middle. I was running Maxxis Ikons and while I was used to how they reacted in mud they were still slipping and sliding all over the place. The more we rode the more confident I became that I could do well in the cross country race. I really thought that I would be able to ride the gnarly single track faster than a lot of the guys.
Collegiate Nationals was about a week and a half ago now, hopefully that's given me some time to think past the pain and cold of the weekend. 20 degrees on Friday morning! Bryce and I headed down to Beech Mountain, NC for the 2013 Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals on Thursday the 24th. We rented out an awesome house with 5 bedrooms for the weekend with riders from Virginia Tech and NC State. The house was absolutely awesome! Lots a space, 3 decks, a good kitchen, and a game room downstairs. At one point we had 18 people sleeping there between Appalachian State folks and some people from different schools that just came to watch.
Once we got there we unloaded all of my junk, I think Bryce just had one bag and his bike, maybe a backpack too, everything else was mine. Oh well, I wanted to be prepared for everything! We headed to the slopes to get registered (of course I left the info we needed at home so that would have to wait till race morning) and pre-ride the Short Track and Cross Country courses. We couldn't really ride short track because the course wasn't set up but it was clear it was going to be a cyclecross race, no single track and two short steep hills. The cross country course was similar to how it was two weeks ago at conferences, sloppy. I was definitely glad I had a back up set of mud tires, at the time it seemed like they were a clear choice. As we continued our lap it started snowing at the top, a sign of things to come. Clearly this weekend was going to be nasty, many of the trails right at the top were snow lined with mud down the
With the pre-ride done we cleaned the bikes and headed back to the house to warm up and cook dinner. After dinner I had to make sure my bike was ready to roll the next day, lubed up, and thoroughly cleaned. Of course cleaning was a bit of an issue; I had to get a little creative with my use of the shower to get it ready to roll for the morning. I’m a big believer in a clean bike being a happy bike and a happy bike being a fast bike, specifically no mechanicals. With that done it was off to bed with an early wake up call for the short track start at 9:00AM.
I woke up the next morning to a big surprise, 2 inches of snow on the back deck! Add in another interesting aspect to the day. Along with the snow came a nice 20 degree temperature at race time. The sun would never make an appearance and the temperature never rose above 25 for the whole day. I had no idea what to wear for the race. I'd never ridden in snow and I'd never ridden in anything under 40 degrees. With that in mind I used some basic rules from running. First and foremost keep the legs warm. They're doing all the work and they need to be properly warmed up and then they must stay warm in order to work properly. I put on tall socks with knee warmers and bibs and then double layered it with a pair of tights for the race. During my warm up I added another layer of loose pants. Worked out great, legs stayed warm and I think they worked fine. The hard part was figuring out what to wear up top. I grabbed my Pearl Izumi half-zip base layer and zipped it up to my chin. I put my jersey over top of that and then layered a half zip over that and then a jacket over that. I was bundled and thought I'd at least take one layer off but I had to stay warm. For gloves I put on a pair of old running gloves and a pair of light cold weather Giro gloves. For my feet I bundled them in two layers, one toe cover and one full shoe cover. They still froze but what do you do. Not a big deal and the race hurt enough for me not to notice. My head usually gets fairly toasty so I just put ear warmers on. WRONG! My head froze on the warm up and I quickly switched them out for a full under-helmet cap. Much better. As I got warmed up and the race was getting ready to go off I shed the first layer up top and on bottom. I was still nervous that was too much so I shed my other over-jersey layer and just went with base layer and jersey. I wasn't sure I was going to stay warm but short track is very intense and I hoped it would be fine. Everything ended up working out well and I stayed relatively warm and functional for the race. So there's the trick for 20 degrees and snow on the ground.
Now the race itself. Call-ups to the line are based on how your team did last year at nationals called in order with each team sending up one person per wave. If you were conference champ you are called up for the front row regardless of team standing. Well, UVa didn't go to nationals last year so we were called second to last. That put me in about the 4th row of nine guys each, so not terrible but it could definitely be a problem in a short track race that’s only 30 minutes long. The first corner was a big right-hander so I picked the right side and set up and waited for the start. Poor choice, clearly I didn't think this through. Yes that put me on inside of the first turn (my logic) but the course also stayed wide on the left and funneled down on the right. Add that problem in with a crash that occurred on my side and by the time I got into the first corner I had to be sitting 40th or so. It seemed like the whole left side rode past me off the line. I put the hammer down to get rolling past people and up toward the front. Tough to see the top guys 100m ahead a half mile into the race! This worried me more since I believed I had good technical skills but I didn't think I'd have the strength to just pin it and catch up on a course with no technical sections where I could possibly make up time. Oh well, it was time to bury my head and hope it worked out. I definitely think that early effort might have cost but you have to get up there. Eventually I settled in to a place where I wasn't just rolling through big crowds. From there I just stayed pinned as hard as I could. 10 minutes in and I couldn't believe I would have to race for 30 minutes, no way I’d make it, yuck. I finally rolled on to the wheel of a Lees McRae rider when Bryce told me I was sitting 10th. WOW! That was really good in my opinion, especially in what I thought was my weak race. I got past the Lees McRae rider and started working on picking off the people in front of me. There was a group of 3 that I got around and started keying in on a University of Florida rider who had to be loving the great weather. I got up to his wheel but dragged most of the group of 3 with me. On the first hill I got around on the outside and cruised down the dual slalom course hoping to put everyone away. Well, that lasted for a lap. Seems like the guys I was around were resting for a final push, on the next hill all 4 just rode away. As tapped as I was I took the lap relaxed and said I'd be able to come back on them. Nope. That was that. The last 3 laps were all about staying were I was and not getting caught. Not an easy task and it hurt a lot. I finished 10th which I was very happy with as I thought it set up well for the XC event the next day with more technical sections. That happiness didn't last long as my body seemed to fall apart after easing up past the line. Blood taste in the mouth, hands that hurt so bad I couldn't ride, and a stomach that did not want to calm down. Yack. Short track is tough and so balls out. Unreal event. I was more than happy to chill out for the rest of the day. Good day 1. As far as the team went Bryce did well, unfortunately they were very quick to pull riders that were about to be lapped and he only raced about 10 minutes, lucky him! Speaking of only 11/83 racers didn’t get pulled, that’s only 13%, wow. For the ACCC Miles Hubbard from App State crushed it! He ended up 13th, absolutely killer performance for him. I didn’t find out until later in the day but that got me super pumped for racing. Miles is an awesome guy and it was great to have another ACCCer in the top 15.
Later in the day we went out to get a better look at the new course conditions. Bryce made me ride straight up the huge hill that the course began on. Clearly I'm still bitter 10 days later. This ride was really so I could throw on the Maxxis Beaver mud tires and give them a go in the snow and muddy conditions. Well conditions really weren't muddy, all snow up there. Now I wasn't so sure if the Beavers were the way to go, shedding mud wasn't a huge issue and the snow was fairly grippy. That said I cleaned everything on that ride and the Beaver's gripped to all the nasty roots throughout the course. Was the rolling resistance loss worth it with a big ski slope climb and road section? Too new at this to know. I spent the evening not knowing what to do, I over thought this so much it was ridiculous. I blame my dad, he put it in my head, I’m too green to know either way. Fortunately Gordon Wadsworth who has been overly helpful for the rookie here gave me a call and fixed me up. His advice and therefore my advice: Ride what you know works and don't sweat the little details. The Beavers worked on the conditions and while they might be a little slower it wasn’t a going to be a huge deal. I stuck with the Beavers and it ended up being the right decision. Everyone said they slipped and slid all over the course, I never felt like I had that problem. The Beavers tracked great! Thanks Maxxis for making a killer mud/snow/root tire. Final point: traction>straight speed. I really felt like I was faster on the single track then the guys on quicker less grippy tires. I just tracked and made all the hard sections that people weren't riding and when it came down to it I don't feel like I lost enough that I could blame the slower tired for anything.
Saturday brought another early morning but a much more beautiful and seemingly warm day, all of 30 degrees! I decided to wear the same thing I did the day before and hoped it wouldn't be too warm, it wasn't and another successful shot in the dark on clothing. This time I lined up on the right hand side and didn't get stuck. Heading up the hill I was probably sitting in 20th at worst with a wide-open 5+ minute climb straight up the ski slope to gain positions. I thought I found a good groove and kept climbing past people and ended up making the turn onto the road section sitting top 10, perfect I thought. Then I made the turn onto the road that continued up toward the single track. Uh oh! I over gassed it, I just couldn't lay the hammer down and speed up and got rolled up by a ton of people, back at 20th or so by the time I got to the single track. I was officially not happy, complete rookie mistake. I was riding behind people on the single track that seemingly couldn't ride a bike. I managed to keep my frustration to myself but more than once I caught my self saying in my head "GET OFF THE BRAKES!", "OH COME ON, RIDE YOUR BIKE!", and "GEEZ GET OUT OF MY WAY!". Still brings back frustration, but I did it to myself. I was able to get past people on the single track from their mistakes or little splits in the trail. I was flying when I could catching people and moving past as quickly as possible. Through that lap I managed to get off the single track and back down the ski slope in about 14-15th place at the end of lap one.
Back up the monster climb...ouch. While I could see 5 people in front of me I gained zero ground on them. The guys from the West were just stronger up the hill, nothing to be done so I tried to keep it more in control and hit it hard when I got to the road. I did my best and eventually got back on the single track and turned the jets on. Not being modest, I killed that single track. I caught the guys in front fairly quickly and started picking them off when possible. Maybe some iffy passes but I was able to get in the group of 5 fighting for top 10 spots. Another climb put me a little behind but a single track section got me right back in it before the road that led to the ski slope descent. I slammed passed a couple early on the road and just squeezed by a guy from Colorado Boulder before the descent (okay that pass was definitely iffy and almost caused me to blow the corner but I got by). Down the hill I followed a guy from Utah State and we put a good gap between us and the rest of the group by the bottom. Perfect I thought, they might come back on the hill but I should be further up than before. Then I had my first and only mechanical of the season, chain drop. All the work I did to put distance on the group and they all rolled past me. I panicked and just wasn't quick with the chain. Lesson learned, easy does it, take your time and put the chain back on, DO NOT RUSH. So back to 15th or so. Again, frustrated, but I did it to myself, at least I was much closer to the group. I couldn't gain anything but I didn't lose too much on the climb either. Single track was once again my time. I just pushed super hard to roll past people and got lucky with a couple people making mistakes early and letting me play catch up. I hit one section so fast a spectator was screaming at me to slow down and not wreck myself, as I ripped through he just goes “woah, cleanest and fastest all day!” to which I replied, “East Coast baby!.” Once I caught up to the group of 3 ahead some spectators from App State said we were fighting for tenth. The next section had some super technical spots and these guys were just all over the trail. Thank you again Beavers for riding me straight and true.
A couple mistakes and I moved on to the next guy. Just before the next climb I got around him and put as much of a gap as I could before the uphill. I rode that uphill so hard to stay away from the guy from Utah State, I knew if I hit the single track ahead I was golden. He finally popped and I got to the single track first and rode the rest of the lap just hard enough to stay away while staying out of trouble. I ended up 9th. Not happy. Not bad, but with how I rode that single track I really could have gotten close to 5th, although the top 5 was well away from me. That's racing and more importantly it’s learning. All things considered, great day of riding. Most importantly I really loved the course, the snow, the blue skies, it was just a great memory overall. Bryce and Will (who came down the night before) also had good races and were happy with their place. Unfortunately Andrew had about 5 too many mechanicals and was more than happy to call it a day a lap early. He didn't DFL so it was a win for him and he had a great rest of the day on the mountain.
Post Race we had a huge pancake and bacon breakfast Lewis Family style (thanks Mom and Dad!) with everyone staying at the house and the App State guys. Great times, so good to hang out with everyone in the house they made the weekend so much fun. After breakfast we went to check out the downhill, which was a complete slopfest but a ton of fun. Everyone was going nuts and having a blast. We had hotdogs and beer laid out for any racer that took a spill and was willing to get bonus points with the spectators. Only one guy took it but he definitely got the loudest cheers. I found a super cool Santa Cruz Heckler noisemaker as well. That has to be a serious badge of honor to have that as a triangle for downhill races. I'm not sure if I'd want to crack a frame to get it though. That night we had a big house dinner and hit the sack. Sunday we watched the Team Relay. Definitely one of the best races to watch, it was a hoot, looks like so much fun. After that we got in the car and headed home. What a weekend. Great times, great people, and I learned a ton. Here's to getting on the podium (top 5) next year. Until then it is on to base season (or so I'm told) and cold winter riding. It’ll be worth it thought because road season is just around the corner. It sure was fun to get back to racing! Thanks for everyone that made the season such a success. Especially Will Massey and ACCC officials. Mom and Dad who constantly showed up to everything, the guys loved it (so did I, who doesn't love cookies), UVa guys for taking care of all the race details, and all the ACCC racers that made this year a blast!
Well...that was a long post. Hopefully from here on out they will be a little bit shorter. Since I am getting started a little late in the game I'll try and do some retro posts looking back at some fun/big events from the year like my first Crit (YIKES!), first century, and other cool stuff. Thanks for reading. Rubber side down!
Final note: Gavin from Virginia Tech probably came out as the winner of the weekend. Check out this unreal picture of him warming up before the Short Track race on Friday that got featured on Pink Bike's write up of the weekend. SICK!