My original end-of-season plan was to hit a couple of the races in the Florida State Championship Series. The first race was in Tallahassee Sept. 15-16 and Tom Brown Park is one of my favorite courses on the XC circuit. My parents came into town that weekend so instead of racing I spent some quality time with Mom & Dad. Throwing down with Eddie O for 12 hours sounded like a good plan B.
I went self-supported on this one again. I brought enough water bottles to sustain me for the entire race, set up a table with food and supplies and had both of my IF Deluxes tuned up and ready to go. Sure some support would've been nice, but it would only make a difference if I had mechanical issues. I gambled that if I needed anything it could wait until the 6-hour racers I knew were hanging around.
The LeMans start was thankfully very short. I made it to my bike within 30 seconds and in good position for the parade lap that went about a mile up a dirt road, then back down a singletrack to the start/finish. Eddie came up from behind on the road and started working his way up. I jumped on his wheel.
We rode together the entire first lap, doing our best to steer clear of the many 6-hour racers who were doing their best to leave it all out there on that first lap. It was hilarious. Some guy would come up behind, all impatient and ready to pass. I'd let him by and it would be obvious he was pounding it out like it was an XC race. Sometimes they'd pass Eddie, sometimes they wouldn't, but they'd always end up in the same spot: laying on the ground as we passed them back.
The traffic started lightening up a bit by the end of the lap and we rolled into the second lap together. It was looking like we'd keep doing this for a while until one of us decided to start attacking and/or one of us cracked. I couldn't have asked for a better script.
About half-way through the lap my chain started skipping on the cassette. I played with the barrel adjusters, to no avail. It was one of those skips that was indicative of a link about to break, so I stopped, looked, saw nothing and continued. I stopped for another look and finally saw that my chain was bent. Apparently the chain derailed off the outside of the big ring on a rough downhill and I unknowingly pedaled it back on, bending the chain in the process. I finished the lap, focusing on staying super-smooth, got to my pit and changed over to my backup bike. At this point everybody was racing so I just dropped the damaged bike at my pit and hoped I wouldn't need it again.
The stops to figure out what was going on cost me about 1 minute. The bike changeover cost me about 3 minutes. My pit was right before scoring and while rolling through they asked "what's your number?". I looked down and saw no number plate. #$%#@!!!!! I went back to my pit, changed the number plate over and tried again. That cost me another 2 minutes.
We were less than 2 hours in and I'd already spotted Eddie 6 minutes. To say I was pissed would be an understatement. It would've been easy to go off on a tear to reel him back in, but it was going to be a long hot day and going out too hard could be a recipe for disaster. I decided to keep to my pacing plan. Hopefully I could bring him back over the course of the day. Maybe he worked too hard attacking me after my mechanical and would pay for it later.
It was very difficult to go from gunning for the win to being in chase mode, especially not knowing if I was gaining or losing ground. I had some really tough moments out there when it got really hot, but I'd get through each lap and go out for "just one more". That's how I had to take it: One lap at a time. Finish, repeat.
When the 6-hour racers were off the course I started getting positioning updates and moral support. I was really close and was getting tons of encouragement, both of which got my motivation back up there. At one point Eddie left his pit only 30 seconds before I rolled into mine. I took off on that lap on a tear, put in a few hard efforts without breaking the bank, but still couldn't reel him in.
I admitted that this had become a race for second for me, but I had no idea how far back the next rider was. I got conflicting reports: One that I'd lapped him; one that he was a way back but on the same lap as me. No idea. All I could do is keep plugging out one lap at a time. For the last few laps I was doing lots of lap math. I was maintaining lap times in the low to mid 50s and could finish with 13 laps. The question was whether I would have to do that last lap. I finished my 12th 45 minutes before cutoff and there was no question that I was going out again. I had to salvage what I could out of this and I actually had fun on my last night lap. I had even more fun on that 13th lap because I knew it was over and cold beers and hot buffalo burgers were calling. I cranked out that lap 3 minutes faster than my 12th, finishing less than 5 minutes behind Eddie.
The mechanical cost me 6 minutes. I finished 5 minutes back even though I suffered severe motivational problems all day. It would've been a great battle if not for that early mechanical.
This was shot by Carl Mesta. It was my last lap before I put on lights. I saw him at that spot and just had to catch some air for the camera. Carl was nice enough to make his photos available to everybody for free. If you were there, check out his shots. Hopefully you'll want to buy one, 'cause they're that good.