Sunday, May 25, 2014

To the Maximus!

Ever since I got my new Trek Superfly late last year, my technical skills and confidence on the mountain bike have improved by leaps and bounds. This new confidence has led to insane amounts of fun on the dirt -- from riding slick rocks in Moab UT in November last year, to regular weekend trips to the rocks at Frederick Watershed and Gambrill, and fast flowy rides at Patapsco.

The Michaux Endurance Series is well know in the mountain biking community as being the toughest, most technically challenging race on the local circuit. Indeed, the single track on the race consists of miles and miles of rock gardens with no let up. The brief respite on double track and dirt roads consists mostly of lung-busting climbs and steep white-knuckle descents. So you get the picture -- this is one HARD race. Their slogan says it all: Don't limit your challenges, challenge your limits!

Yeah there are some rocks

Look Ma my back wheel isn't touching!
 At the start of this year I resolved to race the Michaux series and after consultation with some experts, I was directed to start with the 20 mile race and not the 40. Many accomplished riders have sworn off Michaux after attempting the 40 early in their dirt riding days. So the 20 it was for me on May 4th for the Michaux Maximus.  

Mountain bike racing is for the real enthusiasts. There is little fanfare, not much in terms of podium celebrations apart from a photo and bragging rights, and overall a pretty laid back atmosphere. What I really like about it is that everyone is super friendly, congenial, and even the expert racers are willing to help newbies out. After a riders' meeting where the race director gives a safety briefing and explains some other details like course markings, he or she simply points to a tree, calls it the start line, and yells go! This level of informality is quite refreshing, especially after experiencing the exact opposite in the world of triathlon.
Yes, that tree is the start line. Ready? GO!
 I was coming into this race with some pretty good form -- my fitness was good and legs were firing pretty well. Just the day before I had gone out with my new team, Bike Rack Racing, and ridden at the front in our weekend group ride and felt pretty good. So I took off with front group at the start and kept pace quite easily in the short sorting out section of dirt road. I hit the first single track 3rd wheel and felt great, kept pace with the two guys in front and got into a nice rhythm.

Yes, you're supposed to ride this... on your bike!

Mountain biking on rocks is so much about the head rather than legs. On this day, my head was screwed on right and I was in the game. We cleared the first few miles of single track and caught up to some of the earlier waves. I was still riding strong until we hit a really twisty single track descent. This was pretty gnarly for me and I lost some ground to the front two guys but stayed rubber side down. Soon, the trail opened up a bit and a bombing descent lay in front so I hung back off the saddle and dove right in.

About halfway through my left cleat unclipped (perhaps my foot accidentally twisted too much) and I lost control -- WHAM! my crotch went straight into the seatpost and I slid to a stop on some leaves (thankfully not rocks!). After wincing in pain for a good minute and ensuring all parts were still intact, I got back on the bike and started pedaling again.

Umm, why did I sign up for this?

A few people passed me here while I recovered but got going again. A couple miles later on another descent my front wheel caught some root and I went flying over the handlebars. Surprisingly I didn't get hurt at all but was quite rattled by this second crash. Head went out the window and I soft pedaled for a bit and got passed by several other racers.

Soon, however, the descending was done and we got onto a long dirt climb up to the ridgeline. Once on the climb I got my head back and legs started moving again. Thankfully they had shown up for the day and I caught some people on this climb. We then entered the hardest 3 mile single track of the race. Here I felt determined and cleared it without a single crash and while riding throughout - quite an accomplishment given the trail is rated highly technical for hikers!

The exit from this single track signaled the end of the technically demanding sections of the race. This was also the location of a rest stop. Last year, rest stops had been my achilles heel in racing -- basically I treated them as a time to switch off, have a sit down, and leisurely consume calories. But this meant bleeding time and its a race damn it! So my racing resolution for this year was to keep stops to a minimum. On this particular one I didn't need anything so I didn't stop -- got a bonk buster out from my jersey and ate it while riding. Its the little things that save you time in a race.
The work wasn't done, however. There was still the final climb and some muddy single track before we got to it. The previous week's rains had rendered the trails very slippery so there was some sliding but I got to the climb mostly unscathed. I had lost track of where I was in my age group but I gunned it up the final climb and passed some people though not sure how many were my competition. Ended up 7th, but I know I could have been 3rd or higher if I had not crashed so much.

But its all a learning experience and I can't wait for the next race! Proud to represent Bike Rack Racing for the first time on a mountain bike and bringing back a respectable result. Hope to get more teammates riding and racing on the dirt soon.