Blogging really took a backseat this season. Chalk it up to being busy at my day job, and taking on more responsibility with a non-profit that I volunteer for. The result has been a pretty quiet 2016 blog life. I’m planning a few summary catch up posts, but my last mountain bike race of the year, Peak 2 Peak, deserved its own post.
I decided to race the Peak 2 Peak event after watching a race video on Youtube. The race is held at the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort in Thompsonville Michigan. The race video looked fantastic, and since we have a friend with access to a cabin 5 minutes from the ski resort, I decided to jump.
I pre-rode the course the day before and ran into no big issues. I hadn't been riding as much of late, and I was a little concerned about the lack of "pop" in my legs. I've been doing a lot of running in preparation for a marathon, so I was concerned how this would impact the performance.
The course is a nice mixture of flowing single track, jeep trail/double track, and a few short sections of dirt road. The start was on grass at the bottom of the ski hill, which led to a short paved section before a left turn onto double track which then transitioned to single track on the south side of the Crystal Mountain property before transitioning to trail on state property. The single track flows for a few miles before a short dirt road section and then the trail descends into a shallow valley of the Betsie River. There are a few steeper and fast descents, before you climb out of the valley. It isn’t a huge climb, only about 100 feet, but since the course is mostly flat, it was a notable feature. Plus, the climb was a little slick from a previous day’s rains.
Following this climb was more trail, some double track, a short section of dirt road, and then the hard part of the course…a climb up the top of the ski mountain (about 320 feet of climbing). The climb was in two parts…the first on steep single track, followed by a short descent, and then a continuing climb up the ski slope via two track and a gravel road. Once at the top, you dove off the gravel road onto a fun downhill trail to the finish. The downhill was a bit dicey since much of it was new trail which still needed to be smoothed out. Feel free to check out the Strava track from the race.
I arrived at the race Saturday morning and things got off to a bad start. As I was riding away from my car with my water bottle stand, the stand got caught on another car’s bike rack as I rode by and down I went. HARD. Like face planted into the ground hard.
Lots of bleeding and a headache, along with embarrassment were the result of this pre-ride face plant. A large cut over my left eye from my glasses, and my chin was bleeding profusely. I also had a large cut along my wrist. I didn’t dwell on the injury and hoped adrenaline would be enough to block any pain, which it did admirably. Anyway, I dusted myself off, wiped the blood away and went for a quick warm up.
I was racing in Sport 30-34 which was the first wave off at 9:30 am. About 20 riders were racing, which was actually one of the smaller groups that day. The start went along a grassy stretch at the base of ski hills, before hitting a paved path and then a paved road. I was near the front and immediately a mechanical claimed a rider in front of me when his chain snapped.
There was some jockeying, but by the time we hit the single track, I was sitting in 3rd, and we started steady progress forward in what was a fairly large train of 10-12 riders. The pace was fairly fast, and no one seemed interested in attempting a break during the first few miles. Still quite a bit of race left.
We hit the first section of dirt road and everyone seemed to take a breath and grab some water and a gel. There was a bit of chatting…one rider came up next to me and asked if I was from Indy. I responded yes, and he said that he saw my Matthews jersey and that he had raced for Marian University and remembered the shop from his time in Indy.
The road section ended with a right hand turn on to a section of sandy double track. Not long into this section was a large sandpit. I had ridden straight through this during my pre-ride, but at race speed, I very nearly bit it and struggled to get through. However, several riders behind me took a solid line to the left of the sand pit which I had not seen, and got around me. Recovering from the sandpit, I had fallen back to 7 or 8th place.
The pack dropped back into trail and started a gradual descent down in the valley of the Betsie River. There were a pair short steep downhills, one with a nasty right turn at the end before we started the 100 ft climb out of the valley.
The climb got slow a few times as we had an accordion effect as some of the lead riders slowed down at the front. Part of me wanted to attack and try to get around, but I told myself to be patient…the climb up the ski hill was the place to make moves.
Some more trail, a bit of double track, and we popped out onto a dirt road. There was some jockeying but everyone was still being very well behaved. However, far down the road we spotted another rider turning off the road and back onto trail. I asked if he was part of our group or a recreational rider (we had seen several such riders). Someone said they thought he was part of our group and someone else said he had broken away when we had gone through the sand pit.
Either way, we were now a chase pack and the escaped rider had quite the advantage. The last section of the course was the ski hill climb. The first part was single track and steep….and slow. Being in a large train did not help and more than once I thought I was going to have to stop because the speed dropped so much. After the single track, there was the brief descent, and then the second part of the climb to the peak, which was primarily on double track and gravel roads. As soon as we hit this part, I accelerated and pulled away from the pack, although I was marked by a rider in a white jersey.
It was a grind but the acceleration had an effect and the pack was strung out. We went over the top and hit the downhill trail. All went well to the finish, although three other riders from the main pack and closed the distance during the descent and passed me when I slowed to grab my second water bottle just after the finish. I closed with these riders and a new, leaner 5 member chase pack formed. The off the front rider was not in sight.
|View from the top of the ski hill, not taken by me. Start/Finish is in the middle near the white tent.|
The five of us worked well and there were a few shifts as turns were taken pulling. I was actually feeling pretty good and started to think about putting in an attack. But I wasn’t confident in my ability to make it stick on the flat sections so I held my position.
There were a few glimpses of the escaped rider, but it didn’t seem we were closing, and I started thinking about getting the edge on the other riders in the group, as opposed to closing down the gap.
As we neared the end of the second lap and faced the second and last ski hill climb, I was getting impatient. I had left something in reserve and I began to seriously think about attacking. At one point, we were going along a long section of trail which was wider…not quite single track, but not double track. Still it was wide enough for an easy pass….but I still did not make a move. I decided all would be bet on the climb.
Our chase pack had a few glimpses of the breakaway rider on straightaways, and it seemed like we might be closing the gap although this may have been wishful thinking. As we neared the base of the climb, someone commented that it looked like he was going to stay out front.
Well, we hit the climb and things slowed considerably. Fatigue was clearly hitting, and it seemed like we were climbing in slow motion. At one point I had to take an alternate (and more difficult) line up and around a large rock on the trail in order to avoid stopping due to the slow speed. I regretted not attacking before the climb so I had clear trail. Nevertheless, we dropped down the short descent midway up the climb and the escaped rider was visible well ahead climbing up the ski slope and about to disappear into the trees.
Well, I had waited long enough. I upshifted, got out of the saddle and pushed forward. There were words of encouragement from our group (Go get’em, etc.) but it was clear that most were gassed. The only rider who went with me was the rider in the white jersey, the same one had pulled away with me on the first lap.
We quickly dropped the other three riders in our group and were off in pursuit of the escaped rider. The gap was coming down and he was visible and clearly slowing. The rider in white and I charged forward and continued to gain ground. We left the trail and double track behind and hit the final gravel road push to the crest of the hill. I was right next to white jersey as we climbed. It was an exciting moment. Lots of spectators had ridden the chair lift to the top so there was a great cheering section as we crested the top and then bombed down the trail. White Jersey got to the descent just before me and I was right on his wheel. About a third of the way down the single track portion of the descent, we passed the escaped rider. He had suffered some sort of mechanical, which looked like a dropped chain. Sucks, but that racing. White jersey and I got past him and were home free for the finish line. He got some distance on me when we came out of the woods and rode through some loose sand, and that was how it ended, with a 2nd place.
I chatted with a few riders afterwards, including the escaped rider. Turns out, he had made his attacked during the first lap climb out of the Betsie Valley when the lead riders had slowed. It was a well-timed attack which stuck until the very last half mile. Kind of wished I had tried the same thing. In retrospect, there were several places in the race, especially the second lap where an attack would have put some serious pressure on the rest of the chase group. As it was, the plan to attack on the hill worked out well enough.
In addition to getting a late season race in at a fantastic location, I also wanted to test myself against Cat 2 racers from another state. No blog post on this yet, but I won the Cat 2/Sport overall in the DINO series in Indiana, so I’ll be bumping up to Expert/Cat 1 next year in that series. I wanted to see how I stacked up against racers from out of state. I think I did alright.
Overall, a very fun race and a great result. The downsides was the pre-race face plant, and the long wait for the awards. The time for podiums was changed from an earlier time, so we had to wait until around 2 pm for the podium, while the beginner wave had their podiums much earlier. I know this was to keep people at the venue and the festival, but we had plans in Traverse City, and the wait was a bit long.