we're somewhere near the top 10 overall and 4th in expert when matt comes in from our 2nd lap and hands off to me. i'm off like a rocket into the woods. the first part of the course runs along the campground and then turns to paralell the road. it's mostly downhill-ish and i'm flying. after a while it turns off the road and starts rolling up and down a bit. still pushing hard, riding so much cleaner than 2 years ago, i ride the rocky stream crossing that gave me problems last time like it's not even there. 2 miles in we cross the campground again, still charging hard.
a couple of short steep climbs after this, but mostly rolling, on overgrown singletrack-in-doubletrack fireroads. then we turn left, a section of fireroad has been replaced by singletrack... rocky at first and a large rock with a small one waiting behind almost trips me up, but i'd been warned about it and manage to catch myself. then the rocks subside and we're on banked turns though pines for a while and then cross the road to more pines. bigger banks now, which means more speed through the corners and then they end and we're heading slowly downhill on nice singletrack with some occasional rocks... we're approaching mile 6 and the big downhill. pushing hard at the start is giving me a stitch, so i back off the pace just a little to recover.
here comes the big downhill... rocky but now narrow and nothing big to worry about so just drag the back brake and hold on. the stumpjumper is sucking up the rocks like a champ. at the bottom there's series of hard turns into what seems like a dry creek bed. rockier here for a bit and then up onto the side for a little while, and turn right, down through a little wet spot, cross a bridge and then start climbing. one of the few sustained climbs on the course, but an old fireroad, but only about a 1/2 mile. cut back into the woods at the top, then through an open field and over a rock ramp and drop.
after this we've got a good while rolling along singletrack on fireroads overgrown with mountain laurel, a couple of log ramps, and then down to a little tight and rooty section and a rocky downhill into the boulder field. the tight stuff feels so much better than 2 years ago, not a slog though the mud and much, but a bit of fun playing in the woods. this whole section rolls up and down, but climbs that look like they're going to be long always seem to turn back downhill. try to ride the preview to the boulder field, but stall out on the little climb after it. realize that the ride i've just caught up to is on the expert team ahead of us. run the 2nd part of the boulder field, but after i remount a root catches me and i'm down. 3rd places passes me while i'm on the ground with a cramping calf and we're back to 4th. back on the bike i see 3rd place ahead of me again on the series of steep stair-step climbs leading to the fireroad to the finish. at the top i pass him and re-take 3rd as he realizes his front tire is losing air. i finish the climb strong to put some time in to him and then on the rocky fireroad leading to the finish i realize my back tire is flat. no time to stop and fix with the finish a mile away and all downhill so i keep riding, wincing as my rim pings off rocks. crossing the big bridge to the finish is harrowing with the back wheel not tracking so well, but i hand off to mike after 1:16 on the trail
make the decision to try and get this lap off without lights. i'm due to head out around 7:20 which puts me back after 8:30 and in that gray-area... started off hot again and felt that stitch starting to build in the pines, so i back off a bit. the sun was low and coming through the trees and always seemed to flash in my eyes at the worst possible moment, just about to make a turn or ride through rocks, leaving me blind and hoping for the best. rode the epic this lap... nice on the flatter stuff (more direct, smoother, more powerful, faster feeling) but the downhills and rocks beat me up. the sunglasses have to come off about 3/4 of the way around, but once i do that there's plenty of light left to ride.
the city bikes vet team was right with us at this point in the race and a mile or two before the boulder field chris clarke passed me, but as we finished the boulder field preview he crashed, and i crashed into him. i was up and riding pretty quickly, but he ended up with a bent derailler hanger and his chain jammed between his cassette and spokes. a little slower this time, around 1:20
lap 3 - night lap
back on the stumpjumper i took it fairly easy this lap, no need to get hurt. took a couple of miles to get used to race pace at night, but by the end i was chugging along at a good clip. ended up over dressed and had my long sleeve jersey unzipped and sleeves pushed up pretty soon into the lap. the short steep climbs are starting to hurt for longer after they're done. 1:33
sun's up and the clouds are starting to burn off by the time i head out for my last lap. with the sun the engery comes back. start the lap at a more moderate pace than yesterday, but stay strong throughout... still passing riders left & right as i have all night. pass kyle from the bike lane team a little over half way around. at the end of the lap i endo on a rock that i'd walked every lap up untill this one and put some pretty big (and painful) bruises on my left thigh. 1:22
no 5th lap for me... my leg was too sore to ride after my fall and going out for another lap wouldn't have gained us another position so when matt came in around 5 to 12we hung out by the woods and had a beer untill time was up. 5th overall, 4th expert. we beat the vet team, and the bike lane team, and the ncvc vet team, my 3 targets for the race.
this race kinda baffles me... we finished 5th out of 135 teams! how the heck can i be on a team that could take 5th at big bear. sure, this isn't like it was in the days of canaan or snowshoe, but still, it amazes me. maybe it's got more to do with consistency and luck than pure speed. we never had a disasterous lap: no light failures or major mechanicals, just a couple of flats.
what surprises me more is how we did this and i still don't feel like i rode that well. maybe it's the course, or something like that, but i didn't feel anywhere near as strong as i did at temecula. maybe a course like that (big climb, big downhill) is more my style than this. maybe it was the shorter lap out there.
and then i think about where i was 2 years ago, and wonder how i can be disappointed with these lap times. in 2005 i was happy to get my fastest lap under 1:30. here my night lap was barely over that, and my fastest lap was 1:16.