A light covering of snow had fallen overnight. Temperatures at the start were predicted to be in the 40s, but it was just barely above freezing at Mountwood Park in West Virginia. I was shivering as I waited for the start of the race. It felt like hypothermia would set in soon. Maybe I had underdressed. But, the sun was out and it was going to get warmer. I was dressed for the weather that was promised in two hours from now.
Before the race I took a pre-ride. The trail was amazing. A couple of wet roots, but other than that the singletrack seemed fast and tacky. Little did I know the situation would change dramatically by the time I returned to this same section in the race.
It was my first XC race on my new Trek Superfly Single Speed and I was a little nervous. The expert track has 22 miles and 3000 feet of climbing and I was worried that my legs might give out if I started out too intensely. I really wasn’t sure how fast I could go compared to my past results. Last year, Mountwood was my first expert race and I averaged 9.3 mph and I thought that would be a good goal for my first singlespeed race since I didn’t have a power meter to measure my intensity and I wasn’t really sure where my heart rate should be.
The Experts Start
When the race started, I trotted off like I was on a lazy Sunday drive. The other experts shot past me and I chatted with another bloke who was starting out slowly on the first quarter mile of paved road. The course then turned left sharply on to double track and immediately began to climb. This was what I was saving my energy for.
I stood on the pedals and started mashing to a nice rhythm. I wasn’t trying to go really fast or really show, I was just finding a good steady cadence. But, I quickly realized that my singlespeed rhythm was faster than most of the geared spinners around me. I surprisingly started passing people left and right and although I was working fairly hard to get up the hill, my breathing and heart rate felt like they were under control.
This opening two mile section of gravel weaves, undulates and climbs up to the singletrack, and to me, this is one of the most fun moments of the entire season. There were 68 expert racers (61 men, 7 women) racing each other for position on the trail. It’s a long, fast section that requires strength for climbing, technical skills on the gravel turns, and plenty of courage for riding in unpredictable traffic. It’s exhilarating.
I reached the singletrack somewhere in the middle of the pack, content with my position and happy that I still felt great. I decided to just go with the flow for a bit to catch my breath. My plan was to only pass if someone crashed or spun out in front of me. I would just play follow the leader and see what my average speed looked like.
It wasn’t very long before I realized that my plan to relax and catch my breath might not work. The trail conditions had changed completely since my pre-ride. There were only 20 or 30 experts in front of me, but they had already turned the top layer of dirt into peanut butter. I hadn’t expected this at all and I don’t think the race organizers did either. It became difficult to keep the bike upright or to descend with confidence. I was sure that my average speed was going to drop dramatically, but I was too busy focusing on not crashing to actually look. Wow. If it was this hard for us at the front of the race, what would it be like for the beginners coming through 15 minutes later?
Side Note: Jimmy’s Equipment List
This is what I actually had with me during the race. …plus a couple of items that helped me get ready for the event. Click on the links to see reviews and prices:
- Trek Superfly SS
- Camelbak Hydrobak 70oz Hydration Pack with 2 scoops of Gatorade Frost Glacier Freeze
- Bontrager Rally Mountain Bike Helmet
- Under Armour Compression Cold Gear Base Layer
- Shimano PD-540 MTB Pedals
- Bontrager Evoke Full-Finger Gloves
- Giro Carbide Bike Shoe
- Crank Brothers Multi-tool (17 functions)
- Park Tool Tire Levers (2)
- Stan’s Notubes Sealant 2 oz.
- Park Tool Valve Core Remover
- CO2 Cartridges
- Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Elite Inflator
- Bontrager Race Lite Bottle Cages (Orange)
- Stan’s Notubes Tubeless Set-up Kit – to set-up my tires tubeless before hand.
- Bontrager Flash Charger Tubeless Ready Pump – this was actually used before the race.
- Powergel Tangerine 2X Caffeine gels (4)
- Bontrager inForm Evoke grips
The Story Continues: Settling In
I was holding my own on the new bike. I slipped a couple of times on some short steep climbs, but I’m pretty sure most of the riders around me were having similar issues. I got passed by a couple of people, but I also passed a few racers too. My legs were still feeling good about 10 miles in and I noticed my average speed, which included the fast section of gravel, was still around 10.5 mph. This was well above my goal of 9.3 mph. I was worried that my singlespeed was going to be a hindrance, but now I was becoming optimistic. Maybe if I played my cards right I could turn in a decent time?
Being Passed By a Legend
At one point, my wheel spun out on a short steep climb and I had to pull my bike to the side to let 2 other riders pass. One of them was wearing blue jeans. What? It was 5-time OMBC Champ Dave Walker. I was in disbelief. I hadn’t seen him racing for several seasons. I wasn’t sure why he hadn’t been around or what his current training was like. However, I felt honored just to be this close to him in a race.
8 or 9 years ago, when I was a novice racer and still just trying to survive a race without a serious crash or mechanical, Walker was dominating the Ohio race scene. He stuck out because unlike the rest of the lycra-covered experts, denim was his preferred material for his shorts. I remember finishing my short novice race and watching him battle with the other experts. He seemed to have god-like talents on the singletrack that seemed unattainable to a newbie like me. Now, I was riding in his shadow and it made me feel cool just to be able to hang with him for a little bit.
I stuck with Walker for a couple of miles before he pulled away. I was no longer basking in his sunshine and I looked down at my computer to assess the situation. My average speed had dropped, but I was still above 10 mph. My speed wasn’t dropping as fast as I expected and the trail was starting to dry up a little. I might be able to survive the day with a decent time on my new bike.
This Is The End
After the sport/expert split in the trail there are more short punchy climbs and I opted to run several of them as an energy-saving strategy. Other than that though, I was having a much easier time navigating the singletrack. Conditions were more forgiving in the second half and my legs were holding out well. “You can do this. Push harder!” I thought.
I started off conservatively, but now I was fully motivated to finish strong. In the last 2 miles I picked off 4 or 5 riders and each time it filled me with a burst of enthusiasm. My speed was at 9.8 mph when I exited the woods for the finish. This was definitely going to be a PR. I started pushing hard to the finish. My 32:18 gear ratio would only let me go so fast though. My cadence went over 150 rpm. Off in the distance, I could see Dave Walker finishing. No freakin’ way! I put my head down and gave it every last drop of energy I had. He finished 3 seconds ahead of me. Good job Dave.
I ended up getting 9th in the Expert 35+ category with a time of 2:15:55 – 8 minutes faster than the year before, despite the fact that course conditions were much harder. I was pumped. This was a good start to the season. My off-season training seemed to be paying off and my new bike had proven it’s worth.
Jimmy’s Stats -According to Garmin 800 GPS
- Distance: 22.28 miles
- Moving Time: 2:14:47
- Official Finishing Time: 2:15:55
- Finished 31st out of all 68 expert racers (55th percentile)
- 9th out of 17 Expert 35+ racers (47th percentile)
- Moving Speed: 9.9 mph
- Max Speed: 25.1 mph
- Elevation Gain: 2976 feet
- Avg Heart Rate: 147 bpm
- Max Heart Rate: 169 bp
- Avg Cadence: 56 rpm
- Max Cadence: 175 rpm
- Avg Temperature: 42.8F
- Min Temperature: 35.6F
- Max Temperature: 53.6F
***No power data for my singlespeed. I just let passion be my guide.
Don’t forget to like Quickdirt on Facebook. Up next, the OMBC race at Mohican State Park. I’m going to shoot for a PR, which would put me under 2:20:00. Come back to Quickdirt.com next week to see if I achieved my goal.
Feel free to download these photos. If you post them on social media please tag James Knott and Quickdirt. Hope to see you at another race this summer!