I have been away from the race circut for a couple years. I have done a few races here and there but not any USAC races to chase points. In previous years I was able to pull down some podiums but it's been a long climb to get back to possibly being fast enough to do that again. Along the way I have had a few friends tell me to keep focused, keep working and I'll be back.
I wish there were more race courses like last weekend. Lots and lots of twisting single track at the Bloomer XC, stop number 6 of the 8 race circut.. This course suited my strengths but I knew it would still be over 2 hours of work to finish this race. There were two sections on the course where you could stretch your road legs a little but this race would be won or lost in the single track. Luckily for me I have spent thousands of miles riding behind Master McCabe for the past 7-8 yeas and over time have picked up his single track form. Sure I have to take credit for being able to execute this style of riding but I do have to give credit to my Single Track Sensi.
The plan was to get a good position off the start and be in the top 5 or so going into the woods. But I have never been a sprinter so I wasn't sure I'd be able to pull that off. So when it was go time I hammered within my limits and it was good enough to land me 6th into the woods. Good enough. A train of 7 of us bobbed and weaved through the trees together for the first ~4 miles. Then after the 'decent' the rider in front of me was a little brake happy and the top 4 guys created a small gap of about 5 seconds. Once on the first open flat the 4 of them took off like a sqaudren of fighter jets in formation. Once I made the left hand turn I called the pass and took off after the pack not wanting to lose much time to them. Dubs was on my six like planned as I knew I would eventually need a pull from him on the next open flat. The surprise to me though was the climb after the flat that I wasn't prepared for. I had went a little to hard across the flat and by the time I got to the top of the stair case climb I was really in the red. So much that I made a stupid mistake and my front tire washed out causing me to go down. I hopped up quick but let Dubs go by as to not slow his momentum.
On the next open section he was planing to pull but I couldn't match his power. Crap. So much for that. But once back in the singe track I had caught him and we rode tire to tire for a good mile before I called the pass on the left. He stayed with me for most of that lap but slipped back a few seconds in the tighter stuff. I was bummed as I was hoping we would be able to work together most of the race. I came around to lap and when I passed the team tent Brian called out, "30 seconds to Lako!" Really? Wow, only 30 seconds behind him? I am waiting for the final results to post to see if that was true as I didn't belive I was only 30 seconds behind the race leader after 35 mins of racing.
Lap two I spent calculating and revising my race strategy. I could see Dubs on some of the switch backs and he looked like he was holding his own. Parts of me were hoping he'd regroup and close the gap on me so we could work together more but then other parts of me didn't want to try and out sprint him to the finish. On the long flats I looked over my shoulder a couple times half expecting to see Dub's all black kit closing in on me or the bright orange kit of David Moore who can throw down some serious power on the flats. But at the end, I rode lap #2 pretty much alone.
Entering the single track of lap three I could an RBS rider who started in the younger class in front of me. He was holding his own well so I decided not to call the pass. He was climbing a little better than me but I would quickly be back on his tire when it evened out and we had to weave the trees. He asked me twice if I wanted to pass but I explained to him it might benefit him more if I stayed behind him. Plus I was using lap three as a set up for the last lap. I didn't want to do those long flats alone and judging by how well he did the exchange chute I knew I could draft him in those sections and save my legs a little. Plan worked flawlessly as he clipped along faster than I would have been able to alone and he pulled me thru those sections well. Going through the exchange chute to start lap 4 I grabbed a bottle from Brian as I passed and he told me 60 seconds to Lako. What? He must have him confused with some one else.
I told the RBS guy that I was going to attack hard on lap four and he had already agreed to let me go first into the woods. He made a few comments once we entered but he dropped off the pace quickly as I was zoned in on catching who I was really after, my friend Osgood. If Brad was only 60 seconds up Osgood must be closer! He has been finishing on the podium race after race after race this year but I knew if I had any chance to beat him it would be on a course like this. He kicks my butt at time trials and I seem to always beat him at the marathon but this was an even playing field, a pure XC. I was doing 34-35 min laps and was confident I could close that 60 second gap in that amount of time. I pushed hard and worked to get the most out of every corner. But then something odd happened. Before I hit the first open section on the back half of the course I heard, "Aryn's coming." It was Osgood's voice but who was he talking to? About two minutes later I found myself on Lako's back wheel. I was surprised and concerned at the same time. He was the last guy I expected to catch. Unfortunately for him he popped and was just doing his best to make it to the finish. Normally it feels good to pass such a respected racer but not under those conditions. But it can happen to any of us so I pressed on knowing Osgood was still in front of me.
At this time I had no idea what place I was in. My main focus was to catch Osgood. I got some help from 'Tiny' (I just nick named him that) on the long flat section and told him to hug my wheel once we got back into the single track. He tried but wasn't able to hang on. I could see Osgood in front of me on the switch backs but I was running out of time to catch him. He saw me to so I know he was digging deep to make sure I didn't catch him. He passed a rider from another class and put some one between us but my eyes were still focused on him. But man was he riding well. I watched and waited for him to slip a wheel, mis-shift or make a small mistake some where and then I would make my last dig to close that gap. But hats off to him for riding as smooth as butter and making sure not to leave me an opening. I came out of the woods just as he crossed the finish line. I laid off the gas and coasted in as the official time sheet says I finished 8 seconds behind him.
I can honestly say that I have not had that much fun on a bike since chasing my friend Jeremy around Maybury last year in the same type of cat and mouse game. Although it hurt a little inside to be so close to catching him only to lose to him at the end, I will never complain about losing to such a classy racer. He threw down a solid performance and once it was all over waited for me at the finish line to shake my hand and say, "Welcome back to the podium."
That's class. Thanks bro!
That's me, third rider back in the picture. First rider is the man I chased after for two hours and eighteen minutes. (guy between us was from anther class)
Second picture, if you were there you know why I was laughing.