Two weeks in Colorado has come and gone. Got a lot of great rides in and hopefully have things turned around for the remainder of the season… With all of the rain that we had been getting heading into the weekend of the Seven Oaks race, I thought for sure that they were going to have to postpone it. So with that assumption, I headed out for 105 miles of Zone 2 with 45 minutes of race pace intervals in the middle on Saturday on the roads northwest of Ames. Great roads, little to no traffic, and if there is any traffic, every one of them pulled over into the opposite lane and gave me plenty of room. It seems like such a simple thing to do, not sure why some people have difficulty with this courtesy around Des Moines…
So I got back to Julie’s after my ride and gave Mr. race director a call about the status of the race, fully expecting to announce the postponement on the net. The response…’damp and tacky’. I got pretty excited because I love damp and tacky conditions on a race course, until I realized that I had just drained all of my energy stores on my long ride.
So on Sunday morning, as expected, I was feeling very tired and lethargic from the previous days efforts. Definitely didn’t feel the same enthusiasm that I typically do for a race at Seven Oaks. I did a couple of recon laps on the shortened course (due to several washouts from all of the rain) and felt like I had very tired legs.
The race started and, as I had expected, Kevin McConnell took the hole shot. I went pretty hard and could only manage 5th wheel going into the singletrack. As we were approaching the top of the initial climb, Nathan C was off his bike and scrambling to get back in line ahead of me. I put the kabash on that and managed to get by before he re-mounted his steed. Kevin had already began to open a gap and I was fully prepared to let him go. I didn’t really have much of a choice anyway because Ryan Feagan and Mike Sencenbaugh were ahead of me.
I rode with Ryan and Mike for the first lap at a pretty comfortable pace and didn’t really feel like I was pushing myself too hard. As we were completing the first lap, Kevin was only a few seconds ahead of us. My first thought was to get by Ryan and Mike to close the gap. However rather than gas myself in doing so, I decided to let Ryan and Mike do the dirty work. As we hit the singletrack, it was apparent that nobody was going to close the gap. So I settled in for lap 2 behind Ryan and Mike. As we made our way up the climb, Kevin once again increased his gap and gradually did so to the point where he was out of sight. About halfway through the lap, I passed Ryan and Mike and hit the throttle to give my legs a little test at a slightly harder effort. They felt pretty good, so I kept the pressure on in hopes of loosing both of them.
I opened a gap pretty quickly and actually felt like I had more power under the hood than I had originally thought. At the end of lap 2, Kevin had about a 50 second gap on me and thoughts of closing the gap began to enter into my mind. I held the pace over the 3rd lap and felt pretty comfortable throughout the lap. Kevin still had a 50 second gap on me at the end of lap 3 and Mike and Ryan were far enough behind that I could no longer tell where they were. Throughout lap 4, I began to believe that I actually had enough in me that I could close the gap, so I opened the throttle a little more and felt surprisingly good. I was riding well and made very few mistakes throughout the technical course.
At the end of lap 4, I had closed the gap down to 40 seconds which fueled my fire even more. I hit it even harder and in my cross-eyed state thought that this was the last lap. I let it all hang out and could sense that I was rapidly closing the gap. As we approached the end of lap 4, I saw Kevin a short distance up the trail. When I hit the bottom of the hill, Kevin looked like he was well within reach, so I buried myself in hopes of catching him before the finish. He rolled across the finish line about 5 seconds ahead of me, and continued on like he still had another lap to do. I looked at the peeps in the timing tent and they looked at me like I still had another lap to do…crap. I caught up to Kevin and he said that he wasn’t all that jazzed to see me…funny. I asked the obvious question, ‘ do we still have another lap to do?’, he said unfortunately yes.
As we were climbing the hill at the beginning of lap 6, I was dying a slow death from my efforts and Kevin was once again pulling away. He quickly opened up a gap again, to the point where I couldn’t see him anymore. I held my pace until I felt like I was getting my wind back. As I approached the top of the climb, I prepared myself for another 10 minute effort in the red zone, intent on bringing Kevin back. As I approached the end of the lap, I once again saw that I was quickly closing in on Kevin. As we were rolling through the grassy downhill, Kevin overcooked a turn and was rolling through the weeds. I passed him and hit it pretty hard on the remainder of the descent. The last ¼ mile was on an open grassy stretch and I kept the pressure on, thinking that if I hit the last few turns first, the win was as good as mine. To my surprise, Kevin stuck his wheel between me and the inside of a pretty fast corner. It was a pretty ballsy move and he stuck with it and managed to grab the best line as we approached the finish. I gave it all that I had and quickly realized that he had the inside line going into the last corner before the remaining 10’ to the finish. I shut it down realizing that there was no way that I was going to be able to get by him. He ended up getting me by about the width of a wheel. I’m pretty sure that Ron and Troy were not anticipating a sprint finish in a mountain bike race, otherwise they might have re-thought the way that they configured the finish line! Regardless, Kevin rode a smart race and deserved the win, so it all worked out a-ok.
Despite finishing 2nd, I felt like it was probably the best race that I’ve had all year. I felt like I had a lot of power throughout the race, especially when I consider what I had done the day before. Up until this race, I didn’t feel like I had any sustained power. Kevin has had a lot of solid results this year, a couple of top tens in the WORS series to name a few. So I felt really good about finishing with him today.
The next race is going to be a good test for me, the Border Battle in River Falls, WI. The race is a combo race, mixing the WORS and Minnesota series, so most of the big guns in the Midwest will be there.
Thanks for reading,