Winter time is officially over, trainer rides on El Diablo are far and few between and I am ready to do some racin'!
Preseason pre trainer ride breakfast of champions.
El Diablo with a lot of towels to soak up the sweat.
The view from the cockpit of El Diablo
The 2009 racing season has finally begun after a few ‘false starts’ due to uncooperative weather. And once again, the weather made another attempt at furthering the delay of the 2009 season. However the nature of the soil / rock / concrete / brick / oil slicks at Sylvan Island is such that the course can take a lot of rain and still be very rideable. And rain it did!
Julie and I arrived at the course the day before the race and the trail conditions were pretty close to perfect. I did the first recon lap with Julie to show her the lines through the tight, twisty labyrinth of trails. I could tell by the smile on her face that she was good to go! I did three more laps on my own to get the course dialed in and had a blast!
After the ride, we went out to dinner with my stepdad and Julie’s stepdad… then went to Whitey’s for some pre race carbo loading of a size large Oreo malt. Yes, I had a very weak moment. We were driving to my sisters house, Whitey’s happens to be along the way. As we approached Whitey’s, my car started to slow down and the stupid thing turned into the Whitey’s parking lot. It was one of the craziest things that I had ever experienced…I was not aware that my Jeep had an autopilot option. So, we were there in the parking lot, I looked over at Julie, she returned the same look to me, we shrugged our shoulders and exited the car without a word in pursuit of some Whitey’s goodness. After our refueling, I managed to burn it all off within the span of an hour with a little help from my niece by tossing her in the air or chasing her around the living room for a couple of hours.
Kennan informing me of the house rules. "No strutting around in your underwear, no belching, no farting, no drinking from the milk carton, no drinking out of the toilet and do not use my kiddy toilet!"
Kennan informing Cowboy of the house rules.
We woke up the next morning and the area had yet to receive any rain…until around 8:00. Julie took a look outside and the streets were wet from a steady, light shower. And that was pretty much the weather pattern for the remainder of the day.
We arrived at the course right before the start of the beginners race. I heard the starters whistle and looked towards the start area only to see 70+ hearty souls forging their way through the rain and muck! It was pretty amazing to see that many beginners, a lot of which were most likely first timers, enjoying themselves in the rain and mud…including my mom. Watching the beginners race here is always a great time because you see all kinds of crazy stuff. This year did not disappoint, people racing in the mud with blue jeans, hooded sweat shirts, full body armor, full faced downhill racing helmets, platform pedals and tennis shoes, bikes with luggage racks on the back. After their race, the only comments that I heard were all about how everybody had a great time! It was a classic example of what mountain bike racing is and should be about, people having a great time!
You tell me, does she look like she's having a great time?
Mom exiting the Forest of Ahrenburg.
Earlier in the morning, Julie had indicated a couple of times that she was on the fence as to whether she was going to do the race. While we were watching the beginner’s race, I had made the comment about how my 60+ year old mom was out there splashing around in the rain and mud with an ear to ear grin on her face the entire time, as did most of the other beginner’s. It kinda hit home, in that mountain bike racing is all about embracing the conditions that are given and enjoying the fact that I am riding my mountain bike. It was pretty motivating to watch and it pretty much kicked Julie off of the fence and refueled my enthusiasm for racing in the mud.
Shortly after the beginner’s race finished, the Category 2 and women’s open race started. Julie had never really ridden a course as technical as Sylvan, nor had she ever experienced mountain biking in mud. So at the start, she stayed near the back of the pack and took it easy until she was able to get a feel for the situation.
Julie exiting The Forest of Ahrenburg.
Looks like Julie is having a good time too! She's good at avoiding exfoliation.
Throughout her first lap she maintained a good, comfortable pace and managed to keep it rubber side down. If there would have been an award being the cleanest racer on a muddy day, she would have been a ringer for the award. As the field went by, everybody had a nice coating of mud on their front and backs. Julie went by and she had a few randomly placed splatters here and there. For whatever reason, she got pulled from the race after 2 of 3 laps. There was another woman behind her that did not get pulled, so I’m not sure what the deal was. Julie was pretty disappointed, she was having a great time and didn’t want to stop.
As my race approached, the rain continued to fall. The trails seemed to be holding up really well and it appeared as though it wasn’t going to be as nearly as difficult as a typical mud race might be. We lined up for the start and I managed to get the holeshot. I got snaked by Ryan Nenninger going into the singletrack, so I settled into 2nd wheel behind Ryan and played follow the leader for the first half lap. I didn’t get to do a recon lap before the race due the conditions, so I was OK with letting Ryan test the muddy waters. Most of the low lying areas contained several inches of water and in some cases, it was like riding through a small pond with a nice coating of oil floating on the surface.
We hit the biggest hill on the course, a soaring 10’ in total height, and it was pretty slimy. Ryan didn’t carry enough momentum and faltered as he approached the top. I was able to get around him for the lead and took off on one of the longest open sections of the course. On the same lap, I hit one of the many corners with a little too much heat and my front tire washed out on me and I hit the deck. As I was trying to get up, I slipped in the mud and fell again. During my snafu, Ryan caught up to and retook the lead. I was able to catch back to him pretty quickly and when we hit the next open section, I retook the lead and never looked back.
Heading into the Forest of Ahrenburg.
As soon as I felt that I had established a comfortable lead, I backed it off a little and put it preservation mode. A muddy race like this is all about taking care of your equipment and keeping it upright. Among my biggest concerns were my brakes, shortly after the race had started they were rubbing and making all kinds of noise. As the race progressed, the course conditions worsened and my brakes began to fade to the point where I had no significant braking power during the last two laps. If I needed to slow down, I had to go offline into softer ground to scrub off speed. It’s a good thing that Sylvan is pancake flat because I would have probably had many off line excursions into the wild on any type of descent.
Playing in the mud like a pig.
The course doubled back on itself quite a bit, so I could tell when somebody was getting close to me. During the last three or four laps, I could see that Aaron Robinett was within a minute of me. So I did what I needed to hold the gap and managed to keep any further mechanicals at bay. I ended up taking the win with a time of 2:08:33. Aaron took home a well deserved 2nd with a time of 2:09:15. Ryan Nenninger came in 3rd in 2:13:04, Kevin McConnell came in 4th in 2:13:59 and Ben Shockey held on for 5th in 2:14:15. Each of these guys made it through tough race conditions and a pretty tough field of racers to finish in the top 5. So a job well done to all of them.
With the Pro / Cat 1 race being the last race of the day, the trails had already weathered the traffic of 120 racers. Add an all day steady downpour to the mix and you’ve got the ingredients for some pretty difficult, but fun racing conditions. Though I have to admit, I was ready to be done during the last two laps of the race. It was a pretty major accomplishment just to finish the race let alone place well.
Dirty old man.
This is what I would look like if I were to grow a beard.
I might do some road ragin’ in Iowa City next weekend, it depends on the weather. One race in the rain is enough for me and road racing is all about getting a good training ride in with little to no concern of results other than a good, quality workout.
Thanks for reading,