It would be dishonest for me to say that I went to Suamico today with no expectation of doing well in the Reforestation Ramble, race 8 of 10 on the Wisconsin Off-Road Series calendar. After all, I won my age group on those trails in 2012 and 2015. But this year I have done very little mountain biking—today was just my 7th time on singletrack—and it was my first ride on my 29er since the WEMS race at Suamico on July 16. On Wednesday I paid a rare visit to the Pleasant Valley trails in Ozaukee County and spent about half an hour on a Rocky Mountain Pipeline at a Belgianwerkx-sponsored demo event. Sure, that was mountain biking, and perhaps riding an unfamiliar bike on unfamiliar trails resulted in a quick boost of my handling skills, but I was not perfectly prepared for today. Ideally I would have attended Saturday’s pre-ride, but with rain in the area I elected to stay home. Arriving at the Brown County Reforestation Camp this morning, I had only enough time for a quick tour of the newest section of singletrack before I was forced off the course by the start of the Cat 3 (Citizens) race.
It didn’t matter. I was strong and focused and ultimately very happy to take 3rd place out of 20 in my age group and 29th of 141 overall in the Cat 2 (Sport) race, finishing in 1:21:49.59. Series leader Lloyd Cate (Wheel & Sprocket) won the age group in 1:19:29.79, followed by Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) in 1:20:13.61. Both men are new to the age group this season, and Cate has a stranglehold on the series points that will determine the state champion. Today they benefited from call-ups that put them in the first row, while I started in Row 3 and had to work through traffic. I never saw them after the start.
Prior to today, the Reforestation Ramble differed from other WORS races in the length of its laps. In past editions of the race, it wasn’t unusual to do just two 12-mile laps, but today we did three laps of about 5.5 miles. That meant a higher percentage of singletrack and less time on the cross-country skiing trails where I excel. But I rode the singletrack as well as I ever have, and my lap times were super-consistent: 27:32, 27:13, and 27:03, respectively. Lap 1 was a dash through most of the series regulars who started in front of me … and it was a get-to-know-you lap on a trail system that can be configured in dozens of ways. As Lap 2 began my confidence soared because no one was passing me and I was moving steadily through younger riders who had started earlier. Late in Lap 2 I overtook a trio of rivals who would be very dangerous if I couldn’t get a gap, so early in Lap 3 I worked with riders from other age groups to build my advantage. But then I was unpleasantly distracted by a pair of crashes by riders in front of me, one of which forced me to dismount and hurdle the fallen rider as if he were a cyclocross barrier. I can only assume my pursuers were delayed longer than I was. In the final miles, the leaders were out of sight and I no longer felt pressure from behind, so I continued to work with younger riders to consolidate my position.
Last year the Reforestation Ramble was my only WORS race, and that will be true again this year. But I’m not done with mountain bike racing in 2016; there’s still the WEMS race at New Fane on Sep. 17. I should probably start riding there again. I haven’t been to New Fane since July 12!