Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Kent and Shim tag teamin' me.
This years edition of Lake Manawa Mayhem marks the end of the 2009 Psycowpath season as well as the penultimate race for the 2009 IMBCS. I’m not 100% on this, but I think a decent finish will pretty much lock up both the Psycowpath and IMBCS series overall, good enough for another season of free entry fees for both series in 2010…a great way to reward all of the division winners in each series.
Lake Manawa is the type of course where it is less about fitness and a little more about bike handling. With a total of 121 feet of climbing (according to my trusty Polar 725) and only a handful of short, fast, open sections for passing, the only form of natural selection was how well you could handle your bike through the many serpentine sections of tight singletrack. With the previous days rain making the course conditions about as close to perfect as they could be for optimal traction, it made bike handling a little less of an issue. It was the type of ‘close to perfect’ conditions such that my bike had no dust or mud on it when I had finished.
At last years race, it was pretty much a follow the leader race. It seemed that whenever somebody got dropped from the train, it was most likely because they either had a mechanical issue or they wrapped their bike around one of the many man eating trees that the trail weaved its’ way through. This year was no different and as the gun went off, holeshot Limpach took the lead, followed closely by Kent, Shim and myself. Shortly after Kevin took the lead, he had minor bike handling issue that knocked him off line and narrowly missed taking out the lead train. Kent and Shim got by and he nearly took me out again when he shot back in line in front of me. The mishap enabled Kent and Shim to open a small gap on Kevin and myself. As the lap progressed, the gap gradually increased and I had to patiently wait until the next passing opportunity to get by Kevin.
We finally hit the next open section and I went by Kevin. At Manawa, a small gap is pretty difficult to close down because you can only go so fast through the tight, technical sections. It took the remainder of the lap to close the gap. I took an occasional look back and saw that I was pulling away from the rest of the field and it looked like it was going to come down to Kent, myself and Shim.
We started lap two and I was pretty content to let Kent and Shim, who happen to be teammates, lead the way. I sat on while they swapped the lead, however I knew that I was going to have to assert myself pretty soon. The longer I waited, the more difficult it would be pass Kent or Shim. As we neared the end of lap two, I made a few attempts to get into the lead, however Kent had other ideas. I could tell that he was keeping on eye on what was going on behind him and whenever I hit the throttle he was very quick to respond and made it close to impossible for me to get by.
As we began lap three, I was finally able to get by Kent. The only problem was that I had to work so hard to get by, that I was temporarily out of gas and had a hard time maintaining enough effort to keep myself ahead of him. He passed me back shortly after I got by and I began to realize that it was going to take some creativity to get by and make it stick. As we rolled through the singletrack, I kept looking for short stretches of openness that might allow a small chance of making a pass.
About halfway through lap three, Shim had indicated that he thought he was going flat. Shortly thereafter, I heard the sound of knobbies grinding against a rim…game over. With Shim out of the picture it was shaping up to become another one of those epic battles between Kent and myself that we’ve had so many of over the past few years. Most of my favorite and most memorable racing experiences have been against Kent. I love all of the many tight battles that we’ve had and always find myself looking forward to racing in Nebraska in anticipation this very situation.
As lap three and four progressed, I continued my search for ‘small sections of openness’ and I also tried to pass on a few of the open sections again, all to no avail. As we approached the end of ‘lap four’, Kent put in a monster effort to keep me behind him and I was content to remain behind him with the idea of balking passes throughout the remainder of the race, enough to make him stand up and exert himself in an attempt to keep me behind. My hope was that this would wear him down a little and make it easier for me to make a pass…and make it stick.
As we crossed the finish line at the end of ‘lap four’, Kent sat up and motioned to high five me. I was kind of perplexed by this, however being the high five kind of person that I am, I returned the high five. He then said ‘nice race’ and I thought to myself, and told him that we had one more lap to do. He said ‘no, I’m pretty sure that we did four laps’ and I again thought to myself that we had only done three. I rode over to the officials table to get the official count and as I rode towards the table, some dude in the crowd said, ‘you guys still have another lap’. I spun around and headed back onto the course, hoping that Kent wasn’t long gone.
I continued on in pursuit mode and couldn’t see anybody ahead of me. There were a few sections where the course doubled back on itself and I couldn’t see him anywhere. At that point, I began to think that maybe he was behind me because he couldn’t have gotten that far ahead of me. I looked behind me and saw nobody, so I backed off the effort and waited for him. The last thing that I wanted was to win the race with an asterisk. I would rather risk him being ahead of me while I waited, then win the race under these circumstances.
I kept noodling along at a medium pace, not really sure where he was and as I crossed the road, there were no road crossing marshals. That should have been my first strong clue that something was amiss. Despite my uncertainty, I continued on and as I neared the end of the lap, I saw a dude riding the trail ahead of me with two kids riding in front of him. As soon as I caught up, I quickly realized that it as Kent riding with his kids! We had a pretty entertaining chat about my oversight and about the race. We did, in fact do four laps. Even though I thought we still had a lap to go when we officially finished, I seriously doubt that I would have been able to get by Kent. He rode a smart race, he was incredibly strong when he needed to be and he was very attentive to what I was doing behind him. I tried everything to get by him and couldn’t get it done. The funny thing is, this happened to me at this race two years ago with Shim. I blame it on my age. Despite finishing in 2nd, this ranks right up there with the rest of my favorites. It’s tough to beat close, clean competition!
So with a 2nd place finish, I’m pretty sure that I locked up the series title for both the IMBCS and Psycowpath. There are a lot of good folks to thank and more appropiate thank you’s will come in a later post. For now, the short list…God, Julie, my family, the folks at Rassy’s, Phil Godkin with Orbea/Garneau/Probar/Sock Guy/Gu (I’m probably missing a few other products) and Rob Versteegh with Oakley. Each of these friends provided some means of support that made this crazy road that I’m traveling possible. Simply put, they are all the best of the best! Julie also rode a pretty solid race and locked up the Psycowpath series womens Category 2 title.
Next up is the season finale for the IMBCS at Sugarbottom. It seems appropriate that Sugarbottom be the final race of the series, as it is the oldest of all of the IMBCS races. Last year, after many years of trying, I was finally able to bag the win…thanks to Brian Eppen making a rare mistake that slowed him down a little. Despite that, I happily accepted the win as that’s a part of mountain bike racing. I’ve made errors in the past that had cost me race wins, so it works both ways!
Thanks for reading,