I went into this race with pretty dead legs and high expectations. After riding 13 laps at Reddick in the 12 Hours of Razorback, I gave myself a full week's rest and went right back at it with two 17-hour weeks and the Hospice 100k last weekend. I hoped that home course advantage would prevail.
I drove up Saturday to check out what the course would be like. Even with all the mileage I've put in there this year, it's always a good idea to see what Dave at Gone Riding has in store. He always changes things up on race weekends, so if you show up Sunday without a pre-ride you could be in for some real race-pace surprises.
I got there early so Mike, a guy I know from Gainesville, could check out my steel Deluxe. We got it set up for him and went out for a lap with Fontana the Wonderdog. Mike totally dug the bike and is going to buy it from me, so it looks like we'll have another Florida mountain biker rocking an Indy Fab this year. It was unseasonably warm, a bit too warm for Fontana, so I tied him up so he could annoy everybody in the parking lot while I went out for another lap and some openers.
If nothing else, I got some practice surfing the brown ice. The oaks have been dropping their leaves in earnest the past month and the trails were fast and sketchy. Hopefully the afternoon riders and the first wave of racers Sunday would clean things up before the expert/sport wave hit the course.
On the way home I checked out the end of the Squiggy Classic 6-hour race in Tampa. I won the solo race the past 2 years, but decided to skip it this year to go for some XC glory and not to bury myself in a very deep early-season hole. They had a great turnout and Lauren and her teammate Susan won the women's team category. Way to go, girls!
It was 6AM Sunday (5AM before I lost an hour) when the alarm went off and my legs felt kind of heavy. There wasn't much I could do about it except hope that my endurance would serve me well in the 30-mile race. There were 16 guys on the line in 30+ expert class, including a lot of the fast local riders and very few riders from out-of-state. The thought was with this being a regional series with drops allowed, a lot of the northern riders decided to drop the opener.
The horn went off - and my legs didn't. Endurance racers have no sprint! I watched as the group spread out in front of me, leaving me in the back half of the bunch. I recovered a few spots before hitting the singletrack and settled in. I was behind the bottleneck on the first steep climb, meaning that I coasted to the base of the hill, jumped off and ran up. Once on top there was a couple of longer open climbs and I moved up a few spots on each one. I finally caught up to my friend Greg DeRosa. He's a 2nd-year expert and he's really improved this year. He was keeping a good pace so I settled in behind him. We caught up to Trent Maddox, another guy who's always a threat and whom I've had some great battles with. We rode behind him for a while until I noticed we were running up on his wheel on the short steeps. I told Greg "time to make a move", which he did, and I followed shortly thereafter. Pretty soon I was running up on Greg's wheel and it was time to go. I slid by and rode away. Finishing the first lap, I had no idea where what my position was.
I started seeing Mark Gerard up ahead. We had some great battles in the few XC races I did last year and his good speed got him up front early. I got close enough to him to start some conversation, and also noticed that Robert Bounds, a perennial favorite, only about 30 seconds ahead. I asked Mark if he knew our position and he said "I'm second, you're third". First place was in sight. Sweet! I rolled with Mark for a while until I decided it was time to make a move and he readily let me by. I attacked and rode away from him, but he's a tenacious racer and I knew if I let up too much, he'd be right there again. I had a couple of mishaps towards the end of the lap that let him get closer and had to attack a couple more times to get the gap back.
Near the end of the 2nd lap, I estimated that Robert was still only 30 seconds ahead. Time to go! I had my only full sideways power slide in the leaves as I took a downhill turn and stood up to power into the flat. I pracically powered myself into the ground but rode it out. I rolled as hard as I could into the 3rd and final lap, but Robert must've laid it down with a vengeance, because 30 seconds turned into over a minute in about 3 miles. I kept at it, but my legs would have no part of a top-end effort, so I resorted to damage control and worked to keep my position.
Robert finished less than 2 minutes in front of me. That was a huge effort he put out and I've gotta give him mad props for that. Mark rolled in a couple of minutes behind me for 3rd, followed by Greg and Trent to make for an all-Florida top 5. Great work by the locals!
Who needs a top end anyway?
HUGE thanks go out to Matt and Julie, who did flawless work for a bunch of us in the feed zone. They drove all the way up from south Florida to hang out and spectate, and they spent the afternoon doing bottle detail. You guys rock!
I have 6 weeks until the Cohutta 100. I think a bit of rest is in order.