I, Andrew, am the 6th best rider in the United States at cross-country mountain bike racing for category 3, age group 19 – 29. I know, it’s a little hard to believe. I’m still kinda in awe about it myself.
The day started early, about 4:30. I wasn’t planning on getting up till 6, but apparently my body had other ideas. My excitement and nervousness didn’t help with sleeping either. So I laid in bed and tried to sleep and rest, but ended up getting up around 5:30. I did my normal pre-race rituals, ate breakfast, loaded up my car and made the 10 minute drive over to the River Run lodge.
The sky was overcast and was threatening to rain. I was happy that the cloud cover keep the air temperatures from falling below fifty the night before, but I really didn’t want to climb up the hill while it was rainy and windy.
Once the race started, it was a loop that went through the start and the finish line twice, before peeling off and going up the mountain. I’m pretty sure that I was in 4th place by the time we got to the big climb.
The climb sucked. It was 6 miles up, with a gain of somewhere around 3,000 feet in elevation, and a mixture of gravelly fire road, wooded single track, and exposed single track. I quickly fell into last place in age group.
(It is was a small age group: only 8 people total. I have mixed feelings about telling people that information, ’cause 1. 6th sounds so impressive if you think it’s out of 30 and cause 2. 6th sounds so impressive if you think it’s out of 30.)
Back to the climb: I am sure that there isn’t a climb like this anywhere in Texas. I’m not sure there are any actual mountains in Texas. My legs, which can rock quick climbs and keep my speed through the flats, were sorely unprepared for such an extraordinary climb. I pedaled when I could, and walked when I couldn’t. Always going up, and always going slow. By this time the older age groups have caught up. And some of the older age group riders started getting tired too.
There is something to say about the fraternity of suffering up a giant climb. You just have to cheer those who pass you on, give encouragement to those stopped on the side of the trail, and strike up conversations with those who keep the same pace. You get to be climbing buddies. Normally you both climb at the same pace and are always together, it seems.
And sometime your ride buddy ends up being the guy in your age group right in front of you, which is a nice bit of friendship before you leave them in the dust. That’s what happened with Jeremy from southern California. He’s a great guy and I felt bad for him when I caught up. But, he was more tired than I was and I had to go on without him. I’m now in 7th place.
About an hour and 40 minutes of straight climbing, I reached the top. The downhill, while longer than I am used too (again, Texas doesn’t have mountains), was really fun and I did pretty well – minus the two crashes I had. The first one wasn’t really a crash as it was me hitting a tree. I was going fast, popped around a turn on a hill and just smashed my shoulder into a tree. Thankfully it was padded, and I managed to stay on my bike and still have full use of that arm.
The second crash I shot down into a banked left turn, and come out into a turn to the right, the outer edge of the trail was washed out and just dust. My front wheel twisted and I went over my handlebars. I landed on my shoulder (the same one) and hit the top of my head on the ground. I was so thankful that I was wearing a helmet. Dazed, I hopped back up and moved my bike out-of-the-way. It took like a half a mile to get my braveness back, but soon I was tearing up the downhill again.
A few more climbs (brining the total climbing to close to 9 miles), and I was approaching the end of the race. I heard some squeaky brakes before the switch backs. The end of this course is something like 10 switch backs linked by some pretty fast trails. Rather annoying because you will get up to top speed only to have to make a 180 degree turn and lose all that speed. As I was approaching the second switch back, I see this rider in blue, he looks up and says “oh crap”. It was Ian. Ian is my rival. He raced the same series as I did in Texas and well, he beat me. Not by much, but enough to snag 8th place in the state while I got 9th. Here was my chance to move up in this race AND beat Ian.
I stayed on his tail on the single track. It was far to narrow to pass while at speed, and I didn’t know how I was going to get by him. Then going into one of the switchbacks he swung too wide and I slipped through on the inside! I was ecstatic and he was not happy. I picked up the pace and rode fast. He never did catch up and I crossed the finish line in 6th place.