Expectations were WIDE open to say the least. I knew I’d trained hard, but did I train smart and would my mental game be on point? These were the questions racing through my mind as Baby and I headed down to Austin for Round #1 of the TMBRA State Championship XC Series at Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville this past weekend. I was beyond excited for the UCI style short course format and thankfully my early week equipment stresses were remedied with some INCREDIBLE customer service and a good friend robbing his own Pivot Mach 429 to rescue mine.
Long story short, I developed a bearing issue in my rear wheel a little over a week from my departure date. Not to worry though, as Ted from Industry Nine handled my situation like a magician! Less than a week later, I came home to a freshly built wheel with a brand new Torch hub! Of course I had a back up wheel to run, but once you taste the instant engagement of an I9, nothing less will do. Wheel issue solved, however, a blown rear shock was looming as an even bigger concern. Not to worry as The Sneddling came through with a loaner for me. After some install time, a bit of routine maintenance, and a few drive way stoppies of course, I felt my steed was ready to roll.
The weather was perfect for my Friday afternoon pre ride. Rocky Hill Ranch(RHR) is a great spot! The location is awesome and the dirt was near perfect. I was excited to loop the UCI style short course for the first time. Last year, I raced Cat 2 35-39 and watched in amazement at the speed of the Pro race. Now, it was my turn to head out, learn the loop, find some fast lines, and get myself ready to throw down with those same riders I cheered on from the sidelines. I loved the course, especially the Shiner “Drop Zone” A/B line and the super fast “Blac Trac” section. My ride wasn’t without concern though. My bike just wasn’t shifting right and my front tire was losing pressure. After a few decent laps, I decided to shut it down and figure out where I could go to have my bike looked over and dialed in for Sunday’s Race. Well, if you’re rocking a Pivot in Austin, you head straight to Cycle Progression. Alex, Emil, and Tim were super cool and I left my Mach 429 with them on Friday and couldn’t have been more confident in their ability to set it up perfectly.
Baby and I enjoyed a great dinner on Friday night with a good friend and made our way back to the hotel. After a quality night of sleep, we headed out to find a local coffee establishment before hitting an easy trail “yog” for a little over an hour. It was great to get out and sweat a bit and my legs actually felt really good. From there, it was back to Cycle Progression to pick up my bike. I’m incredibly appreciative of the way those guys took care of me! With my ride in top shape, it was time to find some quality food to fuel me for Sundays race. After getting in some grass fed beef, mashed sweet potatoes, and abundant greens, I was happy to get back to the hotel and be ready for bed early. I finished off my day’s hydration plan with a bottle of Skratch Labs Rescue Hydration. I was a bit concerned at the forecast of high 70 degree weather and I wanted to make sure I followed up my Daily Electrolyte mix with a healthy dose of Sodium and Potassium.
I felt great after a solid 9 hours of sleep and immediately went for another bottle of Rescue to keep my hydration plan intact. I then broke out the Battlestar to roll out my legs and mobilize while Baby hit up Golds Gym for a pump sesh. I found some tight spots in my quads, worked my IT band a bit, and really got deep into the Piriformis! It was at this point that I realized how bad my nerves were getting. I was actually pretty happy with myself and my ability to keep everything in check..until now. It felt like I was on fire driving to the race and I started to get a bit concerned. I reached out to my Sensei, and The Merchant of Cool eased my mind with a simple text:
After checking in at Registration, I donned my fresh new Pivot kit and threw on my shiny new(er) Pearl Izumi X Project 2.0 shoes. I have to admit, I actually almost felt as though I looked like an actual cross country mountain bike racer. Then I realized I have 20-30 lbs on most of these guys and that feeling quickly evaporated. I mixed up my two bottles of Skratch Hyper Hydration and set off with The Young Jedi for our pre ride at an hour out from the start. I’ve never gone with two bottles of Hyper pre race, but I felt it was necessary since it was going to be much hotter than my body was acclimated to. Legs felt pretty good on our warm up and I felt fairly confident as the Race Director announced we were ready to go. I got a great call up, 6th out of 28 riders and I was on the front row next to living legend Will Black. I tried my best to to temper the nervous excitement and focus on getting my left foot clipped in as soon as I could after that whistle went off. I immediately tangled bars with the rider next to me and his quick chuckle about it had this incredible relaxing effect, it was very strange. I recovered in time to keep a decent position and see Tristan Uhl rocket away as if he had an electric motor attached to his bike. I don’t really think he had an electric motor, but I’m gonna use that analogy to rationalize how fast he actually accelerated. I settled in around 6th or 7th and the pace seemed beyond me almost instantly. We quickly passed a front running rider who had pulled over for a dropped chain. It turned out to be Jorge Munoz Jr and he actually came flying back by soon after and rode to a strong 2nd place finish. This course immediately headed uphill for what seemed like forever and my heart rate started to spike a bit. I backed it down and got passed by a few people as we made our way to a section I was really looking forward to! The quick downhill run with a nice little table top at the bottom is a super fun section and I even had the wherewithal to throw in a little whip as I aired it out.
From there, it headed back up hill towards the Shiner Drop Zone. At this point, things were starting to thin out a bit and i was trying to stay with the group in front of me and maintain the small gap we’d built on the riders behind us. My heart rate was still pretty high and I did my best to talk it back down and stay smooth. My pace slowed a bit more as we worked up the longest hill, Fat Chucks Revenge, for the first time. I wasn’t too concerned as I was passed by a few more riders, I felt like the majority of the rest of the loop would play not only into my strengths as a rider, but into the strengths of my Mach 429. My feelings were cemented as I motored up onto the back wheel of the rider in front of me and made a quick pass on the outside of a sweeping turn. I focused on staying smooth, looking ahead, and carrying as much speed as I could. It felt awesome to be able to see how quickly I was catching the rider in front of me. After another pass, all I could focus on was the pink Dallas Bike Works kit of young hotshot Ethan Storm. This kid has crazy speed and his bike handling skills are impressive. My goal was to catch the group he was with and draft back into the start/finish with them. I knew this was important since the head wind was pretty rough. As I rounded the turn and saw them a good 8 seconds ahead, I got a bit down feeling like I’d made a tactical error that might cost me a good finishing position. I quickly expunged that thought from my mind, grabbed a gear, and put the power down.
Lap 2 is where I started to feel pretty good. The early hills were still brutal, but everything was starting to come together and I seemed to settle in to a good pace. I still wasn’t quite sure where I was at in the field, but I felt it was somewhere in the top 10. Chasing down Ethan and the group he was in was my main focus. The majority of this lap was ridden by myself, but I was happy that I again made up some time on the more technical/flowing sections of the course. My Mach 429 and that 100MM of DW link suspension just soaked up everything the trail threw at it!
Lap 3 started back up that grinding hill and the group in front of me started to fracture a bit. I kept my head down and continued to ride at a pace I felt I could keep for the remainder of the race. The heat was starting to effect me and grabbed for my bottle of Skratch for the first time. I decided to go with Rescue since I’d only be carrying one bottle. It very quickly seemed to make an impact, as did my new, super simple, home brew race gel. Half way through the lap, I found myself behind another super fast young rider, Jacob Sacket. I instantly felt great because I was quite certain he was towards the front of the pack, only problem was that I wasn’t sure I could keep his pace. We came through the start/finish area and I made a move around him as we started lap 4. I could see another rider pretty far up ahead, but I was confident I could chase him down by the end of the race.
I lumbered up that initial series of climbs for the last time as my legs begged for mercy. The heat was getting intense and I was damn happy I still had half a bottle of Skratch Rescue left. As I worked through a tight set of switchbacks, I could see I was closing in quickly on the rider in front of me. After a little encouragement from a few fans, I made the pass and settled back into my groove. Alas, my final battle with Fat Chucks Revenge was looming and I wearily made my way down the fire road and dropped a few gears to try to power up it. It was at that time that I heard the sound of watts being created and Jacob Sacket came flying back by me right before we crested the top of the hill. I got up out of the saddle and tried to drop the hammer as much as I could to keep him in my sights. I was confident I’d have an advantage once we hit the high speed single track. I did what I could, but that gap just wouldn’t close. With my legs on edge and a decent finish within my grasp, I decided to protect my current position and bring it on in safely.
I’m happy with a solid 6th place finish in a field of 28 very fast riders. I feel I rode well, kept my nerves in check, and stuck to my game plan. A few people were nervous that I’d get caught up in the early race pace and blow up, I’m pleased I was able to avoid that. My bike worked flawlessly and I just love all the comments it gets. Its good to now have a decent barometer for where I stand in this field of very fast riders. It was an absolute blast(with periods of intense pain mixed in) and I’m already focusing on the Mellow Johnny’s Classic in three weeks. Moving forward, I feel my endurance is good, my hydration and fueling plan is solid, but there are some areas that I need to work on if i’m going to improve on this result.