OMBC West Branch State Park 2016 – XC MTB Race Report

Dan Fausey before the race at West Branch State Park

Waiting to race (as seen from my Gopro Hero 3 with my new chest strap). The weather was humid but nice. Dan Fausey looks boldly into the future.

Saturday, August 14th, 2016, the Ohio Mountain Bike Championship (OMBC) series met for race #6 at West Branch State Park near Akron, Ohio.  It had been a very dry and dusty summer, but the week before the race rain showers had flooded the state of Ohio.  Amazingly, West Branch had been spared from most of the rain.  When we showed up to race, the tread was solid and tacky – no mud.  Some light rain the night before had knocked down the dust, but had been completely absorbed by the trail.  However, the roots, rocks and bridges were still damp – and very slippery.  …and there are a lot of roots, rocks and bridges at West Branch.  This was going to be a technical challenge for even the most advanced racers.

90 riders showed up to compete.  Attendance was hurt by a forecast that showed a chance of rain in the afternoon.  When I looked at the weather in the morning, I thought it looked pretty good.  I thought we might have one or two short, light patches of rain, but nothing too serious.  Given how dry things have been, I didn’t really give it much thought.  I loaded up my bike and hit the road with my teammates, Mike Whaley and Nahum Burt.

James Knott gets ready to race at West Branch

I was excited for racing at West Branch. I always seem to have some mishap happen, like the year my pedal fell off 2 miles into the race. This year I was planning to break that string of misfortunes.

Equipment Checklist (Story continues below…)

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

Paul Patterson and Takahiro Nozaki at West Branch State Park

Paul Patterson and Takahiro Nozaki, from Team Breakaway Quickdirt Trek, get ready to crush some singletrack!

The Expert 40+ division lines up to start.

The Expert 40+ division lines up to start.

I test-road the course beforehand and thought about lowering the tire pressure in my wheels to increase traction on the wet roots, but decided not to because I didn’t want to mess with anything right before the race.  In retrospect, that may have been a poor decision.

The weather was humid, but gorgeous, at the start.  There were 7 men in the Expert 40+ category and I knew about half of them.  We shot off the start line, and for the first time this season, I was contesting the opening sprint (or at least trying to keep up).  I’ve been battling with my Breakaway Quickdirt Trek teammate, Max Tanuma, all season and I wanted to keep up with him.  He, in turn, was keeping up with Ross Clark and Brad Smith, two riders who have beaten me in every race this year.  But, far ahead, was someone I didn’t recognize, Nate Loman, he had opened up a big lead on all of us and I was wondering who this mountain biking power house was.

I was in 5th out of 7 at this point and one of the guys behind me was on a fat bike.

As we were reaching the woods, MTB ninja, Ross Clark, made his move – never to be seen again.  Brad Smith surged forward to follow him and I was now chasing Tanuma.  I started to think that today would be a battle between Max and I for 4th, so I was content just trying to follow him for a few miles while we settled into the singletrack.

James Knott races Max Tanuma at West Branch State Park

I was chasing Kunihiko “Max” Tanuma in the first lap of the race. The course begins with a mile of grassy snowmobile trail and then another mile of woodsy doubletrack before hitting the singletrack. The trail starts with a rock garden which is very rideable, but usually takes out a couple of the sport and novice level riders.

The gnarly features of the trail were damp and treacherous, but I thought I was handling my bike fairly well.  I stumbled a few times and had to play catch up with Max.

Then it started raining…  this wasn’t the sporadic rain that I had envisioned.  This was a constant drizzle that seemed to get slightly harder the longer the race lasted.  The rocks, roots and bridges gradually got more slippery.  When I tried to lay down some watts on one bridge my rear tire just spun out on the wood.  One wrong turn and I would fly off the edge of the slick bridge into the ravine below.

About half way through our first lap, we caught Nate Loman fairly quickly.  After his sprint into the woods, he must have slowed down significantly when Clark and Smith had passed him.  Based on the speed with which we caught him, I thought it was fair to ask for a pass.

“Hey there, when you get a safe spot can we get a pass?  Two back?”

Nothing.  No reply.

Max asked.

“Can we get a pass?”

He sped up.  But did not get away from us.  We were keeping up with him pretty easily.  Maybe he didn’t hear us.

I wasn’t sure who he was, but I was fairly certain he was a 40+ guy.  I decided to just chill out and follow Nate and Max for a few more miles.  Being in striking distance of third after the first lap seemed like pretty good positioning – especially since I’ve never finished that high in an expert 40+ race before.

Downhill to the finish at West Branch State Park

At the end of each lap there was an awesome downhill to the finish line. I had fun seeing how fast I could go in the slippery conditions.

The three of us finished the first lap together and Loman stopped to switch water bottles.  Max and I pushed forward.  Usually, I would use the snowmobile trail to recover and refuel, but today was different.  I was having a hard time getting traction in the woods, so I was not able to put much power into the pedals on the trail.  I had a lot of leftover energy in my legs and decided to push hard on the grassy path.  I gapped Tanuma and now I was in third.

But, Loman pushed hard too and caught back up to me.  He followed me into the woods and after the first rock garden, which I’ll admit I fumbled a little on, he asked for a pass.  Isn’t this ironic I thought?  He wouldn’t let me pass earlier and now he is asking for a pass.

I let him by immediately.

The weather had really turned and conditions continued to deteriorate.  I was having a hard time guiding my bike.  West Branch is a very twisty trail without much climbing.  My strengths this year are climbing and being able to save energy by holding my momentum on the flats and downhills.  I didn’t feel like I could take advantage of either.  Nearly every time I tried to pedal harder my bike would lose control.  Every time I had some momentum I ended up having to hit the brakes.  I really wish I would’ve lowered my tire pressure for more traction.

Slippery trail at West Branch State Park

The rain continued to fall and the trail was getting slimier with every passing minute.

A mile or two into the singletrack, Mike Whaley came prancing up behind me on the same bike as mine.  The difference?  He had a huge 29+ front tire running 10 psi.  He seemed like he had great traction. I had a skinny 29 inch tire with 25 psi.  I was jealous of his tire.

I was able to keep up with Nate, but it wasn’t pretty.  While I wouldn’t call anything that happened a fall, I definitely had to put my foot down a few times and do a few hike-a-bikes here and there.  His riding seemed more controlled and constant.  So lap 2 was defined by me screwing up and playing catch up over and over.

I followed Nate for the whole lap.  At one point he had built a gap of 200 feet or so.  We were always within one switchback of each other.  Towards the end of the lap I pushed hard and caught up to him.  He seemed like he was slowing down, but I didn’t try to pass.  I wanted to save my energy for an attack on the snowmobile trail at the lap point.

When we came through I pushed hard and passed him at the finish line.  I looked over my shoulder and saw that he had stopped for a bottle.  I immediately started sprinting.  I didn’t want him to catch up to me again.  I pedaled way harder than I had after the 1st lap.  My goal was to was to create a visual gap so that he couldn’t use the sight of me as inspiration to push harder.  It takes almost two miles to get from the start line to the singletrack and by the time I got there he was nowhere in sight.

My legs still felt really good and I was riding fairly well given the conditions.  I had a solid hold on 3rd place at this point.  I kept looking over my shoulder, paranoid that I would see my chaser on a switchback.  But, when I reached the halfway point at Cable Line Rd, there was still no sign of him.

James Knott mountain bikes at West Branch

I thought it would get easier to ride when I got closer to the lake, but it seemed a lot harder.

This is where I started to get competitive and greedy (if I hadn’t already done that).  I started having visions of catching Brad Smith, who I was pretty certain was in second.  Maybe he had bonked?  Maybe he had crashed?  Maybe he was busy fighting off a bear?  I started going faster to find out.  I still felt energetic.

Then my front tire slipped in a turn and I crashed hard to the ground.  Wham!  My handlebars were twisted and my number plate was cracked.  Ouch.

I picked myself up and jumped back on my bike.  No sign of Loman behind me.  I wasn’t going to let one little crash in these horrible conditions scare me.  I was going to catch Brad – the bear fighter.

I started speeding through the woods on a mission.  I made it about another half mile and on a short speedy descent my tire came out from under me again and I slid down the trail.  Wham!  Slide!   Mmmm, that hurt.

The top quarter inch of dirt had turned to peanut butter in the rain and random sections of trail had lost all of their traction.

My hands and grips were covered in mud.  I knew there was blood somewhere on me, but it was mixed in the brown grime that covered my body.  That one was a little harder to shake off.

Maybe I should take it easy?  I didn’t want to get caught by Nate.  Maybe I should accept third place?

Wham! I was down again.  WTF?!?

I did not feel like an expert-level mountain bike rider.  I felt pathetic.  Why couldn’t I just keep my bike upright?

At this point, I wasn’t sure what I had hurt.  I just knew that there was starting to be general pain hovering around my body.

4 more miles.

Wham!

Wham!

Wham!

3 more falls.

I hate myself.  I’m the worst rider ever.  How am I not in last place right now?  This third lap was way, way harder than the first two.  I didn’t need a bike, I needed a dog sled.

I limped forward determined not to fall again.

I crossed the finish line in 2:58:13.  That’s was a long, hard race and amazingly, despite falling 6 times in the last 5 miles, I had my best finish since moving up to expert.  Ross Clark finished first about 20 minutes ahead of me and had the second fastest time overall.  Brad Smith, who I had been chasing (although he didn’t know it), finished about 5 minutes ahead of me.

I was still sore three days later.

Kunihiko Tanuma and James Knott at West Branch State Park

Max finished 5th and I finished 3rd at West Branch. We were both filthy.

Muddy legs after race at West Branch

My body and bike were covered in peanut butter.

James Knott with a muddy face

Still smiling despite the falls!

Top Finishers

Expert

  • Rob Maier, Open, 2:37:13
  • Ross Clark, 40+, 2:38:33
  • Dave Walker, Open, 2:38:48

Sport

  • Joe Worboy, Veteran, 1:47:45
  • Mike Whaley, Singlespeed, 1:48:50
  • Ben Michels, Singlespeed, 1:01:52

Novice

  • Terry Duff, Clydesdale, 57:35
  • Joe Belmont, Veteran, 58:30
  • Adam Stacko, High School, 1:01:52

Women

  • Jen Toops, Expert, 2:04:27
  • Laura Reynolds, Sport, 2:23:23
Expert 40+ podium at West Branch State Park

My first time on the expert podium. 3rd in Expert 40+ behind Ross Clark and Brad Smith. Great race guys!

More Photos…