This past weekend saw the resurgence of my long retired mountain bike racing career. When did I actually retire from mountain bike racing? I believe it was in the late '90s. Right before my oldest was born. When we moved east it was all CX all the time. I dabbled in a few races. Saw the folly of west coast mountain bike design on east coast rocks and bought in hook line a sinker to the soul ride aspect of mountain biking in New England. Its shocking I don't wear baggies or a back pack on every ride. The only thing keeping me from going Full Enduro is that I am a horrible technical rider and fear oozes out of my pours.
But CX as much of you probably know is rad. The people, the races all of it. There has been a HUGE influx of CX riders into mtn bike racing the last year or two. I have no idea why but this year I really want to "race" mountain bikes. I LOVE riding mountain bikes but racing them is a challenge that is perfect for building a little yellow brick road of success to CX season. Ok I have no idea what that means but it sounds cool. I have heard for years just how awesome Weeping Willow is. Willowdale has been on my bucket list forever but I had only ridden it once before Sunday's race. My good friend Derek gave Rusto and I a guided tour of the place about two weeks before the race. During the pre-ride I got all kinds of FULLAUTOVELOCB about racing.
I finally did the sensible thing and put actual gears on my Zank! Putting a 1x11 on the Zank transformed how I am able to ride. I wish I was strong enough to ride a SS the way some riders can. But I am not. The Shimano XTR/XT set up rocks. 32 Wolf tooth up front, 11-40 in the back. Perfect range for spending time in the Flow Zone and climbs like a mountain goat. Only limiter is you spin out the 32 x 11 but that isn't my game anyway.
Sometime between that pre-ride and the eve of the race Russ unleashed an MTB Clash upon me. I think it was a thinly veiled intervention to ensure I made it to the race. I have a bad habit of flaking out of races. Its not that I don't want to race its just that life sometimes gets in the way. But Russ's MTB Clash got me all excited. I woke up at 4:30 the day of the race. The van was already packed. I had double checked everything. I haven't put this much thought or preparation into a CX race in 5 years. For a CX race I just throw everything in the van and hope I have enough beer and cupcakes for everyone. You can tell I take CX VERY seriously! I get to the venue at 6:45. I don't do anything at 6:45. Well anything sporting. I walk the dog. Make coffee. Read the paper. I do not pre-ride for a Masters race at 6:45. But I did. I kitted up and headed in. The course was amazing. A fog was hanging over the fields and the dirt was perfect.
I rode a few sections a couple of times to figure out the lines. I remembered Gerry Finnegan's advice to STAY LEFT. And it worked. Only thing I decided to not ride was the wall picture above. It was/is rideable just not a smart racing move for me. Faster for me to dismount and run. Its the CX racer in me I guess. I try my best to be a good mtn biker but when its faster to run I run. This is a race after all. Fastest from Point A to Point B (without cutting the course of course). I finished the 3-mile warm up lap and went back to staging. Finally people were arriving! I got a text from Russ telling me our MTB CLASH WAS OFF! Russ got taken down by some nasty bug or another. I was honestly bummed for him as he has been training his ass off for this race and would have crushed it. He certainly would have crushed me. I am a melted ice cream cone of a man right now. This Winter was not kind to me. But who isn't out of shape right now. First rule of racing is no excuse and no whining.
I saw SOOOO many of my friends. Honestly this is why I am so stoked to race mountain bikes. All the cool kids are at the mountain bike races. It is like an #NECX reunion. Not everyone is there of course but so many are. Between mountain biking and adventure riding its like the season never ends. Weeping Willow was a BIG race. I always have heard that the numbers are large. I think there were probably 250-300 racers in the Sport/Novice category. What ever the actual number the staging area was packed. Racing Masters 50+ is weird. I lined up with so many dudes from CX. The second I saw them its like my brain's inner tractor beam locked onto certain riders and jerseys. I won't lie as we moved up to the start line I got nervous. Not Gloucester nervous but like alive. I started hearing sounds and noticing things. I tried to ignore all that and focus on Gerry's advice. Stay Left.
I don't know if all mountain bike races are this way but the start definitely had the New England secret start beat. The whole field accelerate at warp speed as I was looking at my shoes. I missed clipping in and tried to get in without crashing myself or half the field out. I started accelerating as fast as I could chasing the CX racers I knew. I was pretty bottled up until we hit the first flat fireroad. For how sketchy it was I felt shockingly safe. Masters mountain bike racers may be more chill than their CX counterparts. I moved up pretty easily and then got stuck in a bit of a conga line. I still felt ok as I had a visual on the NEBC kit I was homing in on. The first half of the first lap was a blast. Again the Masters are predictable and don't do stupid things. There was a bit of a fitness versus skill gap that was getting a tad frustrating but I just relaxed and tried to stay within myself and kept reminding myself to not do something stupid.
I made a pretty dumb mistake after the first rock wall. I was getting a bit frustrated by all the soft pedaling as I wanted to move up and get contact with my friend from NEBC. I tried to make a move in a tight (too tight) spot and predictable took myself and another rider out. Shockingly he did not start screaming at me and ripping his bike off my bike. Mountain bikers are weird. Anyhoo. We detangled and began chasing again. We formed a ten person group that was about 2 minutes off the leaders. This felt awesome. We were moving really well through the climbs and again no one was doing anything totally boneheaded.
The most awesome part was that my good friend Eli was in the group. He and I haven't had much time to hang out. We were making jokes and having a rad time. Like I said I felt surprisingly good. I really liked how EFTA marks out the course with mile markers. It really does help you be a bit more focused about pacing etc. At the mile 8 marker we hit a nice single track. I was tail gunning at this point and I hear a rider come up behind us. He calls out "TRACK" I actually laughed out loud.
I sat up a bit and said "What category are you in?" He said "Novice" I almost fell off my bike laughing. Then a switch flipped. I have this Little Ball of Hate inside me. Sometimes it comes out to play. I blame Hockey. And being a Townie. So the in-race heckling began. I started out pretty much with both guns blazing. Here is pretty much how the exchange went:
Me: "You are in Novice?"
King of All Sandbaggers: "YESIAMTHENOVIVCERACELEADERGIVEMETHETRACK"
Me: "DYUDE? WTF? You are the Novice race leader? Why the hell would I give you the track?"
Me: (this is where it gets a bit poke the bearish) "Wait a second you just rode through the whole Sport women's field and are now at the front of the Masters race? And you are a Novice?"
Me: "You are the biggest fucking sandbagger on the planet if you just caught us"
Me: "We are actually racing and chasing. You could sit on the side of the trail and eat a sandwich and still win your race"
At this point I can sense I have maybe poked the bear a bit too hard. KOAS is sort of vibrating behind me. We pop out and there is a log ride on the right. KOAS who now is about to become King of the Dickheads goes inside the log ride and HOPS THE LOG in front of our group. Definitely a Novice pass. Well this sort of move doesn't sit well with my other Masters brethren. And they take up my in-race heckling and take it to 11. KODH is now in with ten Masters who were just having a very Gentlemanly race. It is now like turn 1 at Noho and the gloves are off. We make the turn onto the final fireroad run into the start/finish and KODH's one moment of glory in his otherwise pathetic life. KODH now decides to unleash his man fury on us. He dive bombs the right side of the road and hooks a Blue Hills riders elbow. He goes down and takes the Blue Hills rider with him. They hit the gravel at warp speed. The Blue Hills rider pops up in full MMA mode and grabs the guy and shakes him. I hear screaming and expletives. Eli and I put our heads down and thank god we didn't get mixed up in that crash.
Fast forward to the end of the race. Great day. Great race. I came apart on the last lap but it was still soooo awesome. I put this whole incident into the "What happens in the woods stays in the woods" until there was a little chatter on the tubes about a Novice rider beating the whole Sport category. I go and look at the results and see our friend did a sub-45 minute lap. With a crash and MMA match. That is some next level bagging people.