Race conditions last weekend were about as good as they come, dry, fast trails, temps in the lower 70’s, little to no wind and nothing but sunshine. A great weekend to be in the Midwest! Chia Chad decided to cross over from the Dark Side for some dirty goodness this weekend, so he and I loaded up our junk into the Jeep and hit the road for Omahole at around 8. We arrived at Swanson Park with plenty of time to get registered and do a little bs’n before it was time to recon the course. About an hour before the start, I was rolling through the start area to check the course out. Sometimes you have those days where you kinda feel like your riding with two left hands…today started out as one of those days. Throughout my recon, I could tell that my bike handling was a little off. It happens every once in a while and I have no idea what it is that causes it. All that you can do is roll with it and try your best to avoid any altercations with the trees, roots and the wildlife. I also had some issues indexing my big ring during the recon. I tried to adjust it before the start but was unable to really improve it on the fly.
We lined up for the start and at the gun, I managed to get clipped in pretty quickly and contest for the holeshot. I didn’t want to go out too fast because I wanted Kent to take the lead going into the singletrack. Kent eventually pulled ahead of me as we approached the singletrack. Shortly thereafter, Kevin Limpach took the lead and upped to pace a little. I went into the singletrack third wheel, firmly attached to Kent’s wheel, right where I wanted to be. Everything was going pretty good, my handling issues seemed to be behind me until we hit the gully. Kevin and Kent cleaned the gully like a couple of pro’s. I took a bad line and had to dismount. I’m pretty sure that I caused a small bottle neck behind me, but it wasn’t such that I lost any positions, but it was enough that Kevin and Kent were able to establish a pretty substantial gap on me. Not at all want I wanted.
I put it in chase mode with Shim, Steve Jarrett and another dude in tow. Throughout the first lap, I could feel and hear what I thought was my back wheel rubbing my frame. There were several times when I thought about pulling over to fix whatever it was, but I opted to ride through it until it forced me to stop. Whatever it was, it quit doing it about midway through the race and I’m glad that it did because it was very distracting. Swanson is the type of course where my focus needs to be on the course 100%. It’s very tight and twisty and a short lapse in concentration will have you into the weeds real quick like.
Sometime during lap two, I could see that Kevin was beginning to fade. Shortly thereafter, we caught and passed Kevin. I could start to see Kent up the trail and a few people along the course were telling me that he was about 20 seconds ahead. While all of this was going on, I was starting to gap off the group behind me on some of the open sections. This happened a few times earlier, however they would close it back up in the more technical sections of the course, especially in the gully, where I botched it on the first three laps. I was finally able to stick the gap towards the end of lap three and I kept the hammer down to try and increase the gap while also trying to bridge the gap to Kent. It was also at this time that I was no longer able to index my big ring. It wasn’t really that big of a deal because it’s not really needed on this course. It did kinda ticked me off though, I take a certain amount of pride in being able to maintain all of my bikes on my own and they usually work flawlessly for me. I finally gave up on it and settled into the middle ring for the remainder of the race.
During laps 4 and 5, the gap between Kent and myself remained at around 10 – 20 seconds. Steve managed to get around Shim and was in hot pursuit of me. He was able to close the gap a little, but never was able to catch me. I could tell on lap 5 that he let off the gas a little. That’s pretty much how the race ended, Kent brought home the win in 1:44:55, I came in 2nd in 1:45:19 and Steve followed in 3rd in 1:45:58. Shim brought home 4th in 1:46:56 and Todd Price rounded out the top 5 in 1:46:58.
I really wanted the win, it’s pretty satisfying winning on a course like Swanson, where just about everybody has a significant home course advantage on me. However I’m also very happy to walk away with 2nd place behind a mountain biking stud like Kent McNeil, and ahead of Steve Jarrett. Both are two of the best bike handlers that I know of and if I can finish near either of them on a course like Swanson…well I have to be extremely happy with that.
Now that I’ve had a day or two to reflect, I know what ultimately lead to my ‘undoing’. You guessed it, botching the gully on the first three laps. It created an insurmountable gap between myself and Kent less than five minutes into the race and I was never able to close it up. Botching it on laps two and three furthered the damage and in the end cost me about ten seconds. The remaining 20 or so seconds probably could have been managed if had been able keep myself on Kent’s wheel. That’s mountain bike racing for ya. I still had a great day, despite all of the issues that I had going on. The weather was close to perfect, the trails were close to perfect and I was racing my mountain bike with some of the coolest people around.
Next up is the 2nd installment of the Psycowpath series at Platte River State Park. Another venue where a lot of the locals have a significant home course advantage. They have a pretty awesome network of trails and I always look forward to racing there.
Thanks for reading,