Finally. My favorite race course. Seven Oaks is the most technical and difficult mountain biking race course that you will encounter in the Iowa series. Lot’s of steep power climbs that will make you crossed-eyed and lot’s of bench cut trail that’ll make you think twice about going too fast for fear of launching yourself over the edge of a ‘cliff’. More than any other course, half of the trick to mastering Seven Oaks is getting your mental game on. To do well at Seven Oaks you have to bring your mental ‘A’ game or else it’s gonna be game over real quick.
I was coming off of a recovery week so I was expecting to have a fresh pair of legs. I did an easy hour of recovery on Monday and hit the weight room for an hour of light weights and an hour of bs’n with the gym rats and tri-geeks. To those of you that don’t know any better, I call ‘em tri-geeks, not as an insult, it’s just what we call ‘em. Some of my best friends are tri-geeks and it’s all good. I’m a geek in my own freaky way. How many people do you know that willingly spend 15 – 20+ plus hours a week sitting on a 1” wide piece of leather that one might liken to some sort of medieval torture device… and actually enjoy it? Tuesday I did the TNWC and probably rode a little too hard for too long. Wednesday was another hour of easy active recovery. Thursday I did a 2 hour ride on the dirt with the Jedi Master. Friday I sat in a room with about 80 other enginerds for an 8 hour brain thrashing exam in attempt to acquire my professional engineering license. My melon felt like my legs do after a 6 hour ride up and down the mountain passes of southwestern Colorado. Saturday was another easy hour of active recovery.
I woke up Sunday morning to near perfect conditions. Not a cloud in the sky and temps were in the 50’s and forecasted to rise into the mid 70’s… Perfect. So about 15 minutes after I drug my carcass out of bed, my phone rang. I took a look at the caller ID and I got this dookie eatin’ grin on my face. It was my Mom… and I knew exactly why she was calling. I answered the phone and she said they were cruisin’ through Iowa City on their way to Seven Oaks. She had called me the day before to pick my brain about the course at Seven Oaks. I told her about how tricky it was and said she’d better bring her walkin’ shoes because that’s what she’d be doin’ a lot of. My Mom is pretty stubborn sometimes and so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at her decision to come out anyway. She wants to race her mountain bike damnit!
So I finished loading the car up, threw down a couple of boiled eggs and cups of joe, grabbed a box of cereal and hit the road. I got to the race course, got signed up, did some bs’n with some of the bro’s and then got suited up for the recon ride. My Mom and step dad arrived and my Mom wanted to recon the course also. I told her she better get a move on ‘cause the race started in about 90. So she got suited up and hit the trail. I started my recon, got to the top of the first climb and there’s my Mom, looking down the first drop with that ‘you gotta be kidding me’ look on her face. I guess she got a flat tire shortly thereafter and I still hadn’t gotten around to teaching her how to fix a flat. Bad, bad, bad son! She got back down to the bottom of the hill and some dude fixed it for her and taught her how to do it in the process. I don’t know who it was, if you’re reading this, thanks bro. Further proof that mountain bikers are a cool group of cats.
I got back down to the start area and noticed that Cully Todd and Brian Eppen made the trip out. Sweet! So we lined up for the start and Troy pulled out this shotgun for the starters ‘pistol’ and pulled the trigger before I was ready to go. It took me an eternity to get clipped in and ended up about mid pack by the time I got clipped in. I wanted to be the first to enter the singletrack so I really had to dig deep to get there. I did manage to get to the front, but got myself a little cross-eyed in the process. Once I hit the singletrack I backed it off a little and was able to recover a little. My objective at Seven Oaks is to always be the first into the singletrack and try to establish a gap as soon as possible so that nobody can follow my lines. That didn’t work this time because I sort of blew my wad getting myself to the front. We got to the top and I think WWJ was on my wheel. Once we got to the bottom I dumped the clutch and punched it. I could tell that my legs were not going to be very cooperative, they didn’t have the snap that I usually always have after a recovery week. To make matters worse, my gears were jumpin’ all over the place. That’s a bad problem to have on a course like Seven Oaks. It really requires a lot of focus due to the technical nature of the course. Distractions like unruly gears tend to knock one off of their ‘A’ game.
We got to the new section of trail, and like any new section, it was very soft and bumpy. I felt like a slug riding through it. I got about halfway through the new stuff and I heard someone catch up to me, I could tell by his labored breathing that his heart rate must have been pushin’ 200. I took a quick look back and it was Eppen. The dudes’ a freakin’ animal, he was racing on a fully rigid singlespeed. A singlespeed on a course like Seven Oaks probably isn’t a whole lot slower than a geared bike. You’re carrying around a lot less weight, if you have the right gearing, most of the climbs are rideable and if they aren’t, running up the climb won’t be any slower than a guy riding up the climb in a granny gear.
Shortly after Eppen caught up to me, I heard him say ‘oh crap’. I asked what was wrong and he said that he thought he was flatting. I asked him if he had everything that he needed to fix it and he said yeah. I kept motorin’ and looked back after a while and noticed that I was finally able to establish a pretty decent gap between myself and Cully. My gears were still acting up and as a result, was not nearly as smooth as I normally am. I slowed the pace a little to lessen the likelihood of wrapping myself around a tree or taking flight over the edge of a ‘cliff’. I started passing lapped traffic from the beginner class and the first person that I passed was me Mum. She was walking her bike over one of the crazy sections and was able to get out of the way pretty quickly. We exchanged quick pleasantries and I continued on my way.
During the last lap of the race, I could see that Eppen had fixed his flat and had caught back up to Cully. He looked like he was flyin’. I knew the course well enough to know that if I maintained a solid pace to the finish, I wouldn’t get caught. I caught my Mom again while she was walking through yet another crazy section. We once again exchanged pleasantries and I continued on. I ended up winning in about 1:52:30. Eppen came in 2nd about 50 seconds back with Cully finishing in 3rd about 20 seconds behind Eppen. WWJ was another 5 minutes back finishing in 4th.
I was very lucky to pull out the win because I was definitely not on my game. My legs felt a little flat, my gears were jerkin’ me around and I never really felt like I got into my groove. A lot of people got multiple flats, mostly in the new section. The place was riddled with thorn bushes and it’s nearly impossible to clean out all of the thorns while the trail was being built. It must have really been my lucky day because I got home from the race, pulled my bike out of the car and noticed that my back tire was completely flat! I should have hopped back in the car an bought a lottery ticket, eh?
I have to give a huge thanks to Singletrack Promotions for putting on the race. Kyle See-door, Ron DeGeest and the rest of the crew have been bustin’ their butts over the past couple of years to make Seven Oaks the beast that it is. I also want to thank O-dawg Rob Versteegh of Oakley. Anybody who hasn’t been living under rock knows that Oakley makes the best eyewear. He’s been hooking me up with shades for the past couple of years. I hate to think about how much money I spend every year on cycling, I honestly don’t want to know. It’s a huge help when folks like Rob and Rasmussen Bike Shop step up and help out.
I also want to give an atta-boy to Phantom Bill and….. Andy…. sorry dude, no name yet, but the Mohawk will definitely help in moving the process along. They both had their best expert finishes thus far placing 5th and 6th. Phantom Bill called me ‘Dual Overhead Cam’… I laughed.
My next race was supposed to be Psycowpath #2 over in Omahole, NE. The upper Midwest had this big ole’ rain cloud swirling above. The radar image looked like a giant flushing toilet…. how appropriate. It had rained so much that they had to postpone the race until June 24. So my next race will be IMBCS #3 up near Waverly, IA on May 7. It’s a sweet, epic 9+ mile course that’s on a boyscout camp. I love racing there and can’t wait to see what kind of work that Buchanandale and Kerkove have done.
Thanks for reading,