Trips to the Brown County Reforestation Camp in Suamico always refresh my memories of winning a mountain bike race there in 2012. Today I made some new memories and came away with first place in the Sport Men’s 50-54 age group!
I knew I was fit, and I was hugely motivated to do well in what will be my only WORS race of 2015. After Saturday’s pre-ride, I thought a Top 5 was a strong possibility. But as the race began I wasn’t thinking about my own results; my main goal was to help my Team Pedal Moraine friend Larry Hipps, who entered the day in second place in the season-long points competition. I wanted to beat Mike Owens (the series leader) and Butch Piontek (third overall), and I had their bib numbers written on a piece of masking tape on the top tube of my bike. If I could take points away from them, then Larry would be closer to the series championship.
As series leaders, Hipps, Owens and Piontek were called to the starting grid ahead of me, so my first task was to bridge up to them from a disadvantageous position. That turned out not to be a problem. Early in the first lap I put Owens and Piontek behind me. I got up to my teammate's wheel, let him know I was there, and then helped him to consolidate his position at the front of the race. West Bend’s Troy Sable (unattached) was there too, as was Chuck Cunningham (Gryphon Velo). With Hipps doing most of the work on the front, we had a strong 4-man group that was quickly getting away.
Then I had a moment of despair as my rear shifting went away. I have had some shifting trouble lately and the many mud puddles left by early morning rain turned that little problem into a big one. When I found myself stuck at the bottom of my cassette, I was forced to run up a sharp little hill. Nobody who watched me finish the race could have imagined that I was a pedestrian at the midpoint of Lap 1. In that moment I thought Hipps, Cunningham and Sable would start to distance me. Fortunately I found that I could, at times, get the shifter to respond. I was all over it for the rest of the race, and it never worked without a fight. Front shifting was just fine … and that was going to matter later.
|Yeah, it was a dirty one!|
A couple of miles into Lap 2, Sable and Cunningham took turns at the front. I stayed true to the plan, right on Larry’s back wheel. At one point, Cunningham’s lead grew too large for comfort and I thought the race might be slipping away, but Hipps brought him back. I had thought, briefly, about bursting past my teammate to chase Cunningham down. But neither Cunningham nor Sable can threaten Larry’s series standing. If one of them had won today, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
As Lap 2 wore on, Hipps didn’t have the same snap in his legs that he had displayed earlier. Laps at the Reforestation Camp are long—the ever-changing course was about 11 miles this year—and the distance was starting to tell. I wanted Larry to be the first man into each section of singletrack so that he could ride at his own pace. Out on the cross-country ski trails I shut down a handful of attempts by Sable and Cunningham to separate us. Hipps didn’t need to worry; I wasn’t coming around him and the others weren’t coming around me.
Emerging from the last piece of singletrack, I positioned myself at Larry’s 5 o’clock: slightly to his right and back a few feet. Cunningham was on Larry’s wheel but would either have to pass me on the right—No!—or be content to follow a bit longer. Shortly before the last two singletrack sections, Sable had faded slightly and wouldn’t figure in the sprint. With 1 kilometer to the finish line, I was in the big ring and ready for whatever. I had practiced the finish on Saturday and knew I could let ’er rip all the way to the line. And that’s when strategy became tactics: Hipps was done. I could sit up, let Cunningham take the win, and roll in behind Larry to make sure he got the most points possible … or I could win. A split second of eye contact with Larry was all I needed, and I was off. Cunningham was well up for it, finishing just 0.8 seconds behind me. My winning time in the 15-man age group was 1:49:09.0. Hipps rolled in for third at 1:49:22.2, followed by Sable in 1:49:29.4. Piontek (1:52:06.4) and Owens (1:52:25.5) finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Overall, I was 37th out of 143 in the Cat 2 Sport class. Adam Altmann, a 16-year-old from Chippewa Falls, was first overall in 1:39:45.6. There’s no way I could have found almost 10 minutes to score an overall victory, but I rode a tactically brilliant race and overcame mechanical trouble to achieve a result with which I could not be more satisfied.