This was the second race of the Tailwind USAC series, 2013. The announcer said this was the first (MTB) race at ILRA since 1996. I wasn't involved in the local scene then, so I can neither confirm nor deny. Actually, that year was probably the first or second year of my mountain biking period.
Coming off a decent showing at Mud, Sweat and Beers, I wasn't sure what to expect. The weather was cool, and I am getting tired of being cold changing into my kit. I haven't raced yet this year without needing arm warmers.
ILRA is close to the apartment, so once again I had a short commute. We arrived and parked next to Brain from the Motor Club once again. He is definitely the 'Early Bird' type of person.
After picking up my number, it was time to change and start warming up. I rode the opening hill and through the "new" singletrack, out to the road to see how things were laid out. It was the typical trail except the kept us pinned to the grass for a bit near the long road crossing over the bridge. I wanted to ride back to see what was happening at the downhill under the railroad bridge, but time was running short.
I got to the starting area and people were already lining up, so I moved in too to get a good spot. I jumped in the front row next to Lako and Alex. Soon Osgood showed up and wedged into a spot, then another rider on the outside. We were 6 riders wide at the start, with 1, maybe 2 good lines.
It seemed we stood around a bit longer than normal at the start. This gave me time to hand off my extra warm-up bottle,and give John Boy some good natured ribbing about his camelback. 40 some degrees, 2 laps, a generous supply of water was not needed.
Finally it was time to go and we shuffled to the line. At the start, I paused a half-second and immediately jumped onto Osgood's wheel. We took off over the hill and at the top I was in 4th wheel. The lead rider from TSB veered off to the left at one of the forks, and ended up in second behind Lako. Going into the new singletrack, it was Lako, TSB guy, Osgood and myself. Soon, Lako began to pull away, and Osgood made a pass before the switchback climb. At the top of the hill those two had made a small gap. I was able to get around TSB after the big 'dip' in the trail and begin closing the gap.
I was grouped back with the leaders by the time we reached the rutted downhill to the small bridge and first road crossing. As I reached the bottom of the hill to the left-hander, I felt something hit my left leg. It was my bottle ejecting from the cage, and I saw it settle next to the trail. [Numerous laps on the trail have never cause a bottle to pop out, including a descent during the warm-up.] Being up front, I decided I did not need a bottle, I would either get my warm-up bottle from my wife on the way through, or worst case, a cup of high quality H2O from the aid station.
So back to us three at the front, Lako was throwing down a good pace, but shortly before we reached the RR track, a Hooligan came around me and jumped onto Lako's wheel, making my 4th again. The quartet hung together throughout the rest of blue.
Right before making the left onto yellow the leaders from the 40+ group came by, damn those guys are fast. Through yellow we were doing well, but I was noticing that 1-2 were opening a small gap on Osgood and I. Before the wide bridge over the river I went around Osgood, and start working to close up the gap again. I was back on the wheel of the leaders. Not having any water, I just sat in for the rest of the lap. Lako was still setting the pace, but we kept his wheel.
As we came around for the lap, I was sitting up trying to locate my wife. She was there taking pictures, but had no bottle, as 48 minutes ago I assured her that I did not need it. That is fine, I will just take a water hand-up from the aid station. Wait.... where is the aid station? Not near the start line. Not at the finish. Not at the top of the hill. Shit, there wasn't one. I swallowed a mouthful of spit and hunkered down.
As we came through the rough downhill again, I saw my bottle nestled alongside the trail, mocking me. I thought about stopping to grab it, but still with the leaders, coming into traffic and crossing onto one of the fastest sections of the course, I skipped it.
Brad continued to lead until the second time we hit the straight along the RR tracks. The Hooligan took the lead and put in an effort, as we hit 24 MPH on the straight. I was starting to feel these efforts in my legs and I began thinking what I would do to hold on to third once things started shutting down.
Into yellow the second time, it was still the Hooligan leading, Brad right on his wheel and my yo-yo-ing off the back. If an incline or effort was needed, I would get unhitched, but work on the flats to close again. When we reached the trailhead parking lot for the last time, I knew it was going to come down to a sprint at the end. I was just hoping I would have enough left to be part of it.
It was a bit of cat and mouse for the final miles, but the writing was on the wall and we all knew it. When we turned onto the road leading to the finish climb, I was expecting a move right away. Thankfully it didn't happen. I was 3rd wheel just waiting for the move to happen.
When we hit the bottom of the climb Lako made his move and jumped to the right to pass. I immediately responded and went to the left. For a moment we were three wide coming up the hill. Soon it was Brad and I side by side, and I was digging with all I had left.
In the end, he crosses the line a wheel ahead of me, roughly 29", or 0.1 seconds. I screamed in frustration, but avoided profanity. I immediately congratulated Brad in a good race [In my own special way] and kept riding down the trail. I needed to get back to my bottle ASAP.
Back at the Jeep I continued to drink every liquid that I had brought along with me. Brain came along, he too was in a sprint to the line. He won his battle, but he wasn't sure about his placing.
Awards time came, and we had a full podium. Many familiar faces, most of which I am sure we will see again this season. I need to end up on the top step, Brad owes me some bunny ears.
And congrats to Mitch who put in a solid effort in the Elite race.