Pando XC. My race yesterday was complicated……..it had it’s ups and downs.
It started with a very heavy heart. We found out that my godfather in all likelihood has cancer last Wednesday, and the indications are it’s bad. Very bad. My godfather is a person who is very important to me and so the news was a real blow. I am waiting till some test results come back to find out how quickly I need to get out to Wisconsin to visit him. Yeah, it put a damper on my week. I had some very good advice from a friend who raced with a heart much heavier than mine and experienced how emotion can affect you when you race. But I wanted to ride and ride strong today. So I planned to be angry, but smart. Use the emotion to go hard on the uphills. Pound them. And then be smart on the single track.
When I warmed up I knew I had good legs and that all the bruises I had from my race two weeks ago were all healed. I was looking forward to a very very good day.
Pando is an excellent course for me. Lots of climbing (well as much as you can get in southern Michigan anyway) and not exceptionally technical. At the start I was in last place (I am just not a good sprinter compared to the sport guys right now). But right out of the shoot you go up the biggest climb of the course and I stayed with the group. I knew that I would be OK and relaxed into the race. I resolved to ride the race steady, not to burn myself out on any one lap or climb and pick people off as they showed any sign of weakness.
During the second climb on the first lap I started to pass the people in the back of my pack. Somewhere on that first lap in some relatively tame single track I fell. I am still not sure why. It wasn’t on anything tough or hard. Maybe my tire got clipped by the guy behind me. Maybe I just rolled it on a loose rock. It doesn’t matter. Nothing was broken (except for my barfly garmin mount) so I got back up and passed the guys who had passed me when I went down. When we got to the start finish line I was still in contact with the lead group, though I was a little bit behind. I started to catch up to people again, and as they cracked just a little bit, I passed them on the climbs. I had an excellent second lap. On the third lap I kept it up.
I realized I was having fun. I was in the moment. Then on a little steep kicker, after the two big climbs, disaster struck.
I down shifted and my chain skipped off the back cassette and became lodged between the hub and the cassette. Probably there was too much tension in my chain when I down shifted. And when I say stuck it was not just a little bit stuck, but as far down as it could go. I couldn’t get it out. As people came and passed me I became more more frustrated. Eventually threw my bike down off the trail.
Everything that happened this week spilled to the surface and I felt like I was finished. Some of the people I have met and ridden with out here rode by and asked if I needed help. I didn’t want them to stop their races on my account and so I waved them on. Then one of the elite riders came by with a beginner teen he was coaching. They were pre-riding before the beginners race and he was giving the teen advice on how to race the trail. They stopped and asked if they could help. I showed it to them and said that it was OK, I had a crappy week, and this was just the icing on the cake. I said I was finished and I was going to walk down. The elite rider looked up at me and must have seen something in my face. He said, “Its a beautiful day, you are on a great course, we are going to fix this and you are going to keep riding.” It took the three of us, with tire tools, working together just over 10 minutes to get the chain out, but eventually we freed it.
I got on my bike and finished the third lap, and then I went out and finished my 4th lap. I was pretty burnt at that point and so I am sure my last lap was not my best one (confirmed via STRAVA). The finish was at the top of the first climb (so in 4 laps you get to do that big climb 5 times). I locked out my front fork, stood and climbed to the finish like there was no hill there at all.
I looked at the results tonight. I ended up 13th out of 16 riders in my group. The last three riders had DNF’s so I was the last rider in my group to finish. I was 15 minutes behind the person who won my group. You can do the what if’s. Believe me I already have.
I don’t know where I could have finished, I don’t really care (ok that’s not entirely true). I was competitive with the sport guys. My best lap time doubled (the beginners did 2 laps to our 4) would have won the beginner group in my age bracket by more than a couple of minutes. Today I never got passed by the fast guys from the groups starting behind me (well until I lost my chain). I passed many many more people than people who passed me. And in the end I finished. I guess I may actually belong in that group.
I have said before that part of what makes mountain bike races so much fun are the people. Today two riders who were strangers took time out to help another rider who was clearly having a rough time. The elite rider said just the right thing to me to keep me from becoming the 4th rider on the DNF list. I wish I could have gotten his name so that I could thank him properly, but the universe knows. I trust he will be paid back for his kind help and words.
I know the next weeks are going to be challenging. I should be finding out how challenging at some point today. I have one more race to do while I am in Michigan. Its in 3 weeks on another course that should be good for me. Maybe, just maybe I can catch a brake. I feel like I deserve it.
Picture of the Day
“Noah at Pando”