|That's me on the top step, happy.|
I went to Suamico full of confidence. I knew my fitness was good and that the course’s many open ski trails suited my style of racing. I didn’t know that the Cat 3 (Citizens) men’s 40-49 age group would leave the starting grid first. Combined with the call-up I earned by being in second place on points in the series, that put me on the starting line with nothing but open trail in front of me. What an advantage! I got off to a great start and for the first 3 miles was threatening to run away from the field. Hitting the first section of singletrack slowed me down, though, and brought series leader Jim Steig back to my rear wheel. He was content to stay there, and mile after mile we worked together to stay ahead of the others in our age group.
At the halfway point of the race, Jim’s son Nolan Steig caught us. We immediately yielded the trail to allow Nolan to run free. He’s trying to wrap up the series championship in the 15-16 age group and finished today with the best overall time, 55:31.3. I think springing Nolan was “job done” for Jim today, as he didn’t seem interested in overtaking me. If he had made a late move in the singletrack, he probably would have ridden away. Out in the open, I might have had the advantage.
But there was another rider who wasn’t reading from the script that Jim and I were following. Robert Hoefert made a last-minute bid for victory by passing Jim and me on the fast finishing straight. But he misjudged the distance to the line and when I saw his body relax I kicked one more time and beat him by a foot or two. The official results listed my time at 59:13.0 and his at 59:13.2, but it may have been closer than that! Jim Steig was third in 59:15.1, followed by Jon Mathews (1:00:02.7) and Brad Jorsch (1:00:54.1). Steig continues to lead the age group by an insurmountable margin. I extended my lead over Jorsch to 1333-1272, making it nearly impossible for him to catch me for second place with just three races remaining.
Hoefert was gracious in defeat, perhaps even amused by his mistake. He said that when he thought he had crossed the finish line he heard me take two huge breaths and knew he was screwed. I was making a final burst as he was winding down and there was no time for him to react.
Heather Liepert, Brittany Nigh and Jeff Melcher also won their classifications today, and several more Team Pedal Moraine racers finished on the podium. Morning rain changed the character of the course somewhat, but didn’t ruin the race. And that final sprint is something I’ll remember for a long time.