Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dirty Spokes 6 Hours of Yargo

On May 2 I raced at the 6/12 Hours of Yargo, the second race in the Dirty Spokes endurance series. I raced in the 6 hour solo women’s class. My legs were still a bit beat from Cohutta 100 the weekend before, so I was really not tempted to step up for the 12 hour. I really like the trails at Yargo, and I also wanted to try to race better than at the first Dirty Spokes race, when I had been sick with a respiratory infection.

I managed to somehow get lost on the way to Yargo, a state park I’ve driven to many times before. So I got there with ten minutes to spare before on-site registration closed—and just 70 minutes before the race would actually start at 10am. I was still in street clothes at 9:15 when Shey walked by and asked me if I was racing… all the ingredients for a bike race were definitely in my car, but whether I could get them assembled in the right order before the start was another question. I dumped powders in bottles, pumped tires, changed clothes, and barely had time to think about the actual race.

My plan was to stay up front with the boys in the parade lap and get into the woods early for a fast first lap. That plan worked, and I was in front of my category after lap one. The trails were in pretty good shape with just a little mud here and there. Yargo is fast and fun to ride, with plenty of variation to keep things interesting. You’re winding through tight trees, you’re on an undulating descent, you’re cranking up a long climb, you’re on sand, you’re on dirt, you’re on gravel, you’re beside a lake, you’re in a deep forest.

probably right before the thunderstorm started

I was lucky to be able to leave my bottles with the Terrapin Elite Racing Team. It’s a lot easier to keep momentum in a race like this when you have support, and don’t have to get off your bike and rummage around for your next bottle. After lap 1 I got a seamless handup at the pit from Mike Stanley and I was off for lap 2. In the middle of lap 2 there was a clap of thunder and a downpour started. Pretty soon the trail became a river, and mud started to build up. It was like the March Heritage Park Dirty Spokes race all over again, except without the additional possibility of hypothermia. It wasn’t bad enough to make many people slow down or drop out of the race, just bad enough to make everything kind of miserable. At the start of lap 3 I still hadn’t seen another woman out there. I got another seamless handup from Terrapin Mike and was off into the woods. I was starting to feel the miles in my legs, and had no idea how much I could slow down without getting caught from behind.

I lost some time early in the fourth lap when I slid out in the mud and cut open my knee. I could feel myself slowing down after the crash, and I started to calculate whether I could finish a fifth lap before the 4pm cutoff time. My first three laps had been an hour and change each, but the fourth one would be longer due to the crash. I decided that if I had less than an hour and ten minutes left at the end of the lap, I wouldn’t even go out for a fifth lap because there was no way I would finish it.

Near the end of the fourth lap I was caught from behind by Norma Rainwater. I jumped on her wheel and kept pace with her through the last singletrack section. The end of each lap opened out into a downhill fire road followed by a quick grassy climb to the timing mat. When Norma and I popped out of the singletrack I came around her for a sprint to the mat. Since I wasn’t sure I had a fifth lap in me, I wanted to put up a better time for lap four in case that was the last completed lap for either of us. I hit the mat before her and looked at my watch. An hour and fifteen minutes remained before 4pm.

I still had a bottle so I started a fifth lap without even slowing down at the pit. Even so, I didn’t think I could make it back before the 4pm cutoff because I was really feeling cooked. I was still recovering from the sprint when Norma passed me back about a mile into the lap. I didn’t jump on her wheel this time. She was looking strong and I was just too wrecked—if she finished her fifth lap before the cutoff she would win.

As it turns out she missed the 4pm cutoff by a couple minutes and I finished five minutes back. Since both our fifth laps ended after the 4pm cutoff, neither one counted and our sprint finish at the end of the fourth lap decided the race.

(at the start-finish after lap 5)

I am really happy with getting first place in this race, especially since I was still tired from Cohutta the week before. Big props to Norma, who had also raced the week before and came out super strong. I also wanted to mention that May 2 marked the one year anniversary of spinal surgery that let me get back on the bike after a bad crash. I feel so lucky and so privileged to be able to ride my bike fast through the woods every weekend.

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