catch them. I was bombing down hills, carving through the forest, jumping small obstacles and having fun. This was what mountain biking was all about.
Along the way I passed a few expert singlespeeders and expert open guys and that added to the positive vibes.
On one downhill switchback, Cato Coleman had missed the turn and tumbled into the woods. He was hurt, but not too badly, as he would eventually finish the race. What was note-worthy to me was that his teammate Austin Francescone, a solid rider from my division, had stopped to help him. Would I benefit off of his good samaritan tendencies? I could taste the extra series point already.
Eventually, I caught up to a rider on a singlespeed and after a couple of switchbacks I realized it was Kenny Kocarek, who is my favorite mountain-biking, beer-drinking comedian and all-around good guy. (Check out my Q&A with Kenny) Him and his buddies on Team Knobby Side Down (KSD) are always posting funny mountain bike stuff on Facebook and I look forward to seeing what they will do next.
“Kenny? Is that you?”
“Yeah, Who’s that?”
Kenny acknowledged my existence and then took off like a bat out of hell. I guess he didn’t want to hang out.
I tried to keep up with him, but I was getting left behind. I must have inspired him to greatness. Somewhere in my effort I passed Dustin (I think). Then, trail-stud Austin caught back up to me. There goes the extra series point I was banking on. 🙁 I immediately offered him a pass because he is a much stronger rider than I am, but he decided to hang out on my back tire for a little bit.
The two of us caught back up to Kenny and we rode as a threesome for a while – which is how Kenny likes it. We made a little conversation, but we were really going too fast to talk.
Austin got bored and made his move to pass us. I followed Kenny for a little longer and the pace mellowed so that we could chat a little. Then Kenny steered the talk in a different direction.
“You should ride past me. I’m slowing down. Thanks for pushing me the last couple miles. You help me stay away from the other guys in my field.”
“Are you sure?” I replied.
“If we sit here and play patty-cake all day that guy is going to put a big gap on you. Go get him!”
Patty-cake? I wasn’t sure who I was going to get, but Kenny was right. I still had some life left in me and maybe if I got lucky I could catch somebody. I passed Kenny and started pushing myself. We were only 5 miles or so from the end, so I started attacking the hills more aggressively. I wasn’t worried about bonking any more. I was a trail warrior ready to conquer one of my favorite trails.
I passed a few more experts that had hit the wall. I pushed and pushed and pushed, but I didn’t catch Austin or anyone else in my class. The gap was just too big.
One of the most memorable moments of any race at Lake Hope is the final climb. It’s a fairly steep, washed-out, root-covered ascent that has broken the spirits of many riders that have attempted it. Once you reach the top, the road seems like it should be a relief but turns out to be almost as steep and unforgiving.
When I reached the bottom of this climb I looked up and saw Vince Urichich at the top. This was the rival that I had hoped to stay with. I was in disbelief that I was this close to him. Talk about motivation. I pushed up the final hill harder than I have ever pushed up before. Vince looked a little wobbly on the road, recovering from his climb. I cleared the entire hill, even the roots at the top that always make me spin out. Vince was still in view climbing on the road. I put my head down and pushed on the pedals hard. The race had less than two minutes left and I was going to give it all I had.
My breathing became intense. I stood on the pedals and my bike rocked hard back and forth from right to left. I felt the effort in my hands, my forearms, my neck and my back. Every ounce of my body was invested in this final sprint.
But alas, Vince escaped my attack. I watched him cross the finish line 18 seconds ahead of me. If I had one more mile, I think I might have caught him.
I was just happy that I came that close, because now I know I can catch him.
Overall, I consider Lake Hope to be a success. I finished 7th out of 13 riders in expert 40+, which I think is respectable. Even though I didn’t get on the podium, I have a couple of reasons to feel hopeful. In my previous 3 OMBC races my normalized power, which is similar to average power, was 236 watts, 244 watts and 241 watts respectively. At Lake Hope my normalized power was 278 watts. That’s 14 percent higher than my previous best at Mohican State Park. Plus, this happened on a course where I logged just as many kilojoules (a unit of work) as I did at Great Seal, which means this course was just as hard.
I’ve been hitting the mountain bike trails more and more now that the rain has subsided and I feel like it’s starting to pay dividends. There is just no substitute in mountain bike training for time on the trail. With more opportunities for speed workouts at Alum Creek during the week, I feel like I haven’t peaked yet this season. I can’t wait to see how this all turns out. Will I finally catch Vince? Do I have a chance at hitting the podium? I’m certainly going to try.
My next race will be at Dillon State Park on August 30th. I can’t wait to hit the rock gardens. Hopefully, I can continue improving and feeling the positive vibes. Also, I can’t wait to jump in the lake after the race. It’s an annual ritual. Who is with me?
7th of 13 in Expert 40+
- Time 2:27:12
- Avg Speed 11.8 mph
- Max Speed 34.1 mph
- Avg Power 237 Watts
- Max Power 918 Watts
- Normalized Power 278 Watts
- Training Stress Score 209.9
- Work 2096 KJ
- Elevation Gain 3084
- Calories Burnt 2096
Feel free to download photos, but please give a photo credit to James Knott and Quickdirt.com. Thanks!