Well, it is Monday, two days after completing the Cohutta 100 NUE Series Race in Ducktown, TN. I took Sunday off from riding after the race for recovery and because frankly the last thing I wanted to do was ride my bike after doing a 100 mile race. So, today was my first ride and I must tell you that my legs felt like they had concrete poured into them before I rode today. I only did a little over 1.5 hours of riding today and all I can say is that I am spent from doing the Cohutta.
Well, enough complaining about how bad my legs feel. Let me tell you all about how the race went down from my perspective. Unlike last years dry course conditions, this year we were met by a night of hard rain and some light rain continuing during the early hours of the race. Of course, this made the trail conditions muddy, wet and a lot more difficult than last year. In addition to the harder course conditions, there were a lot more riders this year and a deeper field of talented riders, too.
The race started out on a 1.5-2 mile paved road climb, before going into about 15 miles of single track. The road climb was fast because everyone wanted to be one of the first into the single track. Last year I somehow managed to be the first one into the single track. This year, however, I was only able to manage being one of the top 15 riders or so into the single track. In front of me were all the riders that I consider to be possible winners of the race including; Floyd Landis, Chris Eatough, Harlin Price, Jeff Schalk and Josh Tostado. These riders and few others that I was not real familiar with lit the pace up and made things break apart very quickly up front.
By the time the single track section leading to the 70 miles dirt fire roads in front of us was complete, a lead group of 7 riders had slipped away from the rest of the pack. Last year I made this lead group, unfortunately this year I did not. I still felt pretty good, though, and was in the first chase group with my teammmate Andy Gorski, and two Ohio riders Shawn Adams and Ross Clark. Our group was not insight of the leaders, but we were also way out in front of any chasers that I could also not see. Basically, we were in what is consider as no man’s land. Ross flatted pretty quickly, so our group of four was whittled down to three. I started thinking that it was going to be a long hard day of chasing for the three of us, especially with a muddy chamois, face and grit filled eyes already irritating me.
Andy, Shawn and I did the best we could to keep thing smooth with our paceline, but were soon caught by Josh Tostado and Michael Simonson like we were sitting still. Josh had flatted in the first single track section, but quickly did a repair and was riding strong again. Andy, Shawn and I jumped onto the Tostado/Simonson Train, but could not match their crazy fast pace for too long. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to have riders just power away from you when you feel like you riding as fast as you can. Then, to make matters worse, we heard from a rider dropped by the lead group because of a mechanical issue, Chris Beck, that the lead group was 4 minutes up on us with less than 30 miles of the race completed.
Well, after Mike and Josh road away from us, another rider, Chris Tanguy, also caught us. Man, can this guy climb. Andy, Shawn and I tried to hang on his wheel when he caught us, but he just road away from us almost effortlessly. Again, not what you want to have happen so early off in a race, if at all. By this point, I start thinking that it just was not my day and I was wondering what I did to make my legs feel so bad. I actually then just kind of became lackadaisical about my riding and let Andy and Shawn put a small gap on me. During this time, I kept the two of them sight and just tried to recover a little, eating, drinking and re-gathering my focus. Eventually, I decided to start riding again when we saw Josh riding alone in front of our group. I quickly closed the gap up to Andy and Shawn and then rode up to Josh alone, before Andy and Shawn were also able to catch up to us. Apparently, Josh’s tire was leaking air, which caused him to slow down enough for us to catch him. The four of us rode into checkpoint 2 together, but left without Andy because he was still waiting for lube to be put on his chain. Andy did catch back up with us, but I could tell that he was starting to hurt from his early efforts.
The four of us rode pretty smoothly together for the next 10 miles of so, but Josh was definitely the strong man in our group and also the better descender on the downhills. Eventually, Andy could not match the pace with which our group was climbing and fell off the pace. Soon after that, he had a major chain suck issue and had to completely get off his bike for a couple of minutes to repair things. During this time, our Speedgoat teammate, Ernesto Marenchin, caught Andy. The two of them were then able to ride together until the last part of the race. Meanwhile, Shawn and I were once again dropped by Josh. This time, however, we were dropped on a long fast downhill instead of a climb. Josh was descending like a mad man and Shawn and I guess chose not to descend so aggressively. I just can’t see do 40 mph plus on a gravel/dirt fire roads when you could only see 10 feet in front of you because of the heavy fog.
By checkpoint 4, Shawn and I were still together. As we rode in to the checkpoint, we saw Josh riding out, so I tried to hurry through the checkpoint. I was able to exit the checkpoint a little quicker than Shawn and immediately attempted t0 catch up to Josh. The section of the race after checkpoint 4 is the only longer flat section of this course. I made no headway catching Josh alone, so I let-up on my pace a bit and allowed Shawn to catch up so that we could work together again. As a result of our work together, we were able to catch Josh once again. The three of us then rode together into and out of checkpoint number 5. After the 5th checkpoint, there is about 12 more miles of fire road before the last 12 miles of single track which leads to the finish of the race.
Josh entered the single track section first, I was second and Shawn was sitting third. I figured that Josh was going to bomb the single track section because the majority of it was technical downhill riding. Hoping to maybe put a little time on Josh before things became too technical, I decided to push the pace a bit on a medium length climb during the first part of the single track. My strategy seemed to be a good one because I immediately created a gap. When I looked behind me, I saw that Josh was struggling and that Shawn was chasing but was not catching up quickly. I felt like I had caught my second wind at this point and decided it was time to put everything that I had left in me into this single track. While hammering out the single track, I actually caught Michael Simonson which gave me even more motivation to keep the power going.
The single track ends with about 1.5-2 miles of pavement leading to the finish line. On the long stretch straight stretch back to the finish, I saw Shawn Adams in the distance behind me and chasing hard. I knew then that I had to drop it down a gear and pound it into the finish to guarantee that I would not be caught. It was a long and painful mile, but I was able to hold Shawn off to finish 7th overall. I was surprised about being seventh because I did not know that Floyd Landis had actually stopped during the race. Apparently he decided to stop during the race to sit in a creek and cool down, so we didn’t even know that we caught him while out on the course. I guess a long time friend of mine, Chris Scott, was able to motivate Floyd to finish out the race by riding along with him. Andy and Ernie were also able to finish the race strongly with a 12th and 11th place finish respectively.
All in all, I was happy with my result and race time of 7 hours and 23 minutes. My time was 8 minutes slower than last year, but I think that this was mostly because of the mud and wet conditions. I can certainly say that these 100 mile MTB races are definitely the hardest type of racing that I have ever done and something that you might want to try if you want to feel SPENT like me. - Gerry