Saturday, September 19, 2015

2015 Northern Kettles Fall Epic

(Jon Holcomb photo)

I prepare for the Northern Kettles Fall Epic like no other event. It’s the closest mountain bike race to my home and the racecourse is almost identical to the route that I ride about once a week all spring and summer. I know what I need to take there, and I know what it takes to perform well there.

So, imagine my disappointment when immediately after going through the registration line today I realized that I had forgotten to bring my helmet, shoes, jersey and gloves! It was an uncharacteristic mistake to say the least, but with a quick call home I soon was rescued by my son Ryan, who arrived with my gear about 20 minutes before the start. I might have had just enough time to drive home and get it myself, but the stress would have been awful. I used Ryan’s driving time to warm up … in running shoes and a T-shirt.

I got a good start from the second row. Some really good riders occupied the first row and, with one exception, I didn’t like my chances against them. Eventual race winner Tony Wagner (Linear Sport), John Muraski (Team Extreme), Ryan Pokorny (Team Extreme), Jeff Wren (Team Extreme), Greg Van Slyke (Pedal Moraine), and Kevin Momber (team affiliation unknown) all made strong starts. Early in Lap 1, Andy Crass (unattached) passed me and rode away with ease. I figured I might see Wren again—we train together and race against each other so frequently that I know how well we match up over the duration of a race—but the rest were gone. I completed Lap 1 in 25:02, my fastest lap of the day and 40 seconds quicker than the pace I would need to maintain to squeeze 7 laps into the 3-hour time limit.

At 26:08, Lap 2 was a little slower. I rode almost the entire lap with no one in sight ahead of me or behind, so pacing was difficult. But I rebounded on Lap 3 with a 25:53. I still had an outside chance of completing 7 laps.

I caught Wren on Lap 4 and noticed that he wasn’t going especially fast. I thought about passing him, but I needed a little break and just followed his wheel back to the finish line. We both stopped for just a few seconds to grab fresh water bottles, and we lost a position as Mike Roethel (Sheboygan Bicycle Company) pressed on. My lap time was an unimpressive 26:43.

As Lap 5 began I quickly rode away from Wren and worked my way back to Roethel. He was going well and I was content to follow, completing the lap in 26:31. That time included the water bottle stop referenced above. I was now a couple of minutes behind the pace I would need for 7 laps, but I resolved to complete Lap 6 as quickly as I could.

Before diving back into the singletrack early in Lap 6, I passed Roethel and started to pull away. And then I crashed on a fast descent. That could have been very bad, and I was a little shaken by the experience. Roethel reached me within seconds and stopped to ask if I were OK. I only guessed that I was, then waved him on. I restarted almost immediately but it took a couple of minutes for me to regain my momentum. I thought Roethel would ride away but he was fatigued and later confessed that he no longer could push the pace on New Fane’s short, punchy climbs. I needed half a lap to overtake him, then I finished strong. At 27:44, Lap 6 was my longest of the day. But when you factor in the crash and its aftershocks, I rode most of the lap at a pretty good pace.

I was 7th out of 25 men in the 3-hour division. My total time of 2:38:01 works out to a 26:20 per lap average, and I would have needed to average 25:42 to squeeze in another lap. Wagner did 7 laps in 2:50:25. Muraski placed 2nd with a time of 2:53:01, followed by Pokorny in 2:54:49. Momber was the fastest of the 6-lap men in 2:28:31, followed by Crass in 2:33:41 and Van Slyke in 2:35:18. Roethel placed 8th in 2:38:31, followed by Wren in 2:38:55. Sean Shields (Hampshire Cycle Club) completed the Top 10 in 2:41:04.

I didn't get the 7 laps I wanted, and I crashed, but I had a good race. Last year I completed 6 laps in 2:41:13, so today’s 2:38:01 is an improvement. And last year I finished 10th, right behind Wren. This year I beat my closest rival and climbed up the leaderboard.

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