Waking up at 3 am Sunday morning I felt rested but was more anxious to start my drive out to Blain PA. I met up with a teammate to share the 4 hour drive and not hurt ourselves too much with transit time/fatigue. The drive was smooth except for a couple of Easter bunnies that were begging to become speed bumps – which we narrowly missed. As we arrived at the park for the Tuscarora race we were happy to be out racing, but not too happy when we felt the temperature at which we were about to exhaust ourselves in. It was about 22-23 degrees when the gun went off –yikes. It was my first time racing in my winter shoes.
I had a good start as I was sitting on the front row but I wanted to be conservative as I had heard how hilly the course was and that it would be tough. I usually go out too hot and wanted to see if this tactic would pay off. So I stayed steady and watched racer after racer pass and I just kept my own pace. The course was hilly and had a ½ mile super technical rocky section that was fun to navigate. In traffic it was especially rough though. I passed a few and had to get off my bike in a few spots but was generally doing pretty well. I was hoping that throughout the day I would limit my efforts and the others would fade. At least that was the plan.
Through lap 2, I was pacing well and going back and forth with Dan from Black Bear which I know is a super strong rider and we worked through a bunch of people while having fun on the rocks. One section he would pull ahead, then I would pull ahead and repeat that for lap 3. At the end of lap 3, I saw Gerry Pflug creeping up so I put down an effort to drag him away from the competition as we usually see each other at some point in these races and he’s a super strong great guy. I towed him into the start of lap 4 and let him go on the first big climb. I knew that was the last I would see of him. He was riding well.
At that point though I looked at my clock and it was 1:58 into the race. I was feeling good but not sure how much more I had in the tank. If we completed 3 laps I knew I wasn’t going to get faster so the plan was to pace for 6 laps. On that 4th lap I put in an effort on the opening climb to see if Dan would stay with me but he fell off the pace a bit and the gap opened. He told me later that’s where his legs popped. I got a little motivation from this, but at this point the course was getting slicker and greasier as the temps rose and the snow/ground moisture started to melt. Mud was getting dragged everywhere making the course super slick. It was a bike handler’s course for sure. The lap was going well but I got passed by a rider from Scott. Later I found out it was Zach but I was hoping to be able to pass him by the finish. I would have the better ride through the tech but he was doing better on the fitness. We passed each other a few times and in lap 5 he got out of sight ahead of me. At that point I knew it was a lost cause.
Continuing on lap 5, I had to stop on a downhill as my front derailleur cable end had somehow flipped onto my tire causing a horrible noise and it got me thinking it would somehow eat through my rubber causing a fatal flat. I had worked way too hard to get where I was at this point so I stopped. When I stopped I let a rider through as he had the momentum and then just tried to pace him to make the pass back. That never happened. We cruised in sight of each other and then started lap 6. He was riding for Team CF and I knew he was pretty strong to be riding with that group. He dangling in front of me but he just had more gas than I did in that final lap. I was dealing with cramps for the last 3 laps and that made just enough of a difference to not have the energy to close the gap. I put down whatever power I could in the final few miles to try and close the gap but I would finish 1:30 behind him. The final present I received was on that last downhill to the finish I saw Zach(the Scott rider) on the side of the trail fixing what looked to be a flat. That was just fortunate for my placing. I was hoping to pass him but not like that. I asked if he was good and he said yes so I kept on motoring to the finish line. I always stay on the gas just in case that happens and for once it finally paid off. I cranked harder after I knew he was ok since if it was a quick fix he was very strong and would close that gap fast. I crossed at 4:16 knowing I had put in a solid effort but knowing that I had totally wrecked my hydration and nutrition plan.
The cold was such that I never really wanted to eat or drink. I forced myself for a while but then the race got in my head and I just overlooked it. Lap after lap I tried to get more fluids in but I just didn’t seem to need it. I said I’d stop after lap 3…nope. Then I said 4…nope. Then 5…but at that point I knew I had enough to get to the finish. I flew through the pit one last time without stopping and completed the course without picking up any additional food or fluids. Not the smartest move but it kept me motivated knowing others would probably stop and I wouldn’t.
In the end I didn’t know how I did. I knew there would be mechanicals and hoped that would benefit my placing, but not sure of by how much. I told myself that I would be satisfied with top 10. I got warm and came back for results and to my surprise I came in 4th!?!?!?!?!? Really? I thought there might have been some mistake but it was true. The guy I let through was 3rd and as I passed Zach fixing his tire that put me in 4th. I had no idea. These lap races are so tough to manage placings as there are so many riders on the course but never did I think I was in 4th. I’m super happy to have placed so well in a strong field and got to walk away with a sweet bottle of wine, some goodies, and some cash. It made a long tedious day driving worth it.
Then I had to jump in the car with my teammate who got 2nd place and head back to jersey. It was safe to say Team Bulldog had a great day out there in the cold woods of PA. Not bad for the end of March on a course that was anything but easy