After a 2 week layoff from raging on the dirt, I was sure looking forward to this weekend. Throughout the week leading up to this weekend, the weather guesser was forecasting a 50% chance of rain for the weekend. It’s all a part of the mountain bike racing game, problem is, if they get too much rain, the park ranger will make ‘em bail on the race and reschedule.
The week leading up to this weekend was my last week of build. Monday was the usual 60 minute active recovery ride followed by some light weights at the gym. You know, the whole concept of a gym is pretty funny. For most casual users, it’s basically an institution where people pay for the privilege of torturing themselves through bodily exertion in the name of physical fitness. Attendees seem to enjoy the fact that not since the Medieval era has there been such a wide selection of torture implements available, as the success of a gymnasium is correlated partly to the amount of equipment it has to offer...yeah… Tuesday I got a super hard workout in at the TNWC, lot’s ‘o pain and suffering went on that night. Wednesday was 2.5 hours of base effort. Thursday the legs felt like crap so I rode to the SC and took a fairly easy lap, bypassing the hillside, don’t think that I would have been able to make it up a couple of the hills. Friday was an easy recovery ride for about 90. Next week will be a recovery week followed by some peak weeks. Lookin’ forward to seeing how much faster I’ll get during the peak period.
Thought about driving to Sewer City on Friday night and crashing at WWJ’s pad, but the weather was too iffy and didn’t want to drive for 3 hours only to have to turn around and come back home without turning the pedals in anger. So I stayed home, got up at about 5:30, took a look at the radar on the PC and saw scattered rain all over the damn place. Waited until about 6:30, called WWJ and he said the course didn’t get any rain all day on Friday and that it was dry as a bone. Also said that if it did rain it’d actually improve the course. I asked him to give me a call when he got to the course to let me know if it was game on. So with that, I threw down a couple of boiled eggs, hopped in the car and swung by Starbucks for a road trip size cup of joe and hit the road for Ponca. Never did hear back from WWJ so it was game on!
I got to Ponca a little over an hour before the start, a little later than I like thanks to the weather dance this morning. Got myself signed in and suited up as quick as I could for my recon. As I was getting myself ready to go, I noticed that there were a bunch of guns there, Kerkove, Cully Todd, Jesse Reints (a pro from Minnesota), some dude named Noah (a pro from California I think), a dude named Kip (a pro or semi pro from Colorado), some dude named Cody that races on WWJ’s team (Sioux City Velo), not sure where he’s from, never heard of him, I think he’s a pretty strong roadie crossin’ over to the good side of cycling. There was also a pretty strong local contingent there, Shim, WWJ, Real Deal (Steve Jarrett), Fig Nooner, JP and Sam I Am. So yeah, the field was stacked by local standards. Talk about getting’ me pumped up for a race. Man was I ready to tear it up!
Started my recon lap and after a roll out in a grassy area, the trail dumped us into a rutted out, hairy gully that was screamin’ fast. The trails were pretty greasy from the early morning showers which made the descent a little more technical. The trails were wet enough at that time that I had a little bit of mud accumulating on my tires. I figured by race time, with a little more exposure to drier air and traffic, the trails would be pretty near ideal. I got about halfway through the recon lap when I realized I was running out of time, so I jumped onto a park road hoping to get back in time for the start, made it just in time for the pre-race meeting.
After the meeting they lined us up at the start and sent us on our way. I wanted to be sittin’ 2nd wheel going into the gully to kind of get a feel for what kind of pace everybody was looking to do. My plan was to sit on until we got to the first open section, then take the lead and kick the pace up, just to see who was ready to throw it down. So we cruised through the roll out section and I let Cully lead into the descent. I was sitting 2nd wheel, right where I wanted to be. I had no idea what the order was behind me, didn’t really care at the time.
The pace was pretty good for the 1st half a lap or so, slow enough that when we hit the first open section, I knew I could turn the screws a little tighter once I took the lead without putting myself into the red zone. Don’t want to get into the red zone in a race like this because you’ll pay dearly for it later on. So we hit the first open section, I passed Cully, dumped it into the big ring and punched it. I could hear somebody behind me on my wheel, I figured it was Cully. We got back into some singletrack and started some of the climbs. I could tell that a gap was forming at this point, couldn’t hear anybody behind me. Ponca has some pretty severe climbs, nothing really long, just really steep… like granny gear steep in some places. I think I was able to middle ring all of the climbs, but after a lap or two, I realized that I better dump into the granny gear and spin up the steep climbs. For longer races like this, I’m better off spinning a high cadence up climbs, kind of helps in keeping the leg cramps at bay later in the race.
The trail conditions throughout the race were very close to ideal, nice and tacky. I could really bury in the corners, tons of fun to ride in conditions like that. Makes me smile despite the pain that I’m inflicting upon myself. After about a lap I had the course dialed in and seldom had to use my brakes on most of the fast sections. That’s the kind of stuff that makes Ponca such a fun place to race / ride. It’s got a lot of everything for everyone, it’s definitely one of my favs. As the first lap progressed I could tell that I was going to have a great day. My legs felt fantastic and my bike handling was as good as it has been all season. I was in that zone that makes mountain biking one of the greatest things that I’ve ever experienced.
On the 2nd lap I started lapping people and never encountered any trouble getting by. About halfway through the race my nose picked up the scent of beer. That could only mean one thing… CVO was just up the trail. I continued on and sure enough, there he was, bustin’ his way up a steep climb. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I continued on, he even stopped to take a pretty sweet pic of me climbing the hill. I’m kinda lookin’ forward to drinking a beer with him and the rest of the crew from Lincoln, a cool bunch of cats over there.
On about lap 7 or so, I caught and passed one of the Bare Naked – Cannondale riders, either Noah or Kip, not sure which. A little later I passed Nooner. We were going up a steep climb and I yelled ‘Venga, Venga, Venga’ at him, he yelled something at me in Chinese. On lap 8 or 9 I passed Kerkove and we rode together for a while. At one point we were going down a pretty fast descent and I almost overcooked a corner with him on my wheel. Glad I didn’t crash because I probably would have crashed him too. At some point I caught and passed Shim also. He looked at me and I looked at him and said ‘see ya Bro’. For the record, Shim didn’t ‘pop’ this time, he was just pacin’ himself.
The last 2 or 3 laps were pretty painful, my legs were getting pretty tired, especially on the climbs. I had no idea what kind of a gap I had on 2nd place so I had to keep the pressure on as much as possible. I ended up winning, completing 10 laps of about 5 miles each. Jesse Reints came in 2nd about 10 minutes back followed by Cully Todd... Cody (McCollough ?) was awarded 3rd at the race, but the official results had Cully about 13 minutes back in 3rd. So it looks like somebody got somebody else’s loot, DOH!!!
I would have to say that this was one of my biggest wins thus far. There were a lot of heavy hitters there. As much as I’d like to, I do realize that I can’t take too much stock in the result because everybody there was racing under their own set of circumstances. But then that’s the case with just about every race that you go to. So, with that in mind, a win is a win and when it happens against a stacked field like this one, it feels especially good. Full results can be found here.
A few random bits from the race. The obvious bike choice was my super light, super fast Orbea Oiz with the WTB Nanoraptors for tread. I softened the rear end of the bike up considerably compared to the marathon race at Platte River and my back felt a lot better. I didn’t really experience any back pain at all. I only managed to drink a little over 3 bottles of fluid, half of which was Gatorade and the other half being water laced with Elite to help stave off the cramps. I carried 3 Clif Bars and a Fig Newton with me and only got through about half a Clif Bar. I never really felt hungry throughout, probably because I downed an entire box of Mueslix on the way to the race. I suppose that I need to work a little harder at taking food and drink in during marathon races, the legs will probably feel a little better towards the end. Over the first lap or so, my average heart rate was sitting in the lower 170’s. The middle portion of the race it dropped into the 160’s and the last 3 laps or so it dipped down into the 150’s. My average for the entire race was around 158 and I maxed out at 175.
It felt great to get back on the dirt, though I’m really glad that I raced on the road over the past two weekends because my fitness gained tremendously from it. Next up is IMBCS #5 at Sockum Ridge Park, just south of Iowa City. It’s a stage race so it’ll be another long, hard weekend of racing and I’m looking forward to it. Hope to see you all there!
Thanks for reading,