It seemed my alarm went off way earlier than I wanted it to. Had a hard time falling asleep the night before due to all the excitement of my first solo race in almost 3 years. It would be a Time Trial format but a good way to measure up. Soout of bed I rolled to start the day. Had packed most of the car the night before so it didn't take long before I was in my car with my waffles and tea. Couldn't of asked for better weather. As I drove to Maybury along 696 through Royal Oak all the classic cars were everywhere as the Woodward Dream Cruise was the same day. A little later down the road I was passing Farmington and thinking about Becky, Brian and Jim who were running the local 5K at 9:00am. My morning mission was to get to Maybury early so I could drive my car up to the staging area and unload before the crowd got thick. Plus I wanted to avoid the long registration lines. I was preregistered but Brian wasn't and because he was running the 5K and would be cutting it close to race I would be signing him up to make life a little easier for him.
As I set up the tent and such I started to think about the race. The field was 12 large but you know there'd be a few day of's to fill more slots. I was trying to be realistic with my goal for the race. Top 3 get medals but I'd be happy with a top 5. Heck I'd be happy to finish in the to 50% of my class. Being out of the race scene for a while I wasn't familiar with many of the names in my class but the two I did know posed a serious threat to my Top 5 finish. Jeremy "Dozer" Daum would be there as well as my long time racing threat Brad "Loco" Lako. Yes, even tho Jeremy and I teamed up just a month earlier for the Tree Farm Relay, we'd be racing against each other now as he really races for Trail's Edge. He'd matched my lap times at The Farm but the advantage I had was I am starting 30 seconds behind him so I get to be the pursuer, not the pursuee. The bigger threat tho was Brad. I'd be stupid to think I could match his power this early on in my return to racing. I had him favored to win so I planned to use him as a measuring stick to see where I stood against a guy who regularly sees the podium.
After setting up I went to the registration table and the first person I run into is no one other than Brad Lako. He looked the business. Probably 10 pounds lighter than the last time I raced against him. It was hard not to think about the fact that he was going to kick my @ss. Nevertheless it was good to see an old friend who has been behind me, pushing, to keep me riding during the time I have been away from this whole scene. After all the paperwork I went back to the team tent and relaxed and had my second breakfast which would be my last solid food until after the race. Not to much later Jon "Dubs" Wlodarczak and his entourage showed up. Like Jeremy, Jon rode the relay with us but he actually rides for a different team. However, after winning a medal together he is considered part of the pack. Personally I wanted him to race in the same class as Dozer and I but he's new to the whole geared bike thing so he planned to race Sport geared and then Elite/Expert Single Speed. He pitched his tent right next to ours and then told me to stop talking and go warm up.
Surprisingly I was more calm than I thought I'd be. Really the only thing I had riding on this race was to see where I stacked up. But it was Maybury, a very favorable course for my style of riding, so I knew I would have a slight advantage. During warm ups I ran into Jeremy, Elaine and her son John. Wasn't sure if Jeremy had obligations to Trail's Edge tenting but I told them to feel free to park under our tents anyway and pointed out where they were. Was glad to hear they wanted to hang with us as we all had such a good time at the relay. I ran into Brad and Jeremy again near the start line and chatted with them both. My serious conversation was with Jeremy as he would be 4th off in our class and I would be 5th. The objective for us was for me to try and catch him and for him to do his best to stay away from me. Yes, this is the normal plan of two racers but it was different with us as we knew each other and this would only push us to be faster.
At 9:05:00 Jeremy went of like a flash. Within seconds he disappeared into the woods. As I rolled up to the starting line the nerves were gone and the adrenaline started flowing. Plan was to attack hard right from the go and use the pavement/grass sections for regroups and prepare for further attacks. 9:05:30, I am off. The first climb of the course threw me off a little as it was a double dip off camber climb. I expected the first part but not the second. Oh well, I tend to do better when I don't pre ride a course. I mean it was Maybury and I could ride it blindfolded, the extended race loop sections were what would be a surprise to me. The second surprise was the right turn at the first pavement crossing. I expected to cross and go back in the woods but they had us turn right on the grass and ride down a hill just to make us turn at the bottom, scrub our speed and have us climb back up. No problem tho, that section gave me a visual of Jeremy and the other 3 guys in front of me and also let me know where the guy was who started behind me.
I could see I was gaining ground on Jeremy but I knew Jeremy would kick it up a notch when he saw me. This is exactly what we needed tho. He had already put a rider between us, Bici Libre, and now I had to take care of that business soon. It was a clean pass in the gravel road climb and as always when you pass some one in a TT format you need to make sure they don't hang onto your wheel so I pushed the pace hard for the next mile in order to drop him. Not to long after that pass I heard another chain clanking a stay in front of me and quite honestly I knew it wasn't Jeremy. No way would I catch him this soon. My 6 was clear so I stayed focused on the bike in front of me. It took a while but I closed the gap to the ACF Wolverine and made the pass before the trail spilled out to the pavement section. So all I had in front of me now was the entire Elite class, Dozer and one other from our class, Razo who is a solid rider as well. Of course this was the long pavement section where I was supposed to recover but I had just passed a Wolverine and needed to push the pace to make sure he stayed behind me. So I went low into TT position but grabbed a gel and liquid. I saw a glimpse of Dozer but he still had about 30 seconds on me. He was riding strong and even from the distance his pedal strokes looked smooth.
The entire second lap was a game of hide and seek between Jeremy and I. Felt like we were the only to people on the trail as I did not hear anyone else's bike except mine and his. Maybe I had tunnel hearing tho as I was focused solely on reeling him in. On the grass hill climb I was starting to feel the attacks in my legs. I could see Jeremy in front of me, closer than before but his hardtail was pulling away from my full suspension. Just then. Jon appeared out of no where and pulled up alongside of me. After a brief conversation he concluded that I wasn't working hard enough and to shut up and pedal. Brought me back to 2008 when I was doing the Short Track at Brighton and Todd Powers told me from the sideline I wasn't going fast enough and I needed to open it up and ride like I am capable of. Jon said exactly what I needed to hear and I was back in attack mode. I was now in full hunting mode....blood hound style.. Brian calls it smelling the blood trail. I saw Jeremy on some switchbacks and would take notes of a point of interest so I could count the gap between us when I got there. First it was 20 seconds, next was 35, then down to 15, back up to 20.....the first lap I came in just under 41 minutes and this lap was turning into a war. Attack, counter attack, attack, counter attack. I know he saw me every time I saw him and it was driving him as well.
I was running out of time to close the gap and was surprised but also proud of Jeremy for keeping ahead of me for this long. He was riding a hell of a race to stay out of my grasp. Then on the last pavement section I saw him. I told myself if I don't do something now I won't catch him. Less than 5 minutes and this race will be over. So instead of reaching for the bottle I shifted into the biggest gear I had, got low, hands close to the stem and pushed hard. The pain increased dramatically but I was closing in on him. Steady breathing, controlled pedal strokes and eyes focused ahead. As I entered the last single track section I rolled up onto his back wheel, so in the red I was unable to let him know I was there. After about 10 seconds he heard my bike and was surprised to see me. He was deep in the red as well but I manage to belt out a coupe things to him. "Almost done brother! One more short climb! Keep pedaling in circles!" He was losing his smooth pedal stroke and I didn't want him to blow before the end. He picked up our pace even more and we rounded the corner at the top of the climb onto the grassy two track standing on our pedals. I was still on his rear wheel when he shifted into his bigger ring on his 2x10 set up. We onlyhad 200-250 yards to go and I had lost sprints before with my 1x9 setup so I immediately shifted and took off. I was taking a gamble passing that early but he hadn't generated much more speed yet and we were only 150 yards from the finish. After the pass I never looked back and pushed for the finish. We came across the line less than 2 seconds apart and were so out of breath we couldn't even talk to each other for a few minutes.
It had been so long I had forgotten what it was like to be in that zone. Sure I had done some endurance relays but those take hours to unfold. You can train all you want but nothing compares to a solo race where the outcome of your day depends solely on the decisions you make. After we were able to talk, Jeremy and I couldn't shut up about the race. Course was about 19 miles long and we did it in around 1:21:00. We watched others come in, notably Mr. Lako and John Heft who we were both ghost racing against. We checked and checked the timing tent for the live results and waited for the day of guys to come in to see where we placed. As I was taking off my shoes Brad came over. "Did you see how you did?" I said no. He replied, "You got 3rd man!" I was floored as there was 18 total riders in our class for the day. I didn't have to ask him how he did, as I knew he would finish ahead of me, but I did anyway and he said he finish 2nd about 45 seconds ahead of me. The gap was much smaller than I expected which made me happier, however I was upset that he didn't win. I really thought he'd be setting the curve. Jeremy ended up taking 5th, missing 4th by 0.7 seconds! I know that 0.7 is was eating away at his insides but he beat the time of his friend John Heft and that marks the first time he has done that in a race.
After the award ceremony and on the drive home I reflected a lot and even got a text from Brad congratulating me again on my finish. He had to jet after our race and I let him know I picked up his medal for him. The Tree Farm Relay finish gave me a sense of accomplishment but this finish was much more rewarding. This made 3 for 3 on bringing home hardware at Maybury but this time it was in Expert. I had been waiting for this since missing this race in 2008, when I last raced Expert solo on a regular basis.
Next up, the Addison XC.