Photos courtesy of Skinnyski.
I usually try to make it up to Minnesota at least once a year to do one of the Minnesota State Championship Series races. The courses in that series are always among the most technical in the Midwest and if you like to climb, almost all of their races are on ski hills. My favorite course of the three that I’ve ridden in Minnesota is at Afton Alps, and as luck would have it, the race at Afton happened to be on an off weekend in Iowa and Nebraska.
I arrived at the course on Saturday and did a couple of recon laps. The trail conditions were ideal and I had a ball! It’s the type of course where you’re either going up or down and the two major climbs are long, steep and worthy of granny gear status.
I stayed the night at my uncle’s house in Chanhassen and woke up the next morning to light rain. It started raining a little after midnight and didn’t stop until around 7 or 8 the next morning. I wasn’t too worried because the races in Minnesota go rain or shine. The course at Afton is well built and drains really well. Add a little sand to the dirt and you’ve got close to ideal trail conditions when it gets damp. My uncle decided to go with me to see what this mountain bike racing thing was all about. We loaded up and headed out for the hour or so drive to Afton. On the way to the course, he got to witness firsthand just how odd we bike racers can be as I devoured my usual entire box of Kellogg’s Mueslix on the way to Afton.
We arrived at the race with about two hours to spare and I was finally able to prep for the race at a somewhat relaxed pace. I took a look at a few bikes that had already been on the course and mud accumulation was pretty minimal. As the morning wore on, the course conditions steadily improved. Rain was forecasted right around the time that we were supposed to start our race, thankfully the rain never came!
We lined up for the start and the usual suspects in the Minnesota series were there. I was pretty disappointed not to see Doug Swanson and Paul Hansen, I was looking to forward to racing against them / getting my butt kicked. No worries however as there was still plenty of competition with several semi-pro’s toein’ the line. The Moore brothers, the Oftedahl brothers a cat from Arizona, Jeff Herrera, Jesse Reints and Luke Nelson among many others.
Lot's of fast dudes ready to rip some legs off.
The race started and I had a pretty good start going into the singletrack sitting about mid-pack of the 36 strong field. My effort at the start was enough that I felt pretty comfortable throughout. Once we hit some of the more open areas, I started picking off a few peeps that put themselves into the red. By the end of the first lap I think that I was sitting around 10th.
The start with eventual race winner Brendan Moore leading the charge. I'm in there somewhere.
Oh yeah, there I am. I think I felt pretty good at that time.
During the 2nd lap I picked off a few more and could see Jeff Herrera, Sam and Eric Oftedahl up the trail. At that point I kinda figured out that I was pretty close to the sharp end of the field. Shortly thereafter, I passed by my uncle and he told me that I was sitting in 6th place. Sweet! My best placing in a Minnesota race prior to this one was 13th. Things were lookin’ pretty good. At the base of the 2nd major climb of the lap I caught up to Sam and Eric. At that point Sam took off up the climb and I rode with Eric until the end of the lap. Shortly thereafter, I passed Eric and began my pursuit of Sam.
Goin' uphill, I think that I felt pretty good there also.
By the end of lap two I caught and passed Sam. As I passed he offered some words of encouragement and I did the same. That’s one of the reasons this is such a great sport, lot’s of cool people! There are a few places on the course that double back on itself and I could see that Jeff was within reach. So I put my head down and began my chase. I finally caught up to Jeff about ¼ of the way through the 4th and final lap. As I passed Jeff, he also offered some words of encouragement and told me that 2nd place, Ben Moore, wasn’t that far ahead.
Riding my bike over some stones. I'm glad that I didn't fall on them. I think that I felt pretty good here also.
At the base of the last major climb of the day I could see Ben, maybe 50 yards ahead of me. I was hoping that he wouldn’t notice me, but somebody must have told him that I was closing the gap. About halfway up the climb I could see that he was starting to increase his gap on me. I tried to go a little harder and could tell that I might start throwin’ pistons and rods if I pushed it much harder.
Fast women and fast bikes. Women's winner Jenna Zander, she's legit.
Goin' downhill, real quick like. You can't really tell, but I am smiling here.
I ended up finishing in 3rd overall, by far my best result north of the Iowa border. Brendan Moore won the race with a time of 2:17:25, Ben brought home 2nd in 2:18:55, I came in 3rd in 2:19:13 and Jeff held on for 4th with a time of 2:20:40. My uncle had told me that I was about 4 minutes behind 1st at the start of the third lap. So I was extremely happy to know that I had a pretty strong finish. My average HR for the race was 169, so I can tell that the high end of my fitness is starting to come around. To have this kind of a result this early in the season is a really good indicator of things to come!
There’s nothing going on in Iowa or Nebraska next weekend so I think that I’m going to head up to Wisconsin and do the WORS race at Mt. Norris. I’ve never been there before, but I’ve heard that it’s a pretty sweet course.
Thanks for reading,