Yep, I did a mountain bike race. Yes, I just got a mountain bike. No, I hadn't ridden it on trails yet.
A couple seasons ago in Cross, I realized one of my limiters was handling in the dirt. I decided it would be a good idea to get a MTB for training and occasional racing, but didn't pull the trigger on a bike until recently. I've been looking at a 29er hardtail for some time, and really liked the sound of getting a 2x10 drivetrain. All that came together nicely in the 2012 Stumpjumper Comp. Nice M5 alloy frame, all the current "best practices": tapered headtube, BB30, 2x10 gearing, etc. Anyway, I finally picked up the bike from Springfield on Sunday after the NWA RR. I rode it into work on Monday and intended to hit Shawnee Mission Park after work for some dirt time. Unfortunately, work got crazy and I didn't leave till after dark. So I ended up not getting to really ride in the dirt at all prior to the race.
Fortunately, the Lawrence River Trails are very friendly. I've ridden out there on my cross bike before, so I knew that I wouldn't have too much technicality to worry about. Got on the first couple of miles of course prior to the race just to have them fresh in my head. It drizzled a bit before the start and there was a chance we were going to get really dumped on. The marathon category was first and we had a pretty good field of about 15 guys. I got a good start and took the holeshot onto the trail. It started raining a bit harder at this point, but the first half of the course wasn't slick at all. Roger Williams passed me before the course started to get a bit more technical, but that was good for me as I could just follow his lines. Once we made it around the very back corner of the course, things got a little more interesting. It was still raining and I was starting to notice my tires were not hooking up in the corners well. Josh Taylor was right on my wheel and wanted to get by because Roger was getting away.
Pretty soon I overcooked a corner and slid out letting Josh by as well as an Iowa rider. I got back up and had to pick my way through the rest of the lap. By the end of the lap I was back in 5th place and the first 4 were going away. But the rain had stopped. I knew that the course was supposed to drain well and hoped that would be the case. The second lap was pretty uneventful and I was starting to get more comfortable on the trails. My third lap was pretty good, though I was starting to catch up to lapped riders. I also caught 4th place. That was a good sign to me, so I started picking up the pace. The trails were getting pretty good again by the end of the 3rd lap, and coming through the open Finish area, I saw that 3rd was not too far ahead. So I drilled it and caught him early in the lap. He was going pretty good, so we rode together through the end of the lap. The tires were really starting to stick now and up at the Finish area, I saw Roger and Josh just heading back onto the trail as we were coming off it. So I drilled it.
The Iowa guy I'd been riding with sat up at the top so I chased alone. By now I had a really good feel for the trails and things were hooking up really nicely. So the mantra became "relax and trust the tires" I knew that the front half of the course would be where the most ground could be made up. I caught Josh and he told me Roger was about 45 second up. So just kept it going. I caught up with Roger just after the halfway point of the lap. He turned and asked if it was me. "Yep". He was still riding pretty well, so I sat on for a little bit until there was a section of double track then attacked. It worked, though I almost careened into a tree coming into the next section of trail. A few more accelerations and I was alone. This was where I realized I might still have to do another lap. My left hamstring wasn't too happy with all the acceleration, so I had to tone it down a bit. Coming through the finish line they said go another, so I took off again, but in a little more reserved fashion. Now I just needed to ride very smoothly, not make any mistakes, and conserve energy in case Roger or Josh came back up to me. Fortunately, the last lap went as planned. Lapped riders were even very good about moving off the trail as I came though.
So I ended with a win with Roger less than a minute back and Josh just behind him. Turns out it was a good day for the rest of the Ethos squad as well, with JP and Travis going 2-3 in the Cat 1 field, Jason taking 1st in the Cat 2s and Karen winning the Womens catagory. I may have to try this whole MTB racing thing again....