Stage racing. What a cool way to celebrate the end of another season in Iowa! Add to that, a stage race at the best mountain bike trail in the state. IMBCS #9 consisted of a three stages, a time trial, a short track cross country and the traditional cross country race.
I arrived at Seven Oaks about 90 minutes before the scheduled start of the first stage, the time trial. The weather was cool, probably somewhere in the upper 40’s. As the start approached, I remember looking at the parking lot and feeling a little disappointed at the small turnout. We have a lot of mountain bikers in Iowa, close to 200 people are registered users on the IORCA group on Yahoo. I think a lot about how to get more people to attend our races and can speculate on a number of possible reasons, but I can’t come up with anything definitive. Any ideas out there?
I suited up and went out for my pre-ride. This was especially important because the time trial was the cross country course run in the reverse direction. I started riding and could immediately tell that something wasn’t quite right. My legs felt flat and I felt pretty clumsy through some of the technical sections.
We were started at one minute intervals and I started somewhere in the middle of the pack. My one minute man was Fig Nooner, he likes to spar with the trees. This is especially dangerous for him because he has no formal martial arts training. I think it’s kind of funny when he rides in tight singletrack behind me when we are going hard because he makes a bunch of strange grunting noises whenever he gets into an altercation with a tree. My start time had arrived and I took off up the hill. My legs began to burn almost instantly as I wound my way up the hill. I didn’t really feel all that strong. It shouldn’t be that way when you are nearing the end of the season and should be in peak form.
I caught up to Nooner about ten minutes in and when I got close to him he cleared out of the way, more so than I would have expected him to. Thanks dude. I could hear him behind me for a short while trying to hang on. I was disappointed however, because I was expecting to hear the familiar grunting sounds of Nooner bouncing off of some trees but it didn’t happen. Not within my hearing range anyway. This was probably a good thing though because it would have been a little distracting. At Seven Oaks, I need to focus 100% on the trail because there are too many easy opportunities to have my own altercations with trees, roots, rocks and dropoffs.
I caught my two minute man, Sean Meyers about five or ten minutes after I passed Nooner. I pressed on and finished with a time of 28:39, about 75 seconds ahead of second place WWJ. My fastest lap at Seven Oaks, forward or backwards. Talk about a big surprise! I did expect to do well despite my legs feeling like a couple wet noodles. Even though my legs felt like they were full of lead, my bike handling was pretty good and that helped quite a bit. Mountain biking is just as much a mental game as it is physical. It is impossible to be 100% on top of your game in every aspect at every race. I’ve also had races where my bike handling was a little off, but my legs felt great. In this case, I knew that my legs weren’t quite there, so I had to compensate by focusing a little harder on faster lines and being smooth through the corners, carving rather than sliding. I didn’t push as hard going up the climbs, which made it a lot easier to concentrate on the descents and other technical areas.
The short track race followed about two hours later. The best thing to do in this situation is to hydrate, eat a little to stave off hunger and keep the legs spinning as much as possible. My plan going in was to sit in and observe. I didn’t want it to come down to a sprint because I don’t think of myself as much of a sprinter. The race started and things began to unfold exactly as I had expected. Nooner and DQ were the main antagonists over the first half of the race, constantly attacking. This worked out great for myself and Grand Master Lou. We both sat in near the front doing as little work as possible. I had to reel in a couple of attacks to prevent any substantial gaps from forming. About midway through the race, Nooner put in a hard attack that pretty much shelled everybody but myself and Nathan Kline. I was very surprised not to see Grand Master Lou there. I found out later that his knee was flaring up on him again and that he had to pull out. That’s too bad because I think that he could have probably had his way with us today.
Nooner was able to establish a small gap and when I realized that nobody else was going to try to bridge, I took off after him. I caught up to him and brought Nathan with me. I had covered an earlier attack and was able to separate myself from the group earlier in the race. That gave me a lot of confidence in that when I chose to attack near the end, that I could create a gap and maintain it to the end. I sat on Nooners wheel, with Nathan on my wheel, for a couple of laps and made him do all of the work to maintain our gap on the field. It was at this point that I decided when there was about ten minutes left, I was going to attack and try and separate myself from Nooner and Nathan.
Nooner kept looking back, trying to persuade me to pull through to help maintain our gap. I looked back a couple of times and could tell that nobody was going to catch up to us any time soon, so I continued to sit in. With about ten minutes left I uncorked a pretty strong attack going into the headwind and immediately established a gap. I was able to hold the gap for a lap or two until Nathan clawed his way back up to me without Nooner. I pulled Nathan around for about a lap or two. I looked back at him with about two laps to go and told him to help out a little. He wasn’t obligated to, but he did anyway. I made him pull for the remainder of the race and I kept waiting for my legs to recover from my attack to attack him again. They never recovered to the point where I felt that I could have attacked and held on. So it came down to a sprint. We rounded the final corner with Nathan in the lead. As soon as we exited the corner Nathan accelerated into a sprint. I responded almost immediately and found the extra gear to come around him right at the finish. I ended up winning the sprint by about the width of a fat tire. I definitely didn’t expect to be in a sprint with Nathan. I thought of him more as a pure mountain biker rather than a rider with enough power to challenge in a sprint. I’ve known Nathan for a couple of years now and he has made some tremendous improvements as a mountain bike racer. If he does the series next season, he will be one of the guys that I will need to watch out for.
Shortly after the race, I headed home. One of the keys to successful stage racing is recovery. This is mainly accomplished through diet and very light exercise. On the way home I drank a bottle of R4 and ate a Power Bar protein bar. I got home, changed clothes and went to the gym for about 90 minutes of light stretching. My legs always feel a lot better after stretching, especially after a race.
Sunday morning arrived and the weather conditions were once again ideal. I went out for my pre-ride and could tell that my legs felt a little better than yesterday. The race started and after a little resistance from Nathan, I was able to get in front and lead the way into the singletrack. Nathan was on my wheel all of the way up the hill. Once we hit the descent I was able to drop him on the fast, but technical roller coaster section of trail that has become one of my all time favorite sections of singletrack anywhere. I continued to establish my gap throughout and once I knew that I had a solid gap I backed off on the throttle a little and enjoyed my last race of the Iowa season at Seven Oaks. I ended up winning the race by about three minutes, with WWJ coming in second and Nathan Kline coming in third about 30 seconds behind WWJ.
So needless to say, I won the stage race and nailed down my second IMBCS overall points title in a row. I was very thankful to have done as well as I did over the weekend because I was definitely not on top of my game all weekend. It was all about mind over matter this time around.
I’ve been asked a couple of times who I think will step up next year as my main competition. I had mentioned Nathan earlier. If Brian Eppen and Cully Todd decide to do the series next year than they will definitely present a huge challenge. Brian is, hands down, the fastest guy in Iowa. I will be very surprised if he doesn’t upgrade from semi pro to pro for next season. He had a great season doing to WORS series, finishing third overall for the series. I would be pretty surprised if did the IMBCS next year, other than a couple of races that fit into his schedule. Chia Chad is another possibility if I can get him to change his focus from the road to the dirt. Come on Chia, you’re really a mountain biking greaser like the rest of us that is slipping into denial by continuing with your persistence of racing on the road. WWJ improved throughout the season and had a strong finish. I think this will carry into next season for him. If Fig Nooner can shed a few more pounds, man boobs included, he’ll be a lot stronger next season. He’ll be stronger regardless, but it always helps if you can shed any unnecessary ballast. All kidding aside, he’ll be out there in the dead of winter pounding out the base miles just like a select few others, myself included. That will eventually pay huge dividends for him and others that do the same. There are a few others that I could mention, but I’m tired of writing.
My last race of the season is the Psycowpath finale at Platte River State Park on October 29th. Rumor has it that pro’s Travis Brown, Steve Tilford and Cameron Chambers will be there. I hope they race and don’t kick my arse too bad. Even if they do, it will still be a great experience toein’ the line with them.
Thanks for reading,