This weekend, the three amigos headed to Nebraska to get a little racing in the legs after a long winter of not nearly near enough dirt time. Luckily the boys up north were putting on a XC race, at a venue we soon would find out was a great one. Swanson River trail is a sweet little gem that has the feel of our Lawrence River trail, with a few other elements tossed in for added fun.
The weekend fun started with Trav and I trying out our new carbon Roval's over at the River Trail in Lawrence. We both quickly agreed that they were the best wheels either of us has rolled before. Stiff, fast, stiff, and more fast. The trail was in awesome shape, and we quickly knocked out two full laps before heading over to Free State for some great grub as always.
Sunday morning came, and after a most excellent breakfast made by Dana, Trav's wifie, we packed up in Stevies car. I like these guys, because when I asked who's game to go race up north, they both said yes. They always say yes. That's the kind of guys I like to have in my corner.
We jetted up north, with beautiful weather in tow. Got to the race venue plenty early, grabbed our numbers, and did a pre-lap.
The course was perfect hardpack, almost no rocks, a few shorter climbs, and only one section that proved just a bit technical. The only thing I wasn't to keen on was all the twist and turns. This place would rival if not beat the Lawrence River Trail in corners. They had corners everywhere, and when you roll big wheels, that's not always a plus. No biggie though, it would be a great workout regardless with plenty of power ups.
The Expert group lined up, something like 14 deep. Pretty much all the NE boys were there, along with Cam Kirkpatrick from Iowa. My goal was to take 2nd or 3rd wheel and ride it for a few laps to get a little more comfortable with the course. I pretty much figured it would be a fast start, and with guys like Cam and Kent McNeill lining up next to you, you pretty much have to accept it's going to be a hard race.
This was the most calm I've been at a Expert race. I still had the jitters joe, but I was confident that I would do well. That's what good training will do for you. The only thing I was a bit concerned about, was not riding much last week. It was a rest week, and you never know how the legs will react. Usually it takes a few rides to get them going, but I was thinking the 18 miles on the river did a pretty good job.
3.... 2.... 1.... And we're off. I shoot off somewhat quickly, with a nice clip in. Somehow I'm off the front, coming in to the corner leading to the straight away to the singletrack. I laugh and say no thanks, and let Kent pass to lead the way.
Kent was rolling smoothly showing me a few lines, and holding a nice pace that was comfortable, but yet not easy for me. I noticed though that we weren't putting in any time on the group behind us, which I was hoping we would.
When we hit the exposed hill during lap one, Kent bogged down a bit, and I decided to take over the pace leading. In honesty, I saw the group behind us, which included more than one of his teammates, with Trav in tow, and I figured Kent was trying to let them catch back up to work together. Not having any of that I put the hammer down, only to find out that Kent must have been holding back, because he stuck like a seed tick.
I pulled the remainder of the first lap, and all of the second. I was feeling pretty good, but about the end of the 2nd lap I started to realize that I couldn't lead that pace for 3 more laps. So I looked back at Kent and said your up buddy, you turn to lead a lap. Just like the badass racer he is, he didn't hesitate, and lead us through lap 3. About halfway through lap three Cam caught up to us. He was raging, and I surely figured he wanted by to drop us. But he didn't, he just sat on the back of our three man train. One thing I will say is that Kent raged the back side of the course on lap three. He was flying so damn fast, he almost dropped me. Luckily my climbing legs seemed to be with me so I pulled Cam and myself back up to his wheel on the last climb of the lap.
Coming into lap 4, Kent pulled over as to let me lead, to which I pulled over and told Cam it was his turn to do some work. He being no less of a badass racer as Kent, took the front. This is were I made my rookie mistake. I had my bottle sitting on the trail sign, and I managed to grab it just fine, but upon putting it in the tight space that is my bottle holder, I dropped my bottle.
BAM! 20 seconds open up between them and myself. Shit, shit, shit... Time to put the hammer down. Even though lap 4 was my slowest, I still maintained the gap. I could see them, and I noticed that Cam dropped Kent somewhere in lap 4.
Lap 5 was the last lap, and coming into the woods, I saw Steve, another NE boy, coming in hot out of the woods roughly a minute back. Alright, it's go time I told myself. I told myself that this was what I came for. The pain cave moment. The moment where you're tired, but it's the last lap and you can't give up. So you push, hard.
Somehow I noticed I was gaining on Kent and another rider about a third of the way through lap 5. I put a good dig in, and latched on to Kent's wheel. I could tell he was in survive mode, so I decided to make the pass. The other guy was also an expert who I guess broke a pedal and was just riding to finish. I passed him before the exposed hill, and put a good dig in to make sure I had time to spare on the last half of the lap.
It worked, and I pulled in for 2nd overall. The bad news is I didn't get to race Cam for the win, but the good news is I still got second, I had good splits, and I didn't loose any time to Cam on the last lap. 1:08 is what he had coming into lap 5, and that's how far ahead he finished.
I felt great, it was a good feeling to know that you're training has paid off. Now, I will say the NE boys weren't 100%, as they raced the day before in the TT and Crit, but I'm always one to take it how you can get it. They all raced really well in my book, and if they'd have been fresh, it would have been much harder to claim the same result. Cam however didn't race the day before, so I was still happy to stay as close as I did to him.
Trav was coming off of a sickness, but still showed he has massive skills by pulling in 5th overall. Ethos takes 2 of the top 5 spots! Steve got lumped in with the 45+ category, but still did very well. He's going to be rocking the old man's class this year.
All in all the crew from up North showed us a great time, the results were quickly posted, the podiums nicely done, and we were in and out of there without much time wasted. Not to mention the scene up there is pretty big. They had right at 200 racers, which is pretty freaking awesome. The results could be found last night on some of the local sites, and pics are already up. All in all, they have the system down pat.
Rest week done, now it's time to dig another three week hole...