|Credit where it's due: Brad Jorsch rode like a rock star. (Nathan Long photo)|
Lowes Creek County Park in Eau Claire was the site of today’s Red Flint Firecracker and the trail network was outstanding. I thought the inclusion of whoop-de-doos in Lap 1 of the Citizens (Cat 3) race was a questionable choice but I had a strategy to deal with them: get there first, pick my own line and dictate the pace. A couple of the riders in my 40-49 age group were, effectively, out of the running by the time we reached the whoop-de-doos, but the fast start didn’t shake the men that really matter in the series standings. Points leader Jim Steig was right behind me, followed by Brad Jorsch, Ernie Huerta, Paul Baltus and Loren Beyer. When I got a little ragged on the singletrack about halfway through the lap, they all passed me. I went from first to sixth in the blink of an eye.
Our fast start pulled back many riders from the younger age groups, racers who had started in waves ahead of us. Picking our way through slower traffic now became an important racing dynamic. Though I was moving successfully through the field, I soon lost visual contact with my rivals. That was a bit demoralizing but not completely unexpected on a course with so many tight corners and switchback climbs. On a few occasions my rivals weren’t in front of me; they were above me.
The lap ended as the singletrack emptied the riders onto a gravel road that took them back to part of the starting chute. On this section I shifted into the big ring again, pulled back a little time and gulped some badly-needed sports drink. Lap 2 then deviated from the Lap 1 route by throwing us right back into some singletrack, but not technical singletrack. I moved through it with a nice rhythm, then hammered on a mix of nordic ski trails and more flowy singletrack. I knew I was going well but still I didn’t see any of my rivals until the final open hill climb. There was Beyer, cresting the hill as I was reaching its base. He had several seconds on me but his body language suggested a fatigue that I wasn’t feeling. I charged up the hill and passed a pair of younger riders, then followed Beyer through the water station before ripping past him on the last section of open trail. After a final section of singletrack I emerged on the short finishing straight but there was no reason to sprint. The only man between me and the finish line was a 30-39 racer whose head start I had already erased.
Steig won the day, but Jorsch was just 0.7 seconds behind! Then came Huerta at 5.1 seconds, Baltus at 22.5 and me at 29.1. Yep, the five podium spots were separated by less than half a minute! Beyer came in 17 seconds later, but almost 2 minutes ahead of Ray Iesalnieks of Eau Claire. On trails with so many technical features, I thought the Top 10 might be dominated by local riders in the same manner as CamRock last weekend. But today the top guys in the series were really strong.
With 964 points, Steig continues to lead the series. Jorsch moved into second place today with 904 points, while I dropped into third with 897. For me, the season probably comes down to my next three races. I need to place well in July’s ski hill races—the Alterra Coffee Bean Classic at Crystal Ridge in Franklin, and the Sunburst Showdown in Kewaskum—and I need to dominate the Reforestation Ramble in Suamico on Aug. 26th, a race that I hope to use to replace my 9th Place finish at CamRock. (Not sure if I'm going to race at the Subaru Cup on Aug. 19 ... we'll see.)