GoPro Games. Finding a traditional ski resort XC race in the world of modern mountain biking is actually quite rare. XC Trends have moved on to shorter climbs and more technical descents, while Marathon races have also got more technical, too. The three lap format of the race reminds me of the Mountain States Cups that were held in Colorado when I first arrived. Strong but small (30 people in the pro race) fields. Long but very smooth climbs on the service roads through the ski area, with only a small amount of climbing on actual trail. The descents were mainly man-made on fun and flowy ski area style trails. Too wide to be called singletrack. Too predictably built to be scary or dangerous, even when speeds get high.
Through the rosy lens of nostalgia, the race actually starts to sound quite fun, but racing it is a completely different reality. It’s a sufferfest with absolutely nowhere to hide. Howard Grotts has made it his life’s goal to win every edition of the race from now until ever, and predictably it was him alone out front after just 5 minutes of racing. While I felt lethargic at the start, I was certain I could race myself into some good legs, and so worked hard on the first lap. We found a group of three people – Teammate Grant Ellwood, Rotem Ishay and I, and began reeling in Josiah Middaugh, who had escaped at the start. Half way up the climb I got stung by a wasp on my upper thigh. It left its stinger poking through my lycra, and after about 5 minutes of agony I realised I should probably pull it out.
Between lap 1 and lap 2 I realised the “good legs” weren’t going to show up, and instead I needed to dig deep and suffer my way through the race instead. On a normal day, I can make myself hurt without calling on my inner reserves of willpower to do so, and that Good Hurt also normally yields some fine form too. Today wasn’t like that. The hurt was bad. It was a hollow feeling. The hurt went through my back, through my neck and arms, and numbed my hands as I suffered towards the top of the second climb. Grant Ellwood had put in a great move ahead of me, and I could see him slowly catching Middaugh. The open climb affords a view of everything happening around you. I could see Todd Wells (three minutes ahead), Middaugh and the chasing Ellwood (1 minute ahead), and then Rotem, Alex Grant, Levi Kurlander all spread out on the switchbacks below. It doesn’t make for much suspense, but it gives you a great sense of perspective about where you are on the course.
Lap three was survival. I got hold of a bottle of water, instead of drink mix and that did wonders. By the mid-point of the third climb I actually felt like I was coming around a little, but I think my pace had just dropped low enough to be working the slow and steady aerobic system instead. That system wasn’t the problem today – it was that little extra that you normally call on in a race that you know can pull you up a notch. I cruised the last descent, sitting down between corners to try to unseize my back, and was happy I wasn’t being chased closely. I came across the line in 5th. Same as last year, and actually a decent result, as well as a reasonable payday ($500).
As soon as I finished the pain from the sting really caught up with me, and I spent about 10 minutes at the finish wondering whether I was going to pass out or throw up. It’s been awhile since I felt that rough at the finish of a race. It was probably about time I reminded myself of what suffering feels like. After I’d stopped feeling sorry for myself, I had two big takeaways from the race: Grant’s performance was sublime. Without regard to the fitness he’s got now, it was well measured and smooth. He’s a talent for sure, and it’s great to have him in these pro races. I’ve never had a BCS teammate on the MTB side, and although there’s no tactics that can play out on a course like this, it’s great to know you have an ally. Second takeaway: I raced really well despite feeling like shit. I did my biggest block of training all year in the 10 days leading up to the race, and I think that’s enough to account for how I felt. Nothing a good chunk of rest cannot solve.
Bike choice today: Spark 900 RC SL. (Nearly went for the hardtail. It would have been a good choice considering how smooth the descent was this year). Ikon 2.2 EXO tires with 21 front and 22 psi rear.
Onwards now to the Carson City Off-road this weekend. Looking forward to having a longer race on the cards, and visiting some of Christa’s family in the process.