On September 11th, 2016, the Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series (OMBC) held race #8 at Chestnut Ridge Metropark. But before the 112 adult racers lined up, the kids took over the venue.
Rick Armstrong held a kid’s clinic where dozens of children learned valuable mountain bike skills and practiced riding over obstacles like bridges, teeter totters, and log piles. My children, Wendel, age 7, and Oliver, age 5, were in attendance and had a blast. Afterwards, they had the opportunity to ride on the pump track and explore some singletrack before the big kid’s race at 11am.
At noon it was time for adults to line up. 112 racers, which included 103 men and 9 women, showed up to test themselves on one of the best courses in Ohio. Chestnut Ridge is a well-balanced course with a little bit of everything to keep you on your toes. There are an ample supply of rocks and roots to challenge you, but not so many that it’s annoying or frustrating. Man-made bridges, berms and jumps are well-placed and enhance the natural features of the trail. Fast descents give you time to recover from the lung-busting climbs that are thrown at you. According to my Garmin, each lap was about 9.3 miles and had almost 1000 feet of climbing. The major climb is known as the Apple Barn climb. It starts 3.25 miles into the lap and climbs 167 feet over .9 miles. In some sick way, this is one of my favorite parts of the course these days.
This year a new trail called “More Cowbell” was added. This man-made gravity flow trail is a blast, but also has the potential to take out a few riders who take it too aggressively. There are tons of opportunities to get air and show off to the riders around you, but if you aren’t careful you’ll be eating dirt. I loved having this as part of the course, but for the most part I kept my tires on the boring ol’ ground.
The day before the race, there was a heavy rain storm and I think that scared off a few riders who were worried that the trail might be muddy. But, Chestnut handled the moisture very well and overall the trail was in great shape. My bike and body did not look dirty at all when I finished. The rain had knocked down the dust. There were some slick roots, but I can’t really recall any major puddles. One slippery cat walk had a slight turn at the end that I know a few guys wiped out on. It almost took me out on the first lap and I rode it gingerly on the next two.
Top Times for the Day
Expert (3 laps):
- Drew Purcell, Open, 2:11:40, Wooster Bike Works
- Peyton Randolph, Open, 2:14:13, Trek Store Columbus
- Ross Clark, 40+, 2:15:15, Truwheels
Sport (2 laps):
- Anthony Toops, 30-39, 1:33:52, Mid Ohio Velo Sport
- Michael Whaley, Singlespeed, 1:34:26, Breakaway Quickdirt Trek
- Aaron Graber, 19-29, 1:35:29, Ride On
Novice (1 lap):
- Michael Neff, Clydesdale, 51:58
- Mark Grise, 30-39, 53:51, Bike Doctor
- Lance Comstock, High School, 55:51
- Jen Toops, Expert, 2:41:34, Mid Ohio Velo Sport
- Kayla Randolph, Sport, 1:56:10, Queen City Wheels
- Sarah Knapp, Novice, 1:04:04, Paradise Garage Racing
I was lined up in the second heat of the day for the Expert 40+ division. It was a good turnout of 13 riders and I was feeling a little nervous about my chances of success. The day before, I had run a fast 5K for a school fundraiser (I got 1st. Yeah! Click here to see the results). I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but when I woke the day of the Chestnut race, I could barely walk. My ankles were stiff and my legs felt tired. Maybe I had overdone it. Running muscles are different than cycling muscles, so I was just hoping that my quads still felt fresh.
On the start line, I was lined up next to Ross Clark, who has dominated the division this season. While race director Ryan O’Dell made a few announcements, Ross and I were chit-chatting about family and other light-hearted stuff. Then Ryan surprised us by abruptly shouting “Ok go!” in what seemed like the middle of a sentence.
We were completely caught off guard and did not get a great start. Vince Urichich, Brad Smith, and my Breakaway Quickdirt teammate Max Kunihiko all shot off ahead of us. I knew Ross would have no problem catching them on his geared bike, but I was pedaling my bike like a madman at 150 rpm and barely able to keep up.
At one point, my nemesis, Chris Knapp caught up to me and jokingly taunted me.
“I’m going to pass you with my big gears,” he said menacingly as he slowly pulled by me on the opening sprint.
“I’m just messing with ya!” he followed up with after easing off his pedals. “You can go first.” I had to laugh. He knew that once we hit the singletrack I would just try and pass right away. He figured it wasn’t worth wasting the energy. Thanks for letting me go Chris.
Lap 1: Finding My Position
Brad and Ross and went into the woods first, followed by Vince and Max, then me. I quickly lost sight of Brad and Ross while I followed Vince and Max for a mile or so. These guys are both solid, fast riders, so I decided I would stay behind them for a while because I didn’t want to go out too hard and blow myself up. But, after a while I felt like I could be going faster.
“Hey Vince, can we get a pass when you get a safe spot?” I queried, hoping he would let Max and I by. But to my surprise, when Vince pulled to the side, so did Max, and they both let me pass at once.
I did the math in my head. Ross is first. Brad is second. I’m in third. Wow. That was a great feeling. I knew I would never see Ross again. That guy rides like a bullet train through the woods. But, I started wondering whether I could catch Brad. It felt like he had a big head start and I was worried that it might be insurmountable. Was 3rd place my destiny? I had placed 3rd in each of my last three races and it was starting to feel like that was being mandated based on my riding these days.
After another half mile or so I had left Vince and Max behind me, and low and behold, I caught a glimpse of Brad ahead of me on a switchback. He hadn’t gapped me by as much as I thought he had. There was hope.
Before the race, my wife had asked what my goal was. I told her my goal was to go out with Brad and see how long I could hang with him. Now, two miles into a 28-mile race I had the opportunity to try and live out my objective. My veins coursed with positive vibes because I knew I was well-positioned to have a good race. For the time being, I had one goal, stay within reading distance of the “Ride On” logo on Brad’s butt.
A little background, Brad and I have raced 7 times this year. For most of the season, Brad has consistently placed one position ahead of me. For example, if I finish in 6th, then he gets 5th. If I finish 5th, he gets 4th. But, as close as that sounds, he always felt like he was at a much higher level than me. Then at Dillon State Park last month, I was finally able to keep up with him. I surprised myself by actually passing him and beating him for the first time. But I found out later that he was having problems with his tire pressure, so I figured it was a win with an asterisk. I didn’t hold out much hope that it would happen again.
But, as I was following him at Chestnut Ridge I was feeling good. I wasn’t gasping for air and my quads weren’t burning to keep up. The pace was manageable. Every time he opened a small gap on me, I was able to push a little harder and catch right back up. In fact, at times I was so close to his rear tire that I felt like I could go faster. I started to think I might be able to hang with him.
But I didn’t want to just hang, I’m a racer so I started thinking about my strategy in the off-chance that I could beat him. We are so evenly matched, that I couldn’t think of a place to pass him. Every time the woods opened up a little, Brad would speed up so that I couldn’t pass. It’s like he knew what I was thinking. I couldn’t pass him on the climbs or downhills because he is really strong in both places. I couldn’t pass him on the flats because he has gears and I have a singlespeed.
As we came to the end of the first lap, I knew that I had to grab a bottle from my bottle stand (that I had just built before the race) and chug it. I didn’t want Brad to gap me so I said, “Brad, I’m not going to try and pass you when we get to the field.” I was hoping that he wouldn’t feel threatened and he would decide to drink a bottle and recover while I was drinking mine. But, when we exited the woods, Brad started sprinting. Had my little comment inspired him to ditch me. It was a brilliant move on his part. I wanted to go with him, but I knew I needed to drink. I chugged my bottle and then pedaled my little singlespeed gear as fast as I could, but Brad entered back into the woods out of my sight.
Lap 2: Searching For Opportunity
I began to wonder if that was the end of my race, but I knew I had to try and stay with him. I pushed hard and within a half mile I could see him again. A mile later, I was on his tail again. This was turning into a true battle. I wasn’t sure how hard I could push my legs, so I just decided to follow Brad for another lap and let him set the pace.
I was still worried about how I might pass him. If we went all the way to finish together, he could definitely out-sprint me, so I needed another way to get by. I’m a strong climber this year, so I started thinking that our third climb up the Apple Barn might be my best chance to get by him.
As we finished our second lap, I decided not to say anything to him. I didn’t want him to sprint away from me again. I grabbed my bottle and took a quick drink and then focused on just staying up with him. We passed under the finish banner to start the last lap and then all of a sudden Brad came to a complete stop to grab his bottle off the picnic table.
What? I didn’t see that coming. Now was my chance. I started sprinting through the grassy field to the woods – about a third of a mile. My singlespeed cadence reached unsustainable levels and I had to coast every now and then to let my legs catch up. I looked over my shoulder and Brad was charging hard after me in a big gear. He definitely wanted the lead back and I wasn’t sure I could hold him off. The woods got closer… …closer… …Man! Brad is fast… …closer… …I made it.
Lap 3: The Mountain Lion’s Pursuit
I was probably 100 feet in front of Brad and I didn’t want to let him catch up. I thought that would fill him with hope and I was in second now, my best position ever, and wanted to keep hope on my side. I upped the pace, especially on the climbs, and tried to turn the screws on him. I was determined that I was either going to make him crack or I was going to die trying. Could I hold him off for 9 more miles? He is a great pacer and a tenacious competitor.
It felt like I started to put some distance on him, but I could also feel the lactate starting to burn in my muscles. There was a limit to how much I could push it and when we hit the Apple Barn climb I could still see him on the switchbacks. He seemed as determined as I was. This was the most intense mountain bike race I had ever been in.
My emotions were all over the place. I was elated that I was in second, but I felt like a little fawn being stalked by a mountain lion. Paranoia haunted me. One mistake and I was toast. Brad was riding flawlessly. There was no room for crashing or mechanicals. I couldn’t put my foot down or have a mental lapse. This was war and if I tripped Brad was ready to pierce my back with his sword. There was no room for caution and I attacked every turn, every bridge, every climb as if it was the one that would win the day.
The miles ticked away… 5 miles left… 4 miles left… 3 miles left… I sped down “More Cowbell” at speeds that had me accidentally leaving the ground. The finish line was getting closer, but Brad was still in my rearview mirror.
Finally, with a half mile to go, it started to seem like it was going to happen. I didn’t leave anything to chance. When I exited the woods the final time, I sprinted to the finish line. After 2 hours and 24 minutes of racing, Brad and I were only separated by 30 seconds. For 26 miles, we were within spitting distance of each other and it was as just as mentally intense as it was physically difficult.
I finished 2nd, for the first time ever in an expert-level division. It felt like my best race to date and I had Brad to thank for pushing me so hard. I couldn’t have done it without him. I’m looking forward to another battle on October 1st at Scioto Trails, and then again, on October 8th at Mohican State Park. I know Brad will be trying to put me back in my place and I look forward to the challenge.
Official Time 2:24:00
- Distance 27.95 miles
- 2nd of 13 in Expert 40+ (84th percentile)
- 6th of 22 for all Expert times (72nd percentile)
- Speed 11.6 mph
- Moving Speed 11.7 mph
- Max Speed 24.0 mph
- Elevation Gain 2982 feet
- Calories 1368
- Avg Temperature 64.3F
- Avg Heart Rate 147 bpm
- Max Heart Rate 162 bpm
These are the items that help me get through race day. Click on the links to see reviews and prices.
NEW – Homemade bottle stand, made with a garden stake, license plate and four bottle holders.
- Garmin Edge 800 (which I’ll upgrade to the 820 at some point)
- Trek Superfly SS
- Camelbak 70oz Hydration Pack
- Polar Insulated Water Bottles with Hammer Perpetuem Cafe Latte
- Bontrager Rally Mountain Bike Helmet
- Shimano PD-540 MTB Pedals
- Giro Carbide Bike Shoe
- Race Face BB92 Press Fit Bottom Bracket
- Bontrager Race Lite Bottle Cages (Orange)
- Stan’s Notubes Tubeless Set-up Kit – to set-up my tires tubeless before hand.
- Powergel Tangerine 2X Caffeine gels
- Bontrager inForm Evoke grips
- Cliff Bar Chocolate Chip Energy Bar
- 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 Flash Charger Tubeless Ready Pump
- Yeti 64oz Rambler Bottle (thermos to keep my coffee hot)
- Yeti 20oz Rambler Tumbler (to drink my hot coffee)
Feel free to download these if you see one you like. If you post to social media, then please give a credit to James Knott and Quickdirt.