Root 66 Mt. Snow Kenda Klassic
West Dover, VT
West Dover, VT
I am The Captain of My PainThis weekend went a little better than the last two race weekends. I finished two races in two days, one of them being the hardest race I know of; the Mt. Snow XC race. We (me, Colin, and Linnea) loaded up the car Friday night to head up to Winhall, VT to stay at my friend Teri’s house. A few hours later we were up and on our way down to West Dover where I would spectate as Colin, Linnea, and George took part in the Super D event. I signed up for the Short Track and the hill climb, with nearly no intention of participating in the hill climb. To warm up for the STXC I threw on my 32 X 22 and went out for a pre-ride of Sunday’s XC course (which from what I hear is identical to Nationals). The course was in amazing condition, just a little wet and muddy in spots but much more rideable through the singletrack uphill than I’d ever seen it. That would change overnight, but we’ll get to that a little later.
After my pre-ride I went about swapping my gear for the Short Track event from by far the lowest gear I’ve ever run to the largest, a 34 X 16. There was one small climb and a little bump in the course, and not much in the way of corners. Before my race I got to watch the Sport race. There was dogfight going on between Masters Sport rider Wayne Cunningham and Lees McRae roadie Gonzo. Gonzo was on a single speed borrowed from Ben Corablis, it had a 34 X 18 gear on it, i..e; very small. He was riding smart and savvy though, sitting in and tucking behind Wayne whenever possible, spinning like a centrifuge. It took a while but he wore Wayne down and created a gap. My money was on Gonzo the whole time, I instantly became a fan, yelling out “I love this kid!” at one point. He used the same gear for the hill climb, apparently it was “wronger” for that event than for the short track…and that’s pretty damn wrong. Suffice it to say he had a nice walk. Glad I skipped it.
By now I know to watch Greg Carpenter at the start of any race and especially a short track, so I lined up behind him. Most of the other guys I didn’t know so when things went off I just tried to stay near the front and not kill myself too much. After a few laps I was thinking “this is horrible, is it almost over?”. I looked at my watch, we were four minutes in with over twenty to go, oh no. Somewhere in the middle I settled in as the gaps opened up in front, I would battle most of the race with Carpenter as he was coughing up a lung on the little climb. A guy from Lees McRae with the nickname “Lobster”and a Canadian Pro dude established an insurmountable lead and I began to get bored with the short, entirely non-technical course (and all the pain, heat, and drooling on my bike). Luckily it was over shortly thereafter, I got 3rd, then I spun down 100 to 7-Eleven in the sun to get a chocolate milk for my trouble and recover for the big event Sunday AM.
The night’s entertainment consisted of Teri’s four year old daughter Chloe putting on a hilarious show which mostly involved harassing Gonzo. Aside from his ability to win races while averaging 180RPM’s Gonzo is also a stand up comedian for children, seriously he should have a show on Nick Jr., he is way funnier than the wiggles and not nearly as annoying. I believe he would have to change his name though or risk getting sued by the Muppet people.
Ten hours in bed later we were up eating stuff and filling bottles with a rainbow assortment of energy beverage weirdness. Got to the mountain nice and early to warm up and gear up. After spinning around for a while I took a crack at the opening climb…and got it, I was surprised, these were not the useless appendages which I’d had underneath me at Putney, thank frickin’ god. I came to line hot only to find that we’d had our start delayed by fifteen minutes, I had another Gu and stretched, watching the start line. Here I don’t know what happened but I looked down at my watch while I was back at the car for some reason and realized that it was four minutes to start. Yikes. I roll up to see a sea of dudes, three rows deep and barrier to barrier. Etiquette would dictate that I go to the back of the back of the line, but that wasn’t physically possible with the throngs of racers packed in behind my field. So I did the dick move and backed my bike into the front row muttering something about “Series leader, blah, blah”. No one seemed to care anyway, but I felt like a douche. I was next to John Foley who I knew I had to cover to retain the series lead and Greg “The Sure Whole Shot” Carpenter, as I mentioned earlier, always the guy to follow.
32 X 22 is a climbing gear, not a getting to the climb in front of guys who can’t ride a geared bike up a climb to save their lives gear, ah such is my lot in bike racing I suppose. I tacked and track…stood up the thing behind guys in their grannies. Then the few guys I did pass and a few I didn’t blew by me pedaling down the slightly graded descent back through the start/finish area. Time to go fishing, cast that line waaay out and start reeling. Luckily the way the course is set up the second climb before the real hole shot is a great place to make up some spots, you can see the whole race strung out in front of you. Then it’s up the hike more than bike section of muddy singeltrack. That’s right, forgot to mention the torrential, non-stop rain which fell all night long. That civilized course I rode Saturday…ransacked and ruined. It was now a semi-vertical bog. Here I was behind wicked fast Masters ‘Cross guy Kevin Hines, I expected him to dismount and run up the climb like a mountain goat with it’s ass afire, but no, he did the bonehead mountain biker thing “I can clean this…oops,…no I can’t…I guess I’ll get off now…awkwardly on the wrong side of my bike… and run…sort of”. I did what I thought he was going to do and it paid big dividends, I ran passed as many people as I got passed by on the first downhill, maybe more. The portions of that section that I could actually ride became slimmer as the race went on. Wasn’t I supposed to start running in preparation for Nationals? Afraid that’s on the list right after my elective penis amputation.
I’ve pretty much described the first part of the course so for those of you who don’t know it and for those of me who will forget everything about it in the next three weeks before Nationals I will now describe it as best I can. So yes, STUPID grassy opening climb, back down, zig-zag up some little thing, up the extended access road grade, bit of mud, back down, hard right! Up into virtually unrideable singletrack, run, run, walk, stagger, give up die, oh wait it’s first lap, must go on, back on bike for three feet, off bike, on again, over bridge, off the frickin’ bike again? What is this a god damn adventure race? Where’s my Kayak? I feel like I have one in my jersey pocket for chrissakes! Back on bike just in time to slog through ever grosser, boggier grass crap section, then into the woods over roots, up a rooty corner thing, making you go anaerobic which is great preparation for when you come out of the woods onto a an insanely steep access road (for what a Uni-Mog?) and get completely pinned for like five minutes as gravel spits out from under your rear tire as you bake in the very direct sunlight, hateful, evil thing you bastard access road, grrr! Then what? Back down a muddy rocky thing, kinda fun here, doesn’t last, more grass ski hill, up a roller which on any other course would be climb in and of itself, not here, this is a mole hill, an ant hill, traverse back into woods, then you enter hell on earth, a thing I call “The Stair Step Climb”, you crest each successive roller, knees popping, wheel slipping out from under you, it snakes to infinity in front of you, like riding into a thirty mile per hour headwind down highway 50 in Nevada, this could takes days, weeks, you come out by the retention pond thingy, on this course we cut right going directly up the next climb, during Nationals we went around the pond which feels like a detour, like forestalling the inevitable ouchiness right around the corner, this climb marks the end of the official climbing for the lap, this does not mean you are coasting down the hill stretching out your hamstrings, you are still going to climb some more before you get to the bottom, like it or not, so drink up buddy, it ain’t over yet, here there are couple cool, rocky descents into rocky small climbs, but they’re so fun you don’t care that it hurts, then it’s one last little access road grade before the entrance to the real descent, you gotta be ready here, first lap I wasn’t, it was scary, for real, say goodbye to your front brake, grab a fistful of rear, and hang on for dear life, from here just about to the bottom it’s all slippery-ass rocks, slipperier-ass roots, I mean oceans of them, expanses of them, off-camber, gnarly, deadly roots as far as you can see, slip and slide, nowhere to hide, yes there are flattish sections but they don’t add up to much, basically that describes everything from the top down, except for two small climbs that are really kind of one climb I call “The kick in the nuts climb” because you just want to get to the bottom and until you’ve ridden this bloodlcot course as many times as I have you forget that even when you are going down you still have to go up some more, the last part of the downhill after this is the trickiest, all the rain pools here, all the mud gets deeper, it’s nuts, you don’t find the line you close your eyes and point the bike downhill and eat whatever the trail throws at you, then it’s spin down to the start/finish (and yes it goes ever so slightly up once more even here) shaking it off, drinking and eating, getting ready to purposefully slam your own hand in a car door three more times.
Wow, I’m a blabbermouth. Anyway, the race, after the first lap there wasn’t a huge amount of back and forth, I battled with a Canadian guy for a while, got him in the end. I guess Brett Racine had a bad crash and slowed down after that, ultimately dropping out, which is too bad. I’d chase Greg Carpenter up the hill only to have him put time on me on the descent, lots of time. This is the kid who on Saturday finished the Super D just tenths of a second behind a Pro on an eight inch travel bike…he was on his cross country bike. He was hurting so I thought I would get him eventually, being a hard guy is an old man’s game, these young guns, they’re soft right? Right? Wrong. This is a tough kid, he can ride a bike like a ninja, and someday I think I’ll be able to say “Ya, I used to (almost) hang with that guy before he was killing the World Cup circuit”.
3rd lap I was still feeling good, I saw John Foley up ahead, I clocked him at three minutes, I started to ride harder, I passed Greg, then he passed me back on the downhill, I tried to follow his line, I ate it, a pattern seems to emerging with that business. I thought I’d see him again on the uphill but he went out of sight going into lap four…then I cracked. He went forward, I went backward for a bit. I had made the grassy opening climb every other lap but here I slipped up, my rear tire spun a full rotation as I smashed my sternum on the stem. Michael Mooradian was up there cheering me on, he asked if I needed a GU, I begged for water, he ran to a cooler and busted out a bottle of ice cold spring water, it saved my ass 100%. I drank most of it, pouring the rest on my head and neck. Thanks Michael.
I languished during the beginning of that lap, the hike-a-bike taking the remaining wind out of my sails, I didn’t know if I’d be able to pedal my bike when I got back on the climb. Thankfully I was able to and with the bottle of coke Gonzo had handed me and the added hydration from Michael I was cooking with curry again. I reminded myself that this was just going to make me faster for Nationals and that the weekend before I literally could not ride a bike to save my life. That and I felt great on the downhill, trying to play Adam Craig with it, make it feel like an Alpine Slide. Although my last act of awesomeness was calling out “Rider up!” to the leading Pro woman, then immediately flipping over my bars as I looked for a line. Rider down!
I rolled up to the line in sixth place right next to Chris Logan, part of the husband and wife team who put these races on. Instead of spinning past him like a moron, I gave him a clap on the back (or maybe I just held on to him like a tugboat because I was tired of flailing my 32 X 22 on flat ground) Not only does he organize a great race he can also hold his own on a bike with a 3rd place in the Expert 50-59 field. Foley ended up finishing two places ahead of me leaving me holding onto the series lead by the skin of my teeth with a five point advantage. The leader’s jersey might as well have a target painted on it with the words “Please Beat me” written on it (thanks Richard Hell).
IBC for letting me take weekends off to do this stuff.
Below: Post-race interview by Gonzalo Escobar