Monday, July 14, 2008
Time to move up??
The MASS Fair Hill Classic is one kick ass race! DKEG wanted a little company for the 2 hour drive to the north-eastern most point of Maryland and this past Sunday I was happy to oblige. The Delaware Trail Spinners organization put on this little event and I may have to put it on the books for next year as well. A 22 mile course that is almost all single track and NEVER doubles back on itself. The expert/elite racers got 27 miles of the same, never repeating goodness.
Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area was the stage for our epic little race. Upon arrival David commented on the number of racers at the event this year. "I guess this race has become popular" was one observation as we rolled into our parking spot at the back of what seemed like a sea of bike toting cars. My first comment was "shit....these guys look serious", as packs of lean sinewy racers rode past trying to warm their muscles before the start. Not 2 hours before DKEG and I were scarfing down a fine McDonalds breakfast and talking about the beer we brought for after the race. Somehow I don't think these guys did any of that......ever!
After parking we rolled down to the registration building, yes building....not a tent, and proceeded to fill out the requisite forms to race. I noticed they actually had two Single Speed classes, one Expert and one Sport, both open in terms of age. All the other classes were broken down into a multitude of categories, as usual, based on ones racing age. So, now I had for the first time in my SS racing life a choice to race Sport or Expert. Hmmmm?! I was now in a bit of a pickle. I've been having a good year so far and my times have been right up there with a number of the expert geared guys. At least the geared guys in the races I normally enter. They don't generally look like the speed demons I witnessed on arrival, they look a little a bit more like me. Maybe not as gray up top, but, about the same level of fitness and general lack of seriousness before a race. That is the pond I am use to swimming in. This new one was.......different. More sharks and far fewer guppies.
In a moment of cowardice I check the "Sport" box on my registration form and felt a little ashamed. Sandbagger is a term I would hate to be labeled, but, I've never raced expert SS before. Really, we were just all lumped in together as one big, hard freaking class that I usually got bitch slapped in. However, I am having a good year.
DKEG and I head up to the start to check things out. The Elite and Expert guys have hit the trails and now the waiting game begins. We roll up to and around the starting line, check out the first little bit of single track and head back to find some shade before our start. Around 11am we are told to start getting ready and find your way to the line. I line up with 25 or so single geared mates that look much more familiar than the mutants that scared me earlier. They are a jovial group and we talk about gearing, trails and the scorching temps we are expecting throughout the race. My nerves are much better and I go through the mental checklist before the start. 150 yards of dirt road before the single track gave the faster guys an opportunity to open up a little distance before the train hit the woods. Not wanting a repeat of the Bakers Dozen I decide I'm going to redline it until the woods and then hold it for as long as possible before settling into a sustained race pace. At the countdown I hit the gas and get the hole-shot. I quickly get to the head of the pack and continue to open a gap well before the single track. Feeling great I decide to push the pace and try to put some distance on the faster guys that are sure to catch up sooner or later. It wasn't until mile 3.5 that the first guy in my class caught me. A fast SOB by the name of Adam. He paced me for a little while until a geared rider went down in front of me and then he seized the moment and passed to my right. Back on my bike I was right on his tire and now it was my turn to pace him. We continued this for a few more miles and then he slowly started to pull away from me. About the same time the number three guy was making his move and started breathing down my neck. At one point I ask if he wanted to pass and he stated he was just going to hang back and pace off me. Crap, I lost the top spot and now number 3 is going to pace my ass.....this sucks. We hit a section of trail with some extended climbs and it is here I start to put a hurting on Allen (number 3). I slowly start to extend the gap between us and by the time we get through a couple climbs he is almost out of sight. I continue to get glimpses of Adam and know he is still within my grasp if I can hold my current pace.....we are half way through the race, mile 10.5. It was about this time that I catch up with two geared guys from Vet 1 or 2 and they a pacing one another and really burning up the trails. I jump on their little train and the three of us begin to really hammer through the course. So much so that once we popped out onto a gravel climb Adam was 25 yards in front of me. I bid my geared buddies farewell and was right back on the leaders wheel. He asked if I wanted to pass, but, our choo choo took a little out of me and I was happy to be back on his wheel. If this guy was going to win the race, he was going to earn it. Actually, I told him that, half joking, as we navigated the twisty trails. We were at the 15 mile mark, 7 more to go.
I'm 2/3rd's of the way through this race, my legs are feeling great and we are pushing a blistering pace, what the hell is going on?? I never feel this good. Was it the early bed time? The hearty breakfast? Damn, I'm liking this! Now, don't get me wrong, I don't have much left in me, but, I have enough for this race...at this pace. The rest of the SS pack is no where in sight and it could come down to the wire between Adam and me. Two miles left and he kicks it up a notch and opens up a small lead. He tries to pass a geared rider a couple times, gets shut down by trees and that has sapped some of his energy. In an open spot we both pass the rider and I am right back behind him and in good position. A quarter mile from the finish a cobblestone bridge stops him and he hops from his bike to pass a rider and climb the bridge. I don't know why, but, I do the same. He tells me, "if I were you, I'd be attacking right now". My reply was that I didn't have anything left to attack with and I was just trying to maintain. We get over the bridge and enter the last short section of single track before the finish. He continues to push the pace and I am only a couple bike lengths behind. Last descent into a hard left turn and we open up onto the final stretch. Adam crosses the line first and I follow.....6.88 seconds later. At the finish he comments on how that was one of the best races he's done in a long time, I had to agree. Incredible weather, fantastic course and great competition. I couldn't have asked for a better day......well, maybe a little better.