This was NOT a race I had written down on the calendar. It is a late season race, the numbers had always been low and a long training ride on a lazy Summer day always seemed more appealing. I think somewhow Mike Pruitt brainwashed me into racing this year. He promoted the shit out of it. I kept having the same nightmare that had him sneaking into my room and whispering in my ear, "Your'e a whimp if you don't do this race? Only a sissy would skip out to do a lame ass training ride!" With that and all the email blast he sent out I couldn't take it anymore and decided to give it a try. The nightmares proptly ended. To his credit he got a record amout of people come out for this torture fest.
Now what? How does a guy attempting this race for the first time go about it? Do I ride my high end carbon racer, my rain bike, my cross bike? I decided to go talk to the guys that finsished 1st and 2nd in the 1/2 field last year......and again this year!! They s were super helpfull and gave me some great tips on bike setup, race strategy or maybe tradgedy in this case. :) Masters Nats is coming up and breaking anything on my favorite race bike was NOT something I wanted to do right now......or ever for that matter. I decided to set up my ti frame with a set of my bomb proof from FSA but I also hid a spare set in the woods. Heavy padded gloves were a must. Beyond that I was heading into the unknown.
I was up at the crack of dawn to make the trek to Eatonville...Note to self, driving that route during early morning hours on a weekend is pretty fast...Driving it home in the middle of the day SUCKED!! If you haven't been to Eatonville all you need to know is that it boarders the middle of nowhere, WA. Mt. Rainier is pretty much dominates the skyline.
I got to the parking lot and hooked up with a couple of friends from other teams to go ride the "dirt" section of the course. Bike shops from around the NW look forward to the week after this race. If you have equipment that you think is unbreakable....it will break. Tires and tubes you think are bullet proof.....NOT!! I heard there are more flats in this race than in the whole city of London....wait for it.....you'll get it soon!
The stories of this small loop have probably been more based on myth than anything else. I was about to find out first hand.
It is hard to describe. It was not like your standard groomed dirt and gravel forest service road. It wasn't like a typical NW single track mt. bike trail, nor was it like anything I've run into on a cx course. It was kind of like all of that randomly thrown together with tons of huge, sharp rocks and big ass potholes. Just entering the trail was interesting. After bombing hard on a downhill paved section you have to brake hard and get and get ready to make a hard left and pick a line that will not put you into a large metal bar that prevents cars from entering. You definitely had to pay attension. There was a short climb at the near the biginning sections that transitioned from super hard pack to loose gravel. It seemed pretty easy when I rode it slow and was able to pick the best lines but those lines and objects you tried to avoid during warmup were impossible to miss during the race.
We rolled out at 9:00am and it was pushing 80 degrees. Before the 10 death laps we had to do on the dirt loop we had a 16 or so mile lollypop section on paved roads. The attacks started right away and after a few attempts were shut down Chris(Audi) took a digger off the front and got a gap. He stayed away for a while but was eventually brought back. I even tried to escape once but with the 90psi I was sporting in my tires it felt like I was riding on beanbags. I decided to just sit in and wait. Other guys kept moving to the front to push the pace but no one got away. I'm not sure if anyone was dropped by the time we were 1K to the start of our 10 laps of hell so we were going in 50 strong. After we passed the 1K marker I was sitting about 3rd wheel but for some reason I dropped back. I didn't know the course that well and figured I would just sit on a couple of wheels for the first lap and then go......Big Mistake!! I should no better from racing cross. I dropped back a little too far and as we entered for the 1st lap I got stuck between guys that were going all out and guys that were not that fast. I got caught behind a guys that almost went down during the transition from the pavement to dirt. One almost hit the metal barrier and another cut it too sharp and went though a grass ditch. I almost ran right into him. I started passing guys right away but and was feeling good. I was also in a small state of panic because I could see a group of about four extending there lead while several of us were trying to manouver through slower traffic. I reached the top of the climb and got ready to move around another slower rider. I moved to the right and hit a huge rock that rattled a couple of my teeth loose. I didn't realize it but my chain had shot off my front ring. I went to take a hard pedal stroke and was met with no resistance. I almost flew right over my bars. I jumped off my bike and quickly got the chain back on . A few guys passed me but I didn't loose too much time.
I was only 2/3 of the way through lap when I started to realized that the fastest guy might not win this race. I was already passing guys who were off to the side with flats. There had close to 10 flat on the first lap alone. Luck was going to be a huge factor in this one. I made it through the first lap and gassed it on the paved section. There was no way I was going to take my hands off the bars in the woods so this was the only chance I had to grab a quick drink.
It was hot and dusty and each lap was harder because not only did I feel like I was in a snow globe, getting shaken up violently before being set down for a couple of minutes while on the paved section but I started catching lapped riders and getting out of your line to move around them was a gamble.
It was starting to look like a war zone in the woods. There were racers standing off to the side of the trail inspection their bikes and people running to the pits to get replacement wheels. I saw a few crashes and broken parts but it was mainly tons of flat tires. By the time we were half way through I had no idea what place I was in. I caught up to Paul(4-Corners) and we started working together. He was faster on dirt so I just stayed as close to him as possible. After leaving the trail I would accelorate by him and tow him until we entered the trail again. We kept this up until the last lap. We had picked off several riders and I was still feeling good.
We entered the dirt for the last time and after the climb I decided to jump back into my big ring. I had been riding the whole loop at tempo in my small ring and it was working well for me. Why I decided to change now, I have no idea. I shifted up right as I hit a deep pothole and.......off it went. This time it jammed down between my frame and cassette and I couldn't get it out. 1,2,3 guys went by. I had to loosen my skewer, and move the wheel forward to get it out. I jumped back on and drilled it but soon realized I was not going to catch those that passed by the finish. I looked back and could see no one behind me. I came out off the dirt for the last time and just soft pedaled to the finish. There was a huge discussion(argument) with the officials regarding the finish. They had guys who finished up front listed as finishing a lap down and some that did get lapped listed up with the leaders. I was listed in 12th place so a few spots here and there didn't matter much to me. I left before it was all sorted out. I heard that of the 50 that started only 14 finished on the lead lap. I was just happy to be one of them. I learned a lot during my first battle of the Ronde. It was brutal but fun and I'll be back again next year to give it another shot.