The Maximus was a very different race for me this year. First, it looked like the course was going to be dryer and faster than last year. Second, it was going to be much hotter with summer like temps in the 90's. Third, I decided to do the shorter, 20 mile race and miss out on the "good stuff" only found on the longer course.
One thing that didn't change this year was the number of flat tires. Last year, the trail was lined with people changing out tubes and this year was no different. In fact, I'd say it was even worse. It was for me. After gunning it at the start, I found myself with the lead pack and headed into the single-track in great position. We were zipping through the woods and I was feeling pretty good considering my lack of "training". Topped out and riding along a ridge, the trail started it's first real descent down some of that rocky goodness know as Michaux. Weaving through the rocks the smile quickly leaves my face as I hear the dreaded "whoosh" of air escaping from my rear tire. The rocks have claimed another victim and the wind has been knocked out of my sails. It's mile 3 and I have a long day ahead of me. The tube change went as well as can be expected. I will say the new dropouts are much nicer to deal with and make for easier tire repairs. I get rolling again, however, I saw most of the SS class pass me as I tended to my wheel. My work just got a little harder if I plan to salvage this race.
Knowing you have to play "catch-up" is a pretty crappy feeling under ideal conditions. In Michaux, it's down right nasty. I was now riding outside my comfort zone, had a LOT of people to pass on tight single track and have already used the one spare tube I have for the day. I had to ride aggressively AND smart at the same time. I was on the hunt and working my way through the field. One nice bonus was seeing so many friends out on the trail during the race. We'd chat for a second, find a good spot and I'd pass. This went on for a while, but unfortunately, only a few were racing in the SS class. Then, I saw Aaron who fell victim to the rocks and was quickly repairing his tube as well. I was starting to get concerned.
Around this time a guy comes up from behind pretty fast. It's obvious he suffered a fate similar to mine and was trying to make up some time. He passes and I see he is a SSer as well. I assume he was in front of me when we hit the single track and was the leader for a brief period, before we both flatted. He's pushing hard and doesn't sound very good. His breathing is labored with a little wheezing mixed in for good measure. I now have my carrot! He is riding fast, but a little reckless. I know if I can keep him in my sights my chances are good if it comes down to the wire. He bombs the descents like a wild man while I back it off a tad to save my tube. I know I'll see him again once things level off, if not sooner. Sure enough, around mile 14 I loose him briefly as we negotiate a fast, rock strewn descent. Then, near the bottom, he's off to the side with a second blown tube and no spare. Without a spare of my own, I can't help him and press on.
I picked off a few more geared riders, but, I don't see anymore monocogs. The miles are ticking down and I'm pretty sure I'm in 5th or 6th place. Aside from a couple stragglers, I haven't passed many guys in my class and it appears the podium will have to wait for another day. I make my way through a stream valley trail, wash off and lubricate the belt drive in a nice water crossing and slide around on the wet roots. Coming out of the valley, there is another rock infested ATV trail that has become slippery from a brief shower that passed over-head. A little more single-track and I get dumped out onto a fireroad and my last couple miles of this race.
Last year, we took this fireroad up to an ATV trail for added mileage and a big climb. This topped out at a rock garden called "Shake & Bake" and the final push into the finish. Oddly, they are keeping us on the road a bit longer this year. No worries, I'm feeling good, pushing hard and know I'll pick off a couple more people in the remaining few miles. I pass by one geared rider and a woman walking her dog. Way off, in the distance, I see a rider near the top of the climb. I dig a little deeper and find some extra kick in the legs. As soon as the road tops out I start to see canopies on the other side of the trees, then some course tape. Crap, can this be the finish....already!? The fireroad climb was a bit anti-climatic compared to the smack down of Shake & Bake last year, however, it's getting hot and the beer is cold. I make the left turn into the timing tent where I'm greeted by Camps, Tomi, Rich and a host of others. David is there as well and just pulled off a strong 2nd place. Apparently, I just got 3rd. Damn! That was a fine day of racing and even better when you can share the podium with a friend and teammate.