With the Midweek MTB race season wrapping up with last week’s final race at Solitude, it’s time to look back on my second race season. This season was much more successful, and fun, than last year. I no longer was getting smoked by every single rider at the start, and left in the dust on every climb. I took the riding a little more seriously going into every race, putting in harder miles than I normally would to get into race shape. Turns out, putting in the work really does pay off.
The last race was a really fun XC loop at Solitude Resort that was very similar to last years course. Starting off from the base parking lot, we sprinted up Honeycomb Road which was nearly washed out of all the dirt, leaving only softball sized stones to line the trail. I went running up the hill with the bike over my shoulder, cyclocross style, instead of trying to pedal. With my strategy of getting out in front, early, I pedaled my ass off to pass the category group in front and was shockingly in first. Then came the Queen Bees switchbacks, when my plan started to deteriorate.
Every race is broken up into categories and then each category is sub-divided by age. I compete in the Sport category, which sits below Pro, and Expert. Then within the Expert and Sport categories, it’s broken down into 4/5 age groups. Being that I am 27, my group is one of the last to start, usually 6 minutes after the Pros and 30 seconds after the older Sport group in front of us. This is where the strategy comes in to play. Since all races start on a crowded double track, and merge into a tight single-track which makes it difficult to pass. So my strategy is to go out as fast as possible from the start until I hit the traffic jam of riders in front, unable to pass, and there I am able to recover my legs and prepare for my next opportunity to pass. Turns out, for once, this race was spaced out super well, and I never ran into a traffic jam. That meant, zero recovery for me.
Without the ability to recover, I started to get passed by one rider at a time. I was headed into the pain cave. I knew how far I had to climb ahead, and it wasn’t close. Each switchback was grueling, each pedal stroke had me wishing for another gear. But I was maxed out, in my lowest gear…a 32t ring in a race full of 48-52t gears. But I eventually reached end of the first climb and had my eyes on the next climb. Another fire road climb that got steeper and steeper as it approached the trail we would be descending on. My buddy Nate flew by me on this section of the double track service road, with another friend, Kyle, right behind me. As the road pitched back, to a max of 19%, I just kept my head down focusing now on the rider in front of me… and not getting off to walk.
The descent was rad, albeit, not a downhill trail. Kruzr was the portion of the course that pointed us down the hill. This, as far as XC races go, was awesome. A fun, out of the saddle sprint the whole way. Twisting and turning through aspen and pine trees. Rooted and rutted in the wet dirt from the storm earlier in the week. Speed was our friend and easy to carry throughout the whole ride. Eventually dumping out into a gnarly, chunky, downhill section that put all of our short-travel bikes to the test. All before ending up on the last climb of the course.
Coming into the finish line, I felt confident in how I did. I left all out on the mountain and couldn’t have been more stoked on how the race went. Turns out, I placed 3rd in the Solitude Race, with my buddies Nate coming in 1st and Kyle coming in 4th. It was a great way to end a race season, filled with ups and down, but mostly uphills it seemed. With back to back 3rd place finishes, I finished 7th overall in the Mens Sport Category 25-35. This was a huge finish for me. Sure, I’m probably nowhere near the top 10 in overall Sport, and sure near the bottom overall when you include all the other categories. But next year, I’d love to take it even more seriously and try my hand in the Expert division!
Oh yeah, I can’t forget, I attribute most of my success this year to finally using clipless pedals!