Revisited: twenty nine inches.

Saturday (May 2nd) marked my new bike's virgin race. The race was a part of Winona Lake's annual Fat and Skinny Tire Fest. As usual they put on a great event. I signed up for the Cat 1 event along with Gene, my teammate.

Before the race I get about 20 minutes of warmup in to check out the trail and re-familiarize myself with my ever-evolving setup. After weeks of watching the weather I was concerned about how muddy the course might be, but to my delight the trail was in perfect condition. The course is mostly singletrack with some rolling hills and occasionally opens up to a field section or two. The fast guys usually post laps somewhere around the 35 minute mark so I'm expecting a sub-two hour race for sure.

I'm a bit late in setting up my feeding area so I get a bad spot in line. 3rd row, yuck. Luckily I make my way into the 2nd row when we roll forward to the line. Our race is a full 31 riders strong and the first few miles of trail are pretty tight with no room to pass. The start to a race like this is crucial and a bad start can ruin a race, so I'm getting a bit nervous. The official gives us the 10 second warning and eventually the gun fires. I get a good jump and weasel my way into 3rd before the first corner. I don't know how I managed that from my position. Perhaps everyone else is a little nervous with the season's first race too?

Mountain bike races always start out HARD. Everyone's intensity is capped when trying to put time into the rider(s) behind them. Luckily I get into a good group and quickly become reasonably comfortable sitting in third place. About 5-10 minutes into the race, the three of us had put about 10-12 seconds into 4th place, which is pretty good for the start of the race. Soon, however, I notice a rider bridging up to us and I want to go faster. I let the lead rider know that there was a rider incoming, but he was already pegged so I looked for a spot to pass. I found a nice little hill and attacked up the left side into first place. I hammered for about a minute and quickly got a comfortable lead. At this point I'm pretty toasted, so perhaps I went a little too hard? :P

In this situation there's only one thing you can do in a mountainbike race: settle into a rhythm and be as fast and efficient as you can. Now that I'm all alone, I can start thinking about my riding and not worry so much about other riders. As far as the bike goes, so far, so good. It's done everything I've asked of it. As with my initial ride, I definately still feel planted in corners and traction has never been a problem. I'm also getting more accustomed to the handling and don't really think about making the bike turn anymore, which is probably a good thing. However, a bad thing is the rider that was bridging is now in 2nd place and catching me fast.

At this point I'm nearing the field section, which is very similar to the kickapoo field section. It is somewhat rutted, with a smooth, main line about 6 inches wide and rough grass on either side. The surface is a mixture of dirt and pea gravel and traction is somewhat limited. The speeds are relatively high in this section so control and precision are key. I did this same race last year and distinctly remember having trouble keeping up with the leaders in it. The 2nd place rider catches me on a short uphill that I only tempoed up. I could have climbed it faster, but in a 2 hour races efficiency is key. I gambled and decided to save the energy. At the top of the hill he's obviously more gassed from bridging and climbing than I am, so I keep the heat on. We ride together for about 5 minutes and then I make a little test-acceleration. Gone. Cool.

Right after the field section is a long downhill followed by a series of the harder climbs in the lap. At the top of the hill my gap is up to about 15 seconds or so. My guess is the other guy cracked pretty hard; after all, the bottom of a hill is the last place you want to be in the red at. All alone again, I re-set the cruise control and race against the clock. Half of a lap in the books.

The next 20 minutes was mostly uneventful. I made a small mistake in a switchback downhill and had to unclip, but otherwise the lap went rather smoothly. I started seeing some Pro/Elite stragglers, so that gives me something to chase. Coming up to the finish line, I hear the announcer call my name (which is cool.) I check my time (39:23) and it's slower than I expected, but not by much. I grab a new bottle and prepare myself for (hopefully) a lonely 80 minutes of defending my position.


Long story short, about halfway thorugh the lap I break my right pedal and am unable to clip in. *insert expletive assortment here.* Race Over. Last. DFL. Sitting on the side of the trail it's about 60 seconds before the next riders pass me. Double bummer.

I make the walk of shame up the officals booth and give them my number. Looking at the times I had a 53 second advantage over second place when I crossed the line. Results Here. After going back to the car I ended up being able to fix my cleat and acutally ended up riding two more laps, so at least I got my money's worth. Really, I couldn't have asked for a much of a better day. The weather was perfect, festival was fun and I got to eat some awesome food. As you can see, it doesnt take too much to keep me happy. Gene and I stayed in town and enjoyed ourselves for a few hours before making the trip home to Chambana. We even switched bikes for a full lap and I got to try the 29er vs. 26er back to back.

-29'ers are still not slow
-26'ers are not dead.
-I still need to get a new saddle
-I am going back to foam grips
-Riding a hardtail requires a lot more standing
-I'm not as out of shape as I thought
-I am investing in race tires. The stock tires on the bike offer unlimited traction it seems, but I want something a little lighter and with a little less rolling resistance. I'm looking at the NoTubes Raven currently.
-The handling woes of a 29er can be overcome once you get used to it.
-My back currently misses my full suspension bike, but that will likely go away later in the season.
-My blogs entries are too long.

Hopefully I'll be back in full force in two weeks for a rematch. That's if I survive finals, though.