I love this race. I guess it’s the mix of technical, climbing, full single track loop and an uphill start, for me this is the real deal. This was my goal race for ’11 I finished 3rd SS last year and wanted to improve on that this year. I had three personal goals for this year’s race, First SS, Top ten overall and a sub-five hour time. When the race sold out in eight hours I knew the pressure was going to be very high, and worried about it.
Katy, Claudia & I arrived late Friday, settled in to the Anglers White River Inn, waking I’m sure everyone when Claudia decided she would rather be home (she’s 2 1/2). Sorry about that other Angler guests. Morning came early about 6 and we headed for Blanchard Springs. The parking lot was buzzing with racers and there families – a great scene. I met the other Ethos guys at the start line as they all arrived from there camp site, Jesse, Kay, Sarah, Jamie and Bovine. I didn’t see Timbo but did notice he parked his car on the course so he was there somewhere; I made a mental note not to go left at the gun and get clipped by one of his Yakima bars.
I start the race about mid-pack as I don’t worry much about the front edge getting away, especially when the big climb is going sort everyone out. Plenty go hard on the pavement only to go all little ring when the climbing starts, you want to get to the single track early on this one. As we swing the right off the pavement the pack starts to climb, I quickly work through the bottlenecked traffic and find myself climbing at the tail of the lead-out group. I settle in, watch the Heart Rate and monitor the efforts around me. I see Jesse up ahead killing it thinking “man he really needs to sit down” and would have told him if I was closer, but I doubt it would have done any good, the Manimal has his ways to gut a bike field. Near me a couple guys blow up and drop off, others are out of the saddle too much and going to pay for it, several are just pinned wheezing and slobbering. I let my heart rate settle then push past a small group with Jesse before diving into the single track in the top twenty or so hoping the Manimal is on my wheel…sort of. I find myself with two others and we move at a good pace to try and gap the field. This is always an exciting moment for me, the chase is on, your one of the chased and this big pack of riders is back there hunting you down. We roll steadily together then one guy disappears off the front, the other off my back and I roll into the 1st check point alone. Katy and Claudia are there having fun, I refuel then hit the next loop which goes quickly, refuel again and off into the core of the race. Several of us leave check point 2 together and start the fire road climb out, they fall away and I notice my climbing is spot on. I top out and dive into the woods alone again.
Riding a race alone can be psychologically freaky, your either way out front, way out back or lost. I was fairly confident I wasn’t off the back but the thought I made a wrong turn and was lost did cross my mind.
Several times I look back and think I see riders coming then nothing – just the woods. I listen for the faint sound of derailleur’s slapping or chain chatter but silence, just the woods and a single speed. At the top of one climb I glace back and what I think I see is this dude in an orange jersey charging strong. I guess it’s similar to when combat soldiers see the enemy through the fog and smoke only to be an illusion. I take off waiting to be caught, but nothing - Weird. I roll into check point 3, Claudia is napping, Katy hands off a fresh bottle and off again on a decent gravel climb, another guy leaves at the same time and we ride parallel in sort of a drag race as he tries to overtake me. I keep the pressure steady and don’t make any effort to race him as he’s working way too hard anyway. About two thirds up the climb he pops off and falls away quickly, never to be seen again. Back across the river and onto the base of the ugly your-not-done-yet climb with multiple technical sections, then up some rock steps where Bovine had a “moment” several years ago- ask him about it. You think that’s the top but no, it then throws you onto a long fire road still going up before it relaxes. Once past this you’re close to the infamous red loop. Syllamo gets progressively faster and the red loop is the sweet spot. You don’t want to hit this loop gassed or you will get caught, you have to race it fast for its entire thirteen miles because I guarantee that someone else is. I refuel again and roll. Garret mentioned that clearing his head for Texas set him up mentally to win, since reading that I have been focusing on having fun and riding realizing that I was not clear in my head at Bone Bender and consequently landed on it. Now my head is clear and I’m having fun. I ignore the clock and just ride sending most of last section quickly, all good, let’s finish this.
Right after the last check when you go onto the last bit of single track leading up to the fire road Clayton Bell rolls up with authority and takes the pass. Snagged in the final two miles, here we go - a drag race for the line. I jump on and pace him trying to strategize how to get it back with a downhill/pavement finish when riding single speed. He’s moving fast, running for it when we reach the base of the last climb that leads up to the fire road descent. At that moment I hear the sound Single Speeders know and love the “click” as he downshifts for the climb. At that moment I attack, take the pass, and flat kill the climb up and over the top. Thinking he’s with me, I exit the single track at the top with so much speed I almost take out the ribbon stakes at the turn onto the road. Once sorted on the road I spool up to terminal, tuck and hang on for the downhill. The Garmin said I hit 37mph. I listened intensely for the sound of Clayton chasing but dared not look. Late braking for the pavement I make the turn perfect holding speed then start the classic single speed 300rpm-goofy-pump-sprint for the finish keeping it up almost to the last corner, then I look, nobody in sight - sweet. I check the clock, 4:57 and cruise to the finish. Possibly the best fifty miles I have ever raced. Soon the Ethos magic starts to trickle in. Jesse rolls in finishing an impressive 4th SS and cussing Bovine for the bad trail beta, as much as I love racing with Jesse I was worried he was going to pick me off the entire time, he’s fast and dogged in his pursuits. Sarah finished great for 3rd overall women’s - nipped at the line due to a slow leak that came about on the pavement right before the finish. Bovine, Kay and Jamie came in strong improving over last year. Finally Timbo rolls in, looking strong and fresh like he was ready for another fifty. My results, 3rd Single Speed, 9th overall and sub-five hours, two out of three aint bad. Katy and Claudia had fun, provided much needed support, Claudia getting wound up like an eight day clock in all of the excitement, she want’s to go back to Arkansas.