OMBC Lake Hope State Park 2016 – MTB Race Report

Mike Whaley points to the hike-a-bike at Lake Hope

Before the race, Mike Whaley and I checked out the conditions for the infamous hike-a-bike at the end of the course.

The Ohio Mountain Bike Championship (OMBC) met for race #5 at Lake Hope State Park on Sunday, July 31, 2016.  The humidity made the summer heat feel way warmer than it was.  There had been rain two days prior, but the trails at Lake Hope drain well and most of the trail was dry and tacky.  There were a few slick spots in the low areas, but nothing too bad.  It did seem like the rain, heat and humidity had scared a few people away – 123 racers total with 38 experts.  However, in my opinion, they missed out on a great day of racing.

I was not starting out the day from a good mental position.  For starters, a fatigued mid-week ride prior to the race made me doubt my conditioning because I was slower than I wanted to be.  And, a month of fun vacations had made me heavier than I wanted to be.  My training and diet hadn’t been dialed in and I was worried that I had taken a step back midway through the season.

But even bigger than that…  I was tuning up my bike the night before and my front brake was squealing loudly – very, very, very loudly.  It’s hard for me to emphasize how loud it was.  …at every speed  …at every brake pressure.  My usual fixes weren’t working.  I have never had my brakes squeal this badly, not as a novice, not as a sport, never.  I was worried that I would have to race for 30 miles this way and that it would mess up my mojo.  Nobody likes to be “loud brakes guy.”  On top of that, and perhaps more importantly, they weren’t stopping me as quickly as I would like.  But who cares about stopping when your loud brakes are making you feel like a grom.

I begged for last minute advice on the Quickdirt Facebook page and my readers responded with lots of great ideas.  I woke up early the next morning and bought some Brakleen and 220 grit sandpaper.  I got to Lake Hope and started disassembling my brakes in the grass next to the gravel road where everyone parks.  I took off my rotor and brake pads and performed two rounds of sanding and cleaning.  Lots of racers stopped by to check out what I was doing, commenting that I was crazy to be performing this last minute maintenance.  I felt like I had no choice – but what if I did all this and they still honked loudly?  Or worse yet, what if they no longer stopped my bike as I was flying through the forest?  I was stressed.

James Knott's car at Lake Hope State Park

I worked on my front brake behind my car in the grass on the side of the gravel road where everyone parks. Racers kept stopping by to see how I was progressing. It would have been fun social time if I wasn’t so stressed.

I reassembled my brakes and mounted my bike to test them out.  I hit my brake lever…  HOOOONNNNNNKKKKKK!  It didn’t start well.  I rode up and down the gravel road, burnishing the brakes on the downhills.  By the time I rode to the woods and back they were quiet, and, even better, they were giving me perfect stopping power.  SUCCESS!  I was impressed with the quality of my repair.  Things were starting to look up a little.

Equipment Checklist

These are the items that help me get through race day.  Click on the links to see reviews and prices:

Hanging out before the mtb race at Lake Hope

Austin Francescone, Tony Mellott and Jeff Harper get spied on by my Go Pro before the race.  These are three guys that have consistently beaten me since I moved up to expert.  I’ve never beaten Austin in a race when he didn’t have a mechanical.  How badly would they crush me today I wondered?

I rode around casually with Mike Whaley before the race, but for the most part I skipped a real warm-up.  30 miles is a long race and I wanted to save most of my energy for the singletrack.

We lined up and all expert men were starting in the same wave – Open, 40+ and singlespeed.  I was riding a singlespeed, but registered in the 40+ division.  I was one of the first people to line up.   I expected the faster guys to get in front of me, but everyone cued up behind me.  It felt odd to be upfront because I wasn’t planning on winning the sprint to the woods, but I was happy for the good positioning.  On my left, was former OMBC champion Dave Walker, on my right, singlespeed badass Peyton Randolph.  I was in good company.

The expert racers line up to race.

The expert racers line up to race.  I’m just happy that I’m in front of my nemesis, #99 Chris Knapp.

Expert race start at Lake Hope State Park

Expert racers pretending not to be nervous before the start.

At 12:06 pm Ryan O’Dell released the first wave.  The race starts with a tough gravel climb and a road section to thin the herd before the woods.  I pedaled fairly hard, but watched 15-20 guys pass me on the first hill.  Wow.  This start was smokin’ fast.  It made me feel like I was in the wrong group, but I knew I had to let them go if I was going to do my personal best.  After the first quarter mile, riders settled a bit and I found myself at the back of the first peloton with a huge gap behind me to the next group of racers.

I was at the back of the front group when we turned onto the gravel road. Tony Mellott was right in front me.

I was at the back of the front group when we turned onto the gravel road. Tony Mellott was right in front me.  This photo doesn’t make it seem like we were close to the fast guys, but I swear we were. …sort of.

In the woods, the pace was unbelievably fast considering how long the train of riders was.  There were at least 15-20 riders in front of me and they were averaging more than 13 miles per hour.  Amazingly there were no crashes.  I was just a humble caboose on the end of this woodsy bullet-train.

That first section of singletrack is slightly downhill and tons of fun.  Despite the speed, my cardio and technical were very much under control.  I didn’t attempt to pass in that first two miles.  I was content to see if anyone would blow up and slow up after the quick start.  Before the race, I had looked up my previous expert pace, which was 11.8 mph.  My goal for the day was not to try and beat the other racers, it was to try and beat my previous time.  I wanted to try and maintain an even pace throughout, so I was in no rush since we were already at 13 mph.  In fact, I was worried that I was going out too fast.  Should I slow down?  Was I going to bonk before the finish line?

I brushed off those thoughts because I was having too much fun.  Lake Hope is a seriously cool place to mountain bike.  It’s fast and flowy with the right amount of technical to keep it interesting.  My heart rate might have been high, but it was overshadowed by the big smile on my face.  It was only 3 miles in, but I was starting to feel great.  Positive vibes seeped through my veins and I told myself how strong I felt.  Damn the torpedos!  FULL SPEED AHEAD!!!!

Chris Knapp races mtb at Lake Hope State Park

Chris Knapp, requisite nemesis rear end shot.

I followed my nemesis, Chris Knapp, for a while and he was going plenty fast until we hit a big climb.  He started gearing down at the same time that I was standing up to mash and I rear-ended him.  (Sorry Chris)  He let me pass and this was one of the first of many uphill moves I would make throughout the day – though most of them were way more graceful.

I think Lake Hope might be the perfect singlespeeding track.  There aren’t a lot of completely flat areas that the geared guys can leave you on.  The roller-coaster-style trail has lots of hills to power over then coast down.  I quickly realized that I was making up lots of ground on the climbs and passed several other people that were holding me back on the ascents.  I was definitely more aggressive than I usually am in an expert field.

I was still worried about going out too hard when I caught up to Tony Mellot.  He is typically quicker than I am.  When I saw him I was torn between confidence and despair.  Was I really feeling this strong today or was a bonk imminent?  If I passed Tony now, would he pass me back 10 miles later?  I decided to chance it when he let me pass on the inside of an uphill switchback.

Racing mountain bikes at Lake Hope State Park

This guy was more than happy to stop and let me by.  He just leaned up against the tree and waved me on.  Muchas gracias!

The race was now in full swing.  The fog of war shades my memories of the event, but one thing I noticed was that I was slowly picking off riders, and all the while, no one had passed me the entire race.  My pacing was close to perfect so far and I was passing people that had gone out too hard and were starting to fade.

As I got towards the end of the race, there were two riders that I passed that really stuck out to me.  Austin Francescone and Jeff Harper.  These guys have been dusting me all season.  They both have their training regimens dialed in and I had pretty much given up hope of ever catching them in a race.  I’ve faced off with Austin over 20 times over the years and I’ve never beaten him unless he’s had a mechanical.  Jeff Harper was a sport last year, but has improved quickly with his laser-focus on training for racing.  He consistently crushed me in cyclocross last fall.

I was surprised when I saw Harper.  When I passed him I thought he would try and stay with me for a while, but he quickly disappeared from my rearview.

When I saw Austin, I could tell instantly that he had gone out too hard and bonked.  He was slumped over in the saddle and looked like he was about to fall over as he crested a hill.  In his words, he had “popped”.  I tried to say something encouraging to him as I passed, but we were at the top of a climb and my labored breathing didn’t allow me to get any words out.

My legs were starting to feel the first signs of fatigue, but passing these two guys took me to a new mental level.  My confidence was bolstered and I could taste the finish line.

GPS Map of the 2016 OMBC Lake Hope race course.

GPS Map of the 2016 OMBC Lake Hope race course.

Heart rate and elevation chart for the OMBC expert race course at Lake Hope State Park in 2016

Heart rate and elevation chart for the OMBC expert race course at Lake Hope State Park in 2016.  Notice the big spike in heart rate on the final hill.  It took everything I had left to make it to the finish line.

It was Dave Brown from the West Virginia series that pushed me for the final few miles.  It took me forever to catch him, then my GoPro mount snapped and my camera flew into the woods.  Good grief!  So, I had to catch him again after stopping to pick it up.  When I finally did pass him, it took me forever to shake him off my tail.  But I finally did.

…Then the quads started barking at me.  Ouch.

Climbing had been my strength all day.  I had picked off at least a dozen expert riders on the climbs.  All of a sudden though, my legs were on the verge of cramping on the final big climbs.  I was still making good time, but I had to dial it back a little to stay below the red line.  But, holding back on a few climbs had allowed Dave Brown to claw his way back.  I could see him behind me on the final switchback.

When I reached the final, infamous hike-a-bike out of the woods, I tried to pedal up and made it only about 20 or 30 feet.  I had to hike it or I was going to cramp.  I tried to jog my bike up and I had a good head start on Dave, but by the time I reached the top he was only about 30 feet behind me because he had ridden up much faster.  But, when we reached the road, my quads were still fresh because I had hiked and his quads were toast from pedaling.  Despite being on the edge of cramping, I was able to open up the gap on the final road section from 5 seconds to 30 seconds at the finish line.

Dave Brown and James Knott at Lake Hope State Park

Dave Brown and I congratulated each other on surviving a tough race.

I finished 5th of 16 in the Men’s Expert 40+ division.  I would have finished 5th in the Expert Open and 2nd in the Singlespeed division.  I was happy with that.  I finished strong without bonking.  Even though I was 2 seconds slower than the year before, I felt like I had put together a solid effort.  If you take out the GoPro incident, it would have been a PR.  On average the expert times were slower than the year before and that means that I had performed well for the hot and humid conditions, which had taken their toll on so many other riders.  Overall, I felt like it was one of my best expert races to date.  I’m really looking forward to a rematch at West Branch State Park on August 14th and I know these guys are ready to put me back in my place.

Men's Expert 40+ podium at Lake Hope State Park

Men’s Expert 40+ podium: Congratulations to Ross Clark for finishing 1st in 2:15:29. Ross, if you’d like to be featured in this blog, then you should slow down and wait for me. That goes for you too Brad Rogers and Brad Smith.  I hope to join you guys up there some day!

Jimmy’s Stats

  • 5th of 16 in Expert 40+ (69th percentile)
  • 10th of 35 Expert Men (71st percentile)
  • Moving Time 2:26:51
  • Distance 29.1 miles
  • Moving Speed 11.9 mph
  • Max Speed 34.3 mph
  • Calories 1670
  • Elevation Gain 2657 feet
  • Avg Temperature 72.1 F
  • Max Temperature 82.4 F
  • Min Temperature 69.8 F

More Photos:

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