In what has seemed like an eternity, the race season is finally here. It was off to Dripping Springs, Texas, just outside of Austin, for the 2014 Mellow Johnny’s Classic. There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation going into the first round, with UCI points on the line and a hefty prize purse, the talent on the start list ran deep.
It felt great to be outside in the sunshine riding on dirt again. The day before the race it was easy to get carried away with riding too much because it just felt so good. The course was nearly identical to last year, but there were a few minor tweaks. The start loop was modified slightly and it may have been one of the best parts of the course. I knew my bike handling was going to be a bit rusty, so Friday’s practice was about finding the groove. Conditions were loose and squirrely, not exactly ideal for someone who has been off the mountain bike for three months. It would sure make things interesting at race pace.
The race got off to a good start. I basically managed to stay in my start position the whole race. This was my second time racing the Mellow Johnny’s Classic and for the second year in a row the crowds didn’t disappoint. The mountain bike scene down here is electric. It was a good feeling to get the first race of the season under my belt. At the conclusion of the race I was fair bit off the pace, but I knew I was giving up too much time with sloppy bike handling. Those skills will come back as the season progresses. It’s an awesome feeling digging into the pedals again. Back home now for a quick tune up, then it’s off to California for the next two rounds.
This past week I traveled home to Washington D.C. for work for the first time since moving to Newburyport with my girlfriend and black lab this past winter. On top of catching up with family and friends, I decided to start my season at MonsterCross, just outside of Richmond, VA. More than 750 people registered for the 50 mile long course consisting of two laps. The large turnout composed of an even mix of riders on mountain and cross bikes.
I was initially unsure about racing this early in the year, especially after a busy winter moving and the weather keeping outdoor training to a minimum. Normal February weekends are usually packed with ski plans, hiking and other outdoor winter activities. This weekend would be an exception with temperatures in the seventies, a break away from the New England winter wonderland, and the opportunity to represent my new team, Riverside Racing, in a strong pro field.
Guys like Jerimiah bishop and Cameron Cogburn led the fast start with little elbow room zipping over fast rolling fire roads. Muddy turns and punchy uphill bursts left me hanging onto the lead group as we started to put time on the rest of the pack. Towards the end of lap one, a tight steep decent ending with a creek crossing left my rear tire leaking fast! I could feel the pressure dropping quickly as my rim began bottoming out. Rolling through the start for lap two, I frantically grabbed a bottle and pulled off for a quick C02 top off. Despite a relatively quick stop, the lead group was long gone. I chased until I caught up with Frank Yeager who dropped off the front shortly after me. We worked together taking turns pulling one another at a more comfortable pace than the first lap, eventually chasing down two riders before Frank double flatted in the same stream crossing that gave me issues. Easing the pace allowed me to finish strong passing one last rider coming into the finish to take 10th in the Pro/Open division.
Overall I’m happy with how comfortable I felt throughout the race this early in the year going into my third mountain bike season. It’s been a busy and snowy winter, but I’m hoping the weather cooperates to begin training more seriously and exploring mountain biking in New England in the coming months.
Results can be found here
We would like to thank all our sponsors, Riverside Cycle, Workers Comp Solutions, AMT Comfort Air Heating and Cooling Solutions, Cannondale, Sho-Air, AVProWorldwide, Shimano, Mavic, Pedros, Baxter Brewing, Stan’s NoTubes, Powerbar, Schwalbe, Thomson, Clean Bottle, and Phil Wong Fit Services. Looking forward to a successful 2014 season!
Here’s a link to a great video capturing some of the highlights of the race. Great work by the guys who put it together. Check out the chip timing. You scan a wrist band to start and then again to finish a stage.
Killington did a great job of mixing up terrain and keeping the course steep and fast, but also added plenty of pedaling to test a riders fitness. Look for the Benjamin in his team Mavic gear around 2:45 sec. He was able to take 5th in the amature 19-29 with some really strong stages. podium finishes shouldn’t to far off for him. He’s riding a Cannondale Trigger 29er 2. There’s much debate over wheelsize these days, but I don’t think the long travel 29er took anything away from our results. I was on a Specialized Stumpjumer evo 29er with a few mods vs stock and it kicked ass (more to follow in a later post). FYI – carbon wheels work for enduro & I’m sure they must really work well for xc.
2013 Stumpjumper EVO 29er
Here’s a lengthy description of the course that was sent out by ESC, it’s as close to spot on as you can get, although I changed a few things.
Section #1 Top of Killington Peak to the Base area. Starts down a fast ski slope to six big steep and burly berms. Continues for about ¼ mile on smooth fast fire road to a steep, technical and long rock garden section. Another long fire road to recover from the rock garden, then classic New England rocky single track. This single track in the woods is about 4-5 minutes long with a total time for Section 1 of 8-12 minutes.
Transfer is a short 500 yard road climb.
Section #2 Short mostly flat sprint on single track across a few ski trails to the base lodge. Figure times in the mid <2 min range. It also had a sweet mud hole in the middle with some ditches and stuff to get you stuck
Transfer is the FOX DOSS Seatpost timed climb about 5 minutes of uphill work road, smooth and fun if you like that kind of thing. -It was short an pretty easy if you ride a bike for riverside!
Section #3 A short piece of lost trail, now recovered. It is a dark woods trail, two stream crossings and under the gondola, with a couple technical sections. A great trail to “cool down” on after the climb. <2 minutes of race time. – full sprint! no time to cool down
Transfer is the gondola
Section #4 Almost all single track but with a twist. This section starts with a tight uphill single track woods section and then a short 100 yard road climb. From there it’s all single track with one technical (DH) rock garden. The trail continues for a total time <7minutes across Snowden to the middle of Ram’s Head. Think long fast rocky single track heaven.
Transfer short steep grass ski trail to top of section 5
Section #5 Long section of beautiful gladed single track in the deep woods. This is another long fast and technical trail that will take about 5 minutes to get to the very rocky work road. Add on a 2-3 minute slightly uphill sprint to the finish. Total time 7-9 minutes.
Next up on the Enduro tour is Sunday River. We’ll be hoping to best our Killington results. It looks like there are some fairly long stages with an untimed climb that goes from bottom to top on the mountain where the chondola is.
Day 1: I arrived at the venue around 3:00 PM on Friday, the day before the main event. Practice didn’t kick off until almost 7:00 PM that night so there was plenty of time to pick up my race packet and get the bike ready. It was about 5:00 PM and the Bicycle Express crew and I were getting a bit antsy so we hit up some of the trails at the base of the mountain. After the 5 plus hour drive it felt great to get the legs going and to find some flow on the bike. A quick rain shower put a bit of grease on the course for practice which made for some good fun. The course was rocky but still had good flow to it. In between each wooded section there was a punchy climb to remind you that it was an XC race. It had the all the right ingredients and was going to make for a fun race on Saturday.
Day 2: Race day was upon us and so was the heat. The morning was all about staying cool, hydrated and chilled out before the 4:00 PM start. Staging took place at 3:45 PM which felt like the hottest part of the day. I lined up somewhere towards the back, 4th or 5th row. The start was pretty mellow but the pace quickly changed in the middle of the first lap. The cheering section at the beginning of the last decent was awesome. There were people in costumes with air horns and cowbells screaming at every rider. The support from everyone was a great feeling and it really helped push me on through the heat. I had to ride a smart race, finding the right pace in between blowing up and going too slow in the heat was crucial. In the end I took 12th place.
Day 3: Time for short track. I knew I needed a good warm-up for this race. A solid spin shook yesterday’s race out and it was on to the start. I knew the pace would be blazing fast so I wasn’t too pumped with the last row call up, but hey, you have to earn it. A mid first lap crash somewhere in the middle of the field put the race on halt for the back half of the pack. After getting through that it was damage control in attempt to pass as many as I could before getting pulled. 29th place.
All in all Nationals was a great experience and a good showing for New England with four riders in the top 20. The results and the cheers of encouragement on course gave me more reason to feel proud to be a part of New England mountain biking. Bear Creek delivered some awesome courses. I’m already looking forward to next year!