No Love at Sugar Bottom !!
by Pete Basso
No love at Sugar Bottom; rain postponments, cramps, mechanicals, big entry fees, pitiful swag and no free food at the best race of the year??? Nope, no love here today.
How do I begin to explain this race? For starters, it is the mountain bike race of the year for all Iowans who ride in the dirt. It seems the toughest riders show up for this race year after year and the course has no mercy on anyone. The loop is about 9.5 miles of pure single track, of which the Sport Class rides twice and the experts ride three times. But this isn't just any single track, this is a bumpy, rooted, rolling with short explosive uphills and long windy downhills. Each lap takes just under an hour for most riders. The trail is a little deceiving in that it seems to be mostly flat so you push it a little harder then normal when really you are climbing a lot more than you think. You get lost in the huge pine trees that carpet the forest with pine needles that make your wheels whisper as you carve the turns. The dense trees have grown into a natural canopy which shields you from the sun most of the ride. This course also offers some great decents that scramble your brain as you hammer the roots, rocks and erosion. (The suspension came in handy today).
I didn't get a count of how many riders were in the sport class, but it appeared to be around 50 or 60 when I looked back just before the start of the race. Tracy Thompson busts off his usual beginning of the race belch...that's when I know it was time to roll. The whole morning my legs had been unusually tight and achey. I wasn't sure how I'd feel until I got into the woods.
The race started with a 3/4 mile sprint up a gravel road then into the woods. When the gun went off, two big dudes jumped out front like someone was holding T-bone steaks on a stick just inches from their mouths. I was impressed by their sheer power off the start which immediately dissappeard as we began the climb. Now it was Paul Veneable, Chris Reed, myself , Tracy and Bill Fanter making up the front pack. As we dashed into the woods, Paul attacked and gapped the main group. I almost knew immediately that I didn't have the legs I usually do but kept telling myself it's still early, I'll stretch out and gain my strength.
Chris was leading our pack with me in the middle and Tracy yelling at Chris from behind. Tracy is non-stop comedy, just talking up a storm and mouthing off at every opportunity. He always keeps me laughing during a race. We made it through most of the first section of trail when Tracy passed us and gapped the field. He was riding strong and looked good. Chris, myself, and Bill Fanter were all hanging together in a small pack. We rode this way through the entire first lap. As we hit the Rock Garden area of the trail, (my favorite part), I rode up on Donny Quixote who was riding a rigid single speed bike. Poor Donny, I could see frustration vibrating out of his ears in this section. As I came up to him, yelled to pass but didn't tell him a side. Donny, being a seasoned veteran of racing moved to the left as I passed on the right. Then I hear him yell, "dude you've got to tell me what side", "come on". Knowing Donny like I do, I knew he was pissed more at the trail then he was at me passing him without calling a side. This is no place to ride without suspension.
As we finished the first lap, Bill had yelled at me from behind asking if I had any more liquids at the starting line that he could have. Seems Bill had run out. I had a little less than half a bottle left with an new bottle coming up. I handed Bill off the rest of my bottle as Pam Heise handed me my new bottle, (thanks Pam, you are the coolest).
We hit the long gravel rode up the hill again where I preceeded to really start my physical decline. Bill could sense the anguish and asked if I'd like to ride his wheel for awhile? Bill is the consument nice, polite guy who always is looking out for the other guy. I decided I was hurting and I'd better let him by so I could let him pull or chase Chris Reed down. It didn't take Bill long before he rode away from me about 1/3 way through lap #2. As we exited the first section of the trail and began a short climb to the most technical part of the trail I could feel the cramps slowly and intrevenously making their way through my legs. I popped a couple more Enduralyte tabs and a Hammer Gel. As I hit the toughest switchback I cranked on the pedals to make it through, but my legs screamed back sending three or four jolts of muscle cramps. I screamed in pain and jumped off the bike. I could see my legs slowly deforming before my eyes. I sat down for a minute and stretched the muscles where the cramps were. I must have stayed there for three minutes when Donny and Kyle Sedore caught up to me. I told Kyle as he passed, "Dude, I'm done". I had made up my mind to DNF the race. As I slowly walked my bike up the path I realized it is just as far to the finish riding as it would be to just stay on the trail and finish, plus, I was not going to let Sugar Bottom get me again.
Within 2 seconds I had changed my mind again and jumped on my bike and started riding. I knew I had to keep my legs spinning with as little effort as possible. This was going to be hard considering this is the toughest part of the course. I had to jump off two more times to stretch as I watched 3rd place slowly fall to 5th, then 10th and beyond. This sucks, I said to myself, but it could be worse....I could be in the hospital getting back surgery or missing a leg or worse yet, fighting in Iraq. These thoughts fueled my finish. I made it through the rest of the course and came in 15th overall.
As I made my way into the finish line, the race judges stop you to peel the number from your jersey. As soon as my legs hit the ground the muscles seized on me and I could barely walk. Brother Logan, (Jim Logan), had passed me in the woods, riding a single speed hard tail and tearing the trail up, saw my pain and elected to run to my car to get my recovery drink. Racing with friends definitely has it's perks. Thanks Jim you saved my life Sunday and great job by the way. As I lay there in my pity I watched numerous other riders of all levels cross the finish line writhing in pain with severe cramping as well. One of the worst was my buddy John Conlan. Johnny C is a strong technical rider who has seriously improved his fitness this year. However, Sugarbottom got the best of him as it did me. As JC came across the finish you could see bumps forming in his legs followed by explitives spewing from his mouth. When I say, "I feel your pain", today I really mean it.
Tracy ended up catching Paul who made a couple of attacks but couldn't withstand the consistency of the Atlas Stud. Tracy gets his first Sugarbottom win and a bunch of publicity. Great job Tracy. Also, congrats goes out to Bill Fanter who rode strong and finished 4th overall. Bill rode a great race and continues to improve tremendously every week.
In the Expert Class Brain Eppen and Cully Todd duked it out for first. Brian pulled away for the win and $500 cash. Cully got second followed by another Atlas rider, then a single speed freak on a fully rigid frame and finally our beloved Cam Kirkpatrick. Cam said he didn't feel too great today but still finished strong. Great job to everyone who made the trek, paid the ridiculous entry fee and walked away sore!!