I began Tuesday in telling my recap of the 2012 DORBA fall series XC race at Sansom Park.
For those that may have missed part 1 you can catch up by clicking here… Sansom Race Recap: Part 1
For those interested in Cat 1 photos, here is a slideshow of all the pictures taken during your race. .
If you would like to use, download, or edit these photos please provide attribution to www.TexasMountainBikeTrails.com by linking to the homepage or by sharing this post on your favorite social platform. I’m not a photographer and I don’t play one on TV, show some love and share with your friends.
A short lived celebration
“This is going to be a great race I thought.”
We had just finished the grass loop on our first of three laps. I was cruising through the rocky singletrack just off the back wheel of the second place guy in our age group and first place was only spitting distance in front of him. After the first few turns we started picking up speed and I noticed that I felt a little off-balance. Like my tires were about to wash out.
At some point while racing your logic just gets tossed out the window. Instead of thinking rationally about how much better I would ride with the correct tire pressure the only thought in my mind was to win. Even though I have been competing in bike races for the past 8 years, my overall inexperience in heat of the moment decisions still
shines through stinks.
I kept powering forward, staying right off the back tire of 2nd place as we came up to the first short hill of the race. It’s a surprising climb that gets you just after a fast left hand turn covered in dust and loose rock. This is actually a much trickier short climb in a race than I could have imagined. When rounding that corner at speed the last thing you’re really expecting is a foot high lip on the trail that you have to wheelie up onto and ride over. That small lip is immediately followed by about 25 yards of climbing culminating in a right hand turn, all of which is covered in an inch or two of dust and a lot of loose rock.
Even knowing that it’s all coming up soon from my pre-ride, it’s very easy to forget while racing.
First place, second place and I came into this turn hot and fast. As we started crossing over that foot high lip second place stalled immediately in front of me, I slowed down as best I could trying to keep my balance and some speed to get around the far side of him. My tires hit a dust patch and lost all traction as I went sliding across the dirt and rock.
While I was scrambling out of the way and running my bike up this short climb I remember thinking to myself, “I have way too much air in my tires”. The smart thing to do would have been to take a few extra seconds and let a little bit of air out of my tires. I of course, did the opposite.
I jumped on my bike as quick as possible and sped off trying to catch back up to where I was. But now, I was extremely aware just how off-balance I was while turning. I was skidding through turns at a pretty alarming rate. All of this within just the first 1.5 miles of the race.
I kept burning my candles and sprinting trying to catch back up. Because of the speed and over-inflated tires, every time I hit a corner I kept skidding into trees, rocks, and at one point another racer… “Sorry!”
At this point I think I was in 5th place. I had caught and passed 2 other people in my age group and had yet to get passed by anyone from 30-39. Up ahead of me, I could see who I think was in 4th and 3rd. I dug deep and hit the turbo button trying to catch the racers in front of me.
This brilliant strategy of sprint now, think later happened to fall just as our group was headed off the blue loop and onto the beginning of Joel’s Loop. If you aren’t familier with this area, please allow me to fill you in. The beginning of Joel’s loop has the steepest and dustiest switchback I have ever ridden. It is fantastically challenging and its stuff like this that is the real reason I love Sansom Park. If you try to take the inner line of this switchback you go nearly vertical and have to almost tailwhip your rear end around just to stay on the trail, the outside line on the other hand has a mountain of deep dust piled up about 2 inches high. Neither line is very friendly, especially not when so much skidding is already happening.
I chose the outside line hoping to carry a little momentum through as I went. I set myself up for the turn thinking “inside leg high, outside leg down, balance at the pivot,” then in the next moment I was spitting dust out of my mouth and straddling a tree on the side of the course as well as my bike.
I had already slid off the side of the trail and my path was marked by a great big Shawn shaped sand-angel, so I wasn’t blocking the trail for other racers. The first thing I noticed was that my Contour video camera had gotten nudged in the fall and was pointed straight down at the ground. I can’t be shooting bad video in a race! I adjusted the camera, took a deep breath and let some air out of my tires.
At this point I had already fallen to what I think was last place in my age group. I was just now at the monster climb on Joel’s Loop for my first lap. It had been a pretty crappy half of a lap for me having 2 big falls almost back to back. But the race was still early so I mounted back up and took off chasing down the racers who had already passed me.
The climb itself goes on for maybe a quarter of a mile and loops itself around three blind corners. Each time you make a turn you hope that the climb will stop and you might be done with it, but each oncoming section is harder than the last. What starts as rocky and steep quickly becomes dusty and steep-er with loose rocks and potholes throughout.
Not a single person that I know of rode up that climb during the race. From what I understand even the Cat 1 guys had planned dismounts and walk ups on the climb, those who didn’t spun out and walked up whether they wanted to or not.
Having taken some extra time to catch my breath and actually think about my strategy I attacked the climb nice and slow. After finishing the first segment I dismounted into a jog and ran my bike up the more difficult second half of the climb. Because of the extended breather I took I passed 1 or 2 people during the hike-a-bike up the hill. At the top of Joel’s loop I sprinted over the crest of the hill and lept onto my bike. Realizing at this point just how much energy all of the falling and sprinting had taken out of me.
I pushed on trying to keep a steady pace, I still had 2 full laps of racing to do and could still recover from my bad first lap with a little bit of luck.
Laps 2 & 3
Lap 2 was fairly casual. With my tires at a lower pressure and me not sprinting like a hungry cheetah I had no problem descending the switchback on the entrance to Joel’s loop and I was able to walk up the climb pretty briskly, even jogging at times. Outside of actually riding well I can’t remember anything other than how much faster I thought this lap would be. Apparently though, this wasn’t the case. Even though I had what I thought was a great lap and I felt like my pace was faster, the lap time was actually slower by 13 seconds.
I couldn’t believe that when I saw it after the race. I felt so smooth during that lap and I actually passed 1 or 2 guys as well. It was a serious letdown.
You probably already are looking at that third lap time of 44:39, its a full 15 minutes longer than the other 2. So what happened?
Lap 3 started off smooth and probably even better than lap 2. Another racer from the 30-39 age group had been riding with me since 3/4th of the way through the second lap. I would give him the nickname “redshirt” because he was wearing a red shirt, but for any Star Trek nerds out there you probably already know the joke and bad voodoo it puts on folks. So I’ll use his actual name instead, Martin.
Back on topic with Redshirt, err I mean Martin. Habits die hard.
Martin and I began working together at the tail end of Lap 2, basically what this means while mountain biking is that one person leads and picks good lines that the follower can, well… follow. If a bad line is taken by the person in front then the person in back will take the lead for a “pull”. It’s the same concept as drafting but for the trained eye you can tell what the best lines are to take.
So Martin and I pulled each other through the grass loop and back onto the singletrack of Sansom Park. I am seriously thankful for this his help, my legs were whipped and I was ready to get this race behind me.
We moved through the blue loop at a brisk pace with no issues. Finally we got to the split off to Joel’s loop on lap 3 and thats when I heard it.
Just before the split and the treacherous switchback that I mentioned before is when I heard it. A small hissing noise coming from my rear tire, on turns I could feel the air blowing against my leg. I pushed on and kept riding, hoping that the tire would seal up with all of my fresh Stan’s Sealant that I had just put in. Unfortunately it didn’t.
After making it down the switchback and just to the base of Joel’s climb I stopped. I had lost 80% of my air and was all but riding on the rim. I whipped off my camelbak and pulled out my CO2 cartridge and adapter, hoping that it had sealed up and I could just put some extra air in. While trying to get my tire aired up I looked at my cycling computer, 12.75 miles travelled. I was only about 1.5 miles from finishing the race when my tire went flat.
The tire never aired up, it stayed flat despite emptying an entire BigAir canister into it. I spun it, bounced it and did everything else I could to get the tire to seal up. It just wasn’t meant to be. And so I started hiking. This was the third time in under a week that I had walked this same section. All 3 flats I had were in the same place on the trail just before Joel’s Loop. What a bummer.
As I walked the rest of the course, because I was finishing this race dangit, I took the opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery that was around me and I thought about how really the worst day on a bike is better than the best day of work.
The Finish Line
I finally finished the hike out of Sansom Park with a bruised ego, a flat tire, and covered in dirt. It had been a fantastic race put on by DORBA and FWMBA, all 200+ racers enjoyed themselves and I certainly can’t wait until the next race at Erwin Park.
With Cat 1 just about to start I dropped off my bike at the Cadence Cyclery tent changed out of my sweat covered bib and jersey and snatched my camera. I had unfortunately missed getting action shots of the Cat 3 race, there was no way I would miss Cat 1 as well.
As I sat on the final climb of the course snapping pictures I started talking to a new friend Gebby who is a mechanic at Trinity Bicycles and had also raced in the Cat 2 race. We talked about the race and about finishes, he had picked up a flat on the beginning of his second lap. As we kept talking I told him that I had pictures of all the Cat 1 riders, it was time to go back and barter pictures for a cold beer. He offered one up with no charge of a picture, but I just couldn’t back down from my offer.
So thank you for the ice cold and absolutely delicious Pumpkin Ale Gebby! Here is the photo that was promised.
After finishing our hike off the trail and back to the race tents, and of course enjoying that excellent pumkin ale, I headed back to the Cadence Cyclery tent to hang out and wait for our Cat 1 racers to finish up their race. Once they finished we packed up the gear and headed for lunch at BJ’s brewery somewhere off I35. Good food and lots of great cycling stories.
So what did I learn from this race? Stay calm and consistent, my initial strategy of sprint, skid, crash, sprint, skid, crash took a ton of energy and didn’t help me at all. I realize that in my current physical state I am not going to be competing for first in my age group, I just don’t have the legs for it right now. I learned how important it is to come into the race with a good strategy, and then to stick with it no matter how amped up or excited I may get.
I also learned how much I really enjoyed covering the race from the photography side. My legs burned everytime I bent down to snap another picture of the Cat 1 race, but in the end I think it was totally worth it. I was able to capture a moment that every one of those people can look back on with a smile.
Overall the Sansom Park race was fantastic and I loved every minute of it, the Cadence Cyclery team took quite a few podiums. I can’t wait for the Erwin Park race next week so that I can share more of my course insights. This is my “home” trail, so I am very excited to race there.