Thursday, May 31, 2012

Trans-Sylvania stage 5: RB Winter State Park

Today's stage was billed as a "26 mile XC with steady climbs, hair raising descents, and plenty of technical challenges.  Trails are rocky, challenging, and fun!"  I think the fun factor depends on how you feel about riding on rocks.

It was another remote start today - not far down the road at RB Winter State Park.  We drove by endless Amish farms on the way to the park for the 11:00am start.  I knew this stage wasn't really going to suit me well, but I didn't realize how not-well that was going to be.

I rode the 26" bike today hoping the full suspension would provide an advantage on the descents.  When we roll up for the start, I notice Jeremy Bishop has opted for a 29'er FS instead of his usual 26" weapon of choice.  Hmmmm....

And then we're off.  A nice paved climb to start the day.  I'm already struggling to keep up with the folks I can usually ride with.  I have a Quarq power meter on this bike, and the numbers look good, but I'm really not feeling so good.  I try to focus on getting to the top of the climb to recover on the descent.  But something odd keeps happening.  People keep passing me.  Usually I start toward the rear and work my forward.  I don't really like this being passed thing so much.  I just FEEL slow.

We are pretty well sorted when we get to the first part of the single track.  It's rocky, but mostly down hill.  I've managed to build a gap on the riders behind me, but just can't seem to catch the rider in front of me.   It looks like I can just roll up to the rider ahead, but the rocks suck the momentum right out of me.  So I patiently bounce along the rocks until the next section.

Finally a change.  Grassy double track.  With rocks.  Apparently, there will always be rocks today.  This section is mostly uphill and all I can seem to do is just drag along.  Instead of catching and passing people, I seem to be the one making way for others to go by.   I ride on, but I just can't seem to up the pace.  I start to think about how miserable I'm going to be on the long stage tomorrow, but quickly change my focus back to getting all I can out of this stage.

I am relieved to reach the much anticipated mile 10 hair raising descent.  It's very steep and loose, but rideable.  Well it would be if there weren't people off of there bikes all along the trail.  So when I have to dismount because everyone is stopped I notice my saddle bag has come undone and dumped it's contents somewhere along the first 10 miles of the trail leaving me with no spares.  My strategy now becomes one of getting down the descent without flatting.

I take it a bit cautiously, walking some parts I would have rather ridden, but still passing some folks.  But, every time I have to get off I have to make room for those riding.  I feel so far behind...

The last part of the descent goes well, and when we bottom out onto some double track and then gravel road I start to feel better.  I'm not sure why, but as the grade goes up I feel better and better.  The group I was going to draft up the climb suddenly feels slow and I quickly leave them all behind.  This is the biggest ascent of the day and peaks at the aid station where I get my nutrition  but opt to continue on without replenishing my saddle bag.  I had a reassuring feeling that I wouldn't need it today.

The next section of trail was really quite brutal.  Some of the time I made up on the open road climb I start to lose bouncing over the rocks.  These rocks are large and closer together than the previous sections.  It's like taking 3 steps forward and 2 steps back.  Sometimes the rocks are big enough to stop a bike wheel and sucks the power right off of my legs as I power the bike forward.  But then the rocks would let up a little.  A little.  It was still bumping and bashing along.  I'm starting to get the feel of working the bike over the rocks, but it is still power robbing rock section after power robbing rock section.  I have noticed that I am no longer being passed.  I am actually catching a rider here and there and going on by them.

I reach a super fast descent.  It's got rocks and washed-out ruts but by now I am ready to go so I keep off the brakes and let the bike fly.  At the bottom of the trail I am directed down a gravel road and the corner worker says "lots of fire road ahead."  I resolve to gain as much time back as I can.  I lock the fork and hit time trial mode.  I pace myself with the power meter, hammering the climbs and spinning out then tucking for the descents.  I catch another rider and we work together until we are directed onto the final short section of trail that leads to the finish.  I hammer it in and finish strong.

There are already quite a few people hanging out at the pavilion by the Red Bull finish arch indicating a less-than-stellar result.  But after how I was feeling at the beginning of the day I was pleased with my effort.  I'll be in max recovery mode for tomorrow's long stage.  Hopefully picking up where I left off today.

See you on the trails!

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