Photos courtesy of Skinnyski and Julie.
As a ‘professional’ mountain bike racer wannabe, most people would not believe that DSM is actually a great place to live. We have access to some of the best mountain bike racing in the nation. Just about every surrounding state has a mountain bike racing series and we’ve been able to race somewhere every weekend, all within a days drive.
So last weekend, Julie and I packed up the Jeep and made the long drive up to Mapelag Resort in the western part of Minnesota. The stage race was the 9th installment of the MNSCS and it has a pretty solid reputation as a racer favorite. After 9 hours of sitting in the car, we had finally arrived at the resort. We drove straight to the main lodge where dinner was being served. We were both pretty strung out from the long drive, however we were quickly revived upon entering the enormous dining area. Every table was full of mountain bike racers, stuffing their faces with some of the best home cooking that I’ve ever had. This was pretty much the norm over the entire weekend with breakfast, lunch and dinner. I also should mention the 5 or 6 bottomless cookie bars available to all of the folks staying at the resort, homemade of course.
After dinner, we registered and headed over to our cabin. The cabin consisted of about 6 rooms, all connected by one central room complete with a refrigerator, comfy couches and an impressive collection of National Geographic magazines, some of which probably predate the existence of man. When we were kids, my brother and I used to get a charge out of looking through National Geographic and seeing the aborigine women with their big ‘ole boobs hangin’ out. Yeah, we were a couple of weird kids…all kids are kinda weird though, so whatever.
We unloaded all of our junk and settled into the common area for some good conversation with our cabin mates, the Hinkens family, TJ Woodruff, his dad (Woody) and Doug Swanson. All good peeps that have given me many a beat down. It was nice to finally get to know some of the folks from the great white north.
Saturday morning kicked things off with a short, 3-ish mile time trial. As I was warming up, it quickly became clear that my legs were still pretty cooked from the previous weeks workouts. This has pretty much been the norm for the season however, I race almost every weekend and I have to train through most of the races if I want to be in peak form towards the end of the season.
I started my TT and my legs instantly rejected the violent effort that I was asking of them. I persisted and they eventually came around. My goal for the race was to put in as little effort as possible while still keeping myself in contention for a strong finish in the overall general classification. Much to my surprise, my time was good enough for 4th place on the day, about 20 seconds behind winner Brendan Moore, TJ Woodruff and Doug Swanson. The TT course consisted on mostly open cross country ski trail sections connected by 3 or 4 sections of singletrack. My bike handling was a little off, so I knew that the singletrack would slow me down a little. It’s pretty easy to get off line during a short, anaerobic effort like a TT. So I took it a little easy in the techy sections of singletrack, knowing that any mishap would cost me a lot more than slowing it down a little.
Cruising down one of the ski trails with some pretty unhappy legs!
Julie bringing home a nice finish in the TT.
Next up was the short track criterium and my goal was once again to maintain a solid position in the GC and not get dropped from the lead group. I got a front row call up and we took off like a pack of scalded dogs. I tried to get myself settled in to a position near the sharp end of the field. As the race progressed, a front group of 13 formed. I was dangling around 6th or 7th about midway through the race. A short while later, the group eventually whittled itself down to 7. We hit the 20 minute mark and had 2 laps left. There were a few attacks, however nothing really stuck. On the last lap, Doug Swanson took a flier and managed to create a little separation between himself and the group. Doug ended up winning, followed by TJ, Brendan and myself.
TJ asserting himself while leading the train of pain about midway through the STXC.
Riding in the shadow of Minnesota mtb legend Hollywood Henderson.
Doug Swanson taking his turn at the front. I decided to skip all of my turns at the front.
Julie chasing down the lead in the STXC.
Julie ripping it up through a corner on the STXC course.
Julie took the sprint for the 'W' in the STXC.
So at the end of the day, I had a pretty solid hold on 4th in the GC with a little over a minute cushion on 5th. Julie also had a great day and was sitting in 2nd in the women’s Cat 2 race. She finished 2nd in the TT and won the women’s STXC race. She had gotten off to a pretty decent start and picked off racers throughout the race until the penultimate lap when she finally took the lead. I was pretty beside myself in excitement for her.
Sunday was the traditional cross country race on a course that I would liken to a slightly flatter version of the Seven Oaks course. Only maybe a little more technical with several lakeside drops, some small but tricky rock gardens and a lot of roots. I knew that it was going to be a pretty rough race, so I softened the tires and the suspension to minimize the battering of my body.
I got off to a pretty good start and settled into the top ten with the hopes of a top ten finish on a course that I typically would not do very well on. Throughout the first lap, I worked my way up to 7th and as I approached Suicide Hill, I could see Doug Swanson about halfway up, kinda weaving back and forth like a drunken sow. He was having one of those days that I thankfully rarely have. As I passed, I asked if he was OK, and he offered some encouragement to keep on keepin’ on. Later on in the lap, I saw Eric O and Jack Hinkens up the trail.
Cruisin' down one of the many lakeside drops.
I eventually caught up to them and we rode together in 4th, 5th and 6th for the majority of lap 2 and 3. We worked well together throughout and as we hit a steep, barely rideable climb chock full of loose gravel, I stalled out and they didn’t. I had to hike-a-bike to the top while Eric and Jack rode off into the sunset. They opened a pretty good gap on me, however I could still see them. I buried myself in an attempt to bring them back. In doing so, I found myself getting a little sloppy through some of the techy sections of trail. This continued until I wrapped my handlebars around a small tree. I wasn’t going that fast and was able to keep myself upright, however it stalled me out and took away all of my impetus.
Jack, Eric O and I shadow boxing up Suicide Hill.
Jack showing me the lines through the lakeside drop section.
Jack is still in front of me here, you just can't see him.
I rode by myself throughout the last lap and as the lap progressed, I could see that I was slowly closing in on Eric O. Instant motivation set in and I pushed myself pretty hard to reel him back in. I could tell that I wasn’t making any progress in the singletrack, however I was quickly closing the gap on the ski trails. We hit the last kilometer of the race and it was all ski trail, so I put my head down and pushed the pedals as hard as my legs would allow. I eventually caught him with about 400 meters to go, sat in for a couple of pedal strokes and then passed him right before the finish to snag 5th overall. For a course that doesn’t necessarily suit my strengths, I was extremely happy with my finish. TJ won the race, followed closely by Brendan Moore. Sam O came in 3rd a couple of minutes back, followed by Jack.
My finish today dropped me down one spot to 5th place in the GC. TJ took the overall, followed by Brendan, Sam O and Jack. Jack rode a great race and was lightning quick in the singletrack. When he, Eric and I were riding together, he sometimes had me bouncing off of the trees like a pinball while trying to stay on his wheel in the singletrack. He, along with Jake Richards are two guys that will be the men to beat if they stick with it. They’re both still in their late teens and are producing some impressive results in the men’s elite fields.
Jake using his home course knowledge to bring it home in 8th place.
Julie had another great race, despite one of her cleats coming loose early in the race. She pulled off a 4th in the XC race and managed to hang onto the 3rd overall in the women’s Cat 2 GC. I was able to watch most of her race and she rode the lakeside drops like a pro. The drops are techy enough, that a lot of people either dismounted and ran down, or tried to ride them and ended up in a pile of dust at the bottom.
Julie knows what she's doing.
Lake Ahquabi point man Bruce Brown made the trip from DSM.
Negotiating her way through the lakeside drops.
If you want to learn to ride steep drops like Julie, attend our women's mtb clinic this fall and she'll teach you all that you need to know.
What can I say about this event? It was one of the best races that I’ve ever done and has become one of my favorites. Jay Richards, his family and the staff at Mapelag put together a great event. Jay has an enthusiasm for the sport that is very apparent in so many ways and the entire weekend at Mapelag made that even more apparent. The atmosphere, the hospitality, the race courses, the beautiful landscape surrounding the venue were all unmatched. Thumbs up baby!
Next up is another dirty double, with the Psycowpath race at Branched Oak on Saturday, followed by the Des Moines Dirty Time Trial weekend on Sunday. Not exactly what I need the weekend before one of my ‘A’ races at Chequamegon, however it is what it is and I’ll make the best of it.
Thanks for reading,