The OMBC race at East Fork State Park near Cincinnati starts at the bottom of a hill at the end of a dead end road. Brad Rogers pulled up next to me on our easy ride from the parking lot to the starting line.
“Brad, if you slow down in the race and wait for me I’ll be able to write about you in my next Quickdirt article.”
He didn’t seem very receptive to the idea.
I’d used this line on him and Ross Clark, who perpetually crushes all the Expert 40+ guys, before. It’s easiest to write about the guys that I’m interacting with in the race and these two are usually so far ahead of me that I can’t even get a whiff of their exhaust.
As I’ve moved up the rungs of racing it occurred to me that the main rival of the story has changed over time. It all started on Quickdirt with my nemesis, Chris Knapp, who ate up plenty of paragraphs here on the site. Before the blog, as a novice, I was up against Lenny Baker in the 30-39 age group. But along the way there was also Bill Mickey, Scott Young, Vince Urichich, Gary Hocke, Joe Worboy, and many more!
Last season, Brad Smith, part of the 40+ super-duo known as “The Brads,” was my target up until the very last race of 2016. Although, in my humble opinion, Brad is a better racer than I am, through the magic of series points math, I ended up beating him for the year. (The key to my success… good attendance! Go to as many races as you can!) I got 3rd and he got 4th in the Expert 40+ category.
So, at the start of the 2017 season, it only made sense for me to have Brad on my radar. He crushed me in the first race at Mountwood where I had tons of lame excuses. I was truly having an off-day. However, in our second race at East Fork State Park I left the excuses behind. The conditions were better, I was feeling more rested and I was riding with much more confidence.
I opted for a slower start to focus on pacing. So when the race director said “Go!,” the peloton pedaled away from me quickly. After declining to sprint from the line, I was in last place and started working my way up the pecking order. There was 1.4 miles of road before the singletrack (but who’s counting?), and I focused on drafting and saving energy. I had to make two big surges to move forward to other groups, but I spent a lot of time marinating in the wake of the peloton. Mine was the 2nd group in the wave and there was a lead peloton with Rogers and Smith further ahead of us.
With a tenth of a mile to go, I sprinted around the guy pulling the group to the woods and left my competitors behind. My Breakaway Quickdirt Trek teammate, Mike Whaley, was right behind me. The two of us were both riding singlespeeds in the Expert 40+ category and making great time.
After a few minutes, I saw Brad Smith on the side of the trail fiddling with his chain. Mike and I blew right by him and I thought this might be just the break I needed to get a leg up on my rival. It was motivating to know he was behind me and we kept a fast pace throughout the first lap, passing several other racers along the way.
Towards the end of the first lap, I stumbled on some roots and Whaley passed by me. We were almost back to the road, so my plan was just to keep up until then so we could draft off each other. But, I fumbled trying to grab my bottle off a tree stump near the lap point. I had to put my foot down and stop and lost some ground. I started to sprint to catch up and had to stop at an intersection to wait for a car, which seemed like it took forever. The gap got wider and Mike was now working with another rider to draft on the road.
I got back to the woods about 100 yards behind Mike (#129) and I knew I would have a hard time catching him. He is wicked fast in the singletrack and one of the strongest technical riders in the OMBC. He moved up from Sport Singlespeed to Expert 40+ this season, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how high he can climb in the standings this year.
I kept up a hard pace, though slightly slower than the first lap. I had Mike in front of me and Brad behind me. Best case scenario, Whaley would go too hard and bonk and I could hold off Smith for two laps. I was in 4th place and figured I would finish somewhere between 3rd and 6th as long as I didn’t crash, bonk or have a mechanical.
I made it to the end of my second lap, with no sign of either racer. I zoomed along the smooth road and drank Gatorade from my bottle. I focused more on recovery than speed. All the while, I was looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was sneaking up on me. I went in to the woods alone and quickly passed a singlespeeder. As I did, about a half mile in, I looked over my shoulder and saw Brad on a switchback charging hard like wolf in pursuit of prey. He looked determined.
I sped up. How long could I hold him off? Could I make it a full lap? I had done it last year at Chestnut Ridge. But, this was still early in the season and I wasn’t sure I had the same level of endurance that I had back then.
And this is how you race a blogger:
You start the race by showing weakness and giving the author hope. You let him stew in paranoia for a while before unleashing your attack in the final moments of the race. The arc of the story leads to a climax full of heightened suspense since the reader has no idea who will prevail. You race with the blogger and make yourself a crucial part of the story.
…and on Quickdirt I talk about my successes AND my failures. So, you really don’t know how it will turn out.
At that moment I saw Brad, I had no idea what would happen. I knew I was starting with the advantage, but I didn’t feel good about it. I was ready to push myself as hard as I could to win this battle. I upped my intensity and two miles later he was still behind me, but he seemed a little closer. He might have narrowed the gap from two football fields to one. I tried to push a little harder, but I was at the limits of what my body would allow me to do. I was not trying to hold back, or pace myself, or save some for the end, I was draining the tank and hoping it would last to the finish line.
Despite my best efforts, Brad was gaining ground. When we reached the creek crossing, I stumbled on the far bank and Brad passed me.
“You reeled me in. You must be feeling strong today.” I said, trying to be a good sport.
“Yep.” Brad isn’t a big talker during races.
I kept riding hard, just out of reach of Brad’s spinning rubber. This was a showdown. Who would crack first? I stayed close for another two miles before my quads starting barking. Oh crap. Lactate was building up in my muscles and I was on the edge of cramping up. I was balancing on the line between going as fast as I could or having my legs lock up in my pain.
I started slowly losing ground. Brad was a machine. There was no stopping him. And with a mile to go, I cracked. My legs said “No more.”
Brad had trampled the blogger’s dreams of triumph and turned the story into a tragedy.
I conceded defeat to my rival. I used the small amount of fuel I had left to limp to the finish line.
But, what I love about the OMBC is that it is a tight knit group of friendly faces. When I crossed the finish line 46 seconds behind Brad, he was waiting there with Mike Whaley, who had beaten me by 2 minutes 14 seconds. The three of us exchanged our tales of triumph and woe. Brad talked about how his chain had gotten jammed in the chain ring. Whaley reveled in the fact that for a fleeting moment he had caught up to the second place finisher, Brad Rogers.
It wasn’t all bad though. I had finished 5th out of 11 in Expert 40+, but more importantly I was able to ride with much more speed and confidence than I had the week before at Mountwood. I had purposely backed off intensity over the winter and focused on endurance and hills. Now that the trails are drying out at the trail by my house, I should be able to get more speedwork in and improve my race times. I’m ready to shift my focus and see if I can get a little faster.
And who knows, maybe when we meet again at the 4th OMBC race at Scioto Trails on May 7th I can close that 46 second gap.
Until then, I’m going to miss the 3rd OMBC race at Mohican on April 22nd because I will be heading to Moab, Utah. Come back to Quickdirt at the end of April to find out whether Slickrock and the Whole Enchilada live up to the hype they receive. I’ll be reporting on my 8-day trip and taking plenty of pictures.
Go ride your freakin’ bike.