Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I Love/Hate French Creek Pick One (Oh, and Racing with Teammates)

This blog post will not be particularly interesting, insightful, or humorous. Largely because I'm not feeling particularly interesting, insightful, or humorous. In fact, in the two days since the French Creek race I've been feeling rather listless and more than a little unmotivated. Too hard an effort? Probably. Meh...

I love and hate French Creek. Always have. Both are true, sometimes on the same ride. Like many others in the Pennsylvania/Maryland/Delaware mountain biking community (see one blog-post down), French Creek was the first area that I rode regularly after "discovering" mountain biking as an adolescent. (My first ride at French Creek was on a too-big burnished chrome Ross Mt. Hood that my mother pulled out of the trash. Sans helmet of course. I was an invincible teenager after all.) If you can regularly conjure the elusive rhythm necessary to flow through a ride on the French Creek trails I congratulate you and am a little jealous. For you are a better rider than I. Finding that rhythm was not a regular occurrence for me back then and still isn't. Finding it during a race, all but impossible. If you can find it though, if you can unlock the rocks, if only once in a great while, riding at French Creek is awesome and will bring you back again and again. (In fact one summer as a sophomore in college I rode French Creek literally everyday for like three months. I never spent so much on replacement parts as I did that summer. I think I went through three SRAM 9.0 derailleurs in three weeks). French creek is at the top of the list of places that people say is great to ride, but not so great to race. I totally agree. This Sunday's race was probably the hardest XC length race I've yet participated in. For those interested, a race report follows:

Kathleen, Patton, and me along with relative newbies Mike O'Connor and Jeff Stephens pre-rode the course (shh, don't tell) the Tuesday night before the race, which may not have been a good idea in this case. The course difficulty revealed by the pre-ride did nothing for my race confidence and I think Katheen and I were both looking at the race as something that needed to be done rather than something we were looking forward to doing. I warmed up well, lined up on the far right side of the course, the only single speed in the elite field as has become the norm, and when the sadistic course designer yelled "go" I got out uncharacteristically well. For a brief moment at the start I was actually in second place behind Mr. Shalk himself having made a beeline for the tangent cutting across the entire elite field from right to left (I was most assuredly the only one that noticed). Once I ran out of gear, which happened almost immediately, I was passed by six riders (Fawley, Draugelius, Snyder, Schempf, Gamahno, and teammate Showers). Seventh into the single-track with a sizable gap between myself and eighth, with Schempf and Showers just ahead. I yo-yo'd off the back of Schempf and Showers for the better part of four miles until the first of what would be many climbs. Halfway up the climb my right foot started feeling a little loose. I reached down and felt my cleat and sure enough it was loose. I clipped back in and rode to the top of the climb where I planned to stop and fix it. When I unclipped to make the repair the cleat, shoe plate, and both screws came completely off and fell in the dirt. This constitutes my first ever race mechanical. (I still have never flatted during a race. That's right, I said it. I thumb my nose at the mountain biking deities.) I was very lucky that the cleat fell off right as I unclipped and simply lay in the dirt right where I stopped. It took me a couple of seconds to find all the bits, but soon I was sitting in the dirt next to the trail with both shoes off attempting to reattach the cleat to my shoe. In the minute or two that this act took seven riders passed me, seven! I went from seventh to fifteenth just like that. I thought about pulling the plug, but I felt okay and figured that a couple of people would bail, suffer mechanicals, or blow-up and I'd make up a few more spots and possibly finish in the top ten. So I put my head down and ramped it up a bit to catch back on. By half way through the first lap I had caught all seven riders except Yozell (ridiculously fast forty something year old WTS!?!) and had caught back up to Showers. In the meantime Snyder and Gamahno had both suffered mechanicals and bailed. So I was back in seventh. I rode with Showers and Yozell ever so briefly until I couldn't hang anymore. Soon after that I completely unraveled and resigned myself to trudging through the second lap in no-mans-land alone with my too tall gear (34x18, a bad decision born mostly from apathy earlier that morning as I couldn't get 34x19 to result in a chain-stay length I was happy with and so through in the towel after only one try) and my ever present thoughts of bailing. After riding back into seventh I couldn't bring myself to pull the plug . On the second lap I went over the bars, ran/walked/shuffled up two climbs, got caught and passed by Cameron Dodge (ridiculously fast teenager WTS!?!), re-caught Cameron Dodge, and continuously lamented my single-speed until the finish. Narrowly besting Dodge for seventh by a mere five seconds. French Creek 2011 taught me that I still love and hate French Creek, and that geared bicycles do indeed have a place in bike racing. I should probably think about getting one.

Did I enjoy the race? No, not really. Am I glad I finished? Yes, yes I am. Am I looking forward to next year's French Creek race? Meh...

In response to some post race discussions and emails, I had a whole blog-post drafted that explored the age old question of Nature (Showers) vs. Nurture (Harding) as it relates to racing mountain bikes, but decided to scrap it. The truth is that nobody (least of all Showers and Harding) really cares. Sure a friendly gentleman's rivalry fueled by a spirit of competition exists (after all we are both first born males from families with all male siblings, type A, highly competitive individuals, that have competed in endurance sports since high school). That's why we race down 322 on our single-speeds like we're leading out a field sprint and otherwise attempt to rip each other's legs off on Wednesday nights like a couple of tools. That rivalry makes all of this all that much more fun. At the end of the day though I think we both feel fortunate to occasionally find ourselves in the top ten (even more occasionally the top five) given the level of competition we take part in. The fact that there's a friendly face there wearing the same jersey is a bonus. That said, could either of us tell you who has won what and where the imaginary "count" lies? You bet your ass.


No comments:

Post a Comment