Race day. With the time change we were up before the sun and dealing with some pretty cold temps. The generator ran out of gas over night so the camper was chilly. I ran down to register and had to stand in line with a bunch of 12 year old grommets that had an 8am start time. What would my riding be like if I was racing national level races when I was in the 6th grade? Got breakfast in and spent some time on the mtn bike riding the course. The mud for the big bikes morning race was bad and I grew nervous about how I was going to get thru some of those sections. I saw the first half of the 10 mile loop and found 3 mud holes that were giving the morning racers a hard time. The only things I had going my way were that the sun was shining and 300 morning guys were pushing the mud out of the way. I downed my usual dog food pre race meal of pasta and refried beans then put my goggles and drink system together. Off to the start line. We had a 25 minute delay so there was plenty of time to get even more nervous. I was so nervous that I started my bike with just a few seconds to go and had to shut it down real quick before the flag actually dropped. But when it did I was 3rd to the first turn and had mostly clear trail in front of me. There were 14 starters in the 30+A line. The first place guy cleared off (that Phil Smith needs to race open A!) and I slipped past the guy in second by the time we got to the technical stuff. I was comfy and learning the trail when I started to push a little; I wanted to keep the guys behind me at bay for as long as I could because I assumed they would be faster than me. I just got lucky at the start. Just before the end of the first lap I looped it in a narrow wooded section. The bike came around and hit a tree and my left leg was splayed out by how slick the Georgia clay gets when its polished like it was. My knee hurt right away and I was blocking the entire trail when I picked up my bike. It took me several minutes to get back up to speed and my knee pain was distracting. But I did get back up to speed and was in 3rd at the beginning of the 2nd lap. From there I choose lines wisely believing that getting stuck would be the quickest way for me to lose my podium spot. There were bike-swallowing holes everywhere. I saw several bikes buried up to their seats each lap.
Two of the mud holes were such a cluster that I never took the same line twice thru them. I could never find a good line with all the traffic each lap the lines kept changing. But I never got stuck and was able to carry momentum well enough that a few times I got to leap across some pretty deep gorges. I was proud of those efforts. I lost some ground on the second place guy on lap 3 but keep the gap the same on lap 4. Lost 2 minutes on lap 5 but can’t explain why. Actually there was a section of the course that I witnessed some of the pros take that could have cut 10 seconds off a lap time with ease. That line was way off the trail marking arrows so I wasn’t comfy looking for it when I came around on the following laps. I felt was cheating because it cut off so much of the course. Anyhow, my 6th and final lap was uneventful as far as getting stuck or falling but I lost more time on the leaders. I finished 3rd but was 15 minutes off the winner’s time in my class. Bummed about being so far off the winner but stoked with 3rd. Especially a with all the mud hole concerns I had before the race. Joe had a rough one but you have to read about his day on his blog. Since the race ended I’ve been reflecting on a few things. Looking at the course before the race made me anxious but it was worth it. My pre race dog food meal is working. Stick with that menu. The Factory Connection tune on my fork was fantastic. I had tons of front end confidence today. Front Pirelli MT32 at 10psi was also flawless. I ran low on drink mix in my back pack but I don’t think it affected my race. When I pitted I took on 8 ounces of water and some gel. That was key. Special thanks to the dads that pitted next to me for the extra help gassing up! Lastly, my boots need to go. I hooked the sole of my boots on my shifter or brake pedal to the point of frustration. I stalled it or lost control of the bike 40 times in the three hours I raced. Molded soled boots are the only way for me from now on. We’re headed to Charlotte, NC as I draft this. Spending the night there, cleaning up in the morning, finding a mechanic that can take a look at the van’s fuel starving problem, ditching the van and trailer at a nearby Trek dealer and flying home. I can’t wait to see my family! The opening rounds of the GNCC calendar have been good to me. I have done better than I expected and I feel okay (aside from a sore knee). The racing has been challenging and rewarding so far. Steel Creek is next. See you there!