Pickett's ChargeI love this course. It's just so different than what we have in the Willamette Valley - lots of bermed corners, open pine forest, mini rock gardens, and the start is so well done that there's never been any confusion.
I headed over to Bend to camp out the night before the race with Jason Saunders since the course is so far away. We got over there a few hours before sundown and pre-rode the course. It was a beautiful evening and we did the full lap. This year's course added a couple of miles of dirt road in the beginning - I think to let the groups stretch out a bit more before diving into the singletrack. Nice idea in principle, but it did mean sacrificing about 3 miles of singletrack.
We had a lovely ride around the course, chatting away. Jason seemed adamant about picking paths through the couple of challenging rock gardens, and he made several attempts at each of them. I was content to watch the sun cast shadows through the forest. We started a second lap, the part that was now skipped on the first lap b/c of the extra road mileage, and after about 15 minutes on that, we turned back for dinner. It couldn't have been more idyllic - the sun low in the sky, just a few gray clouds. Two hours of riding and no drive home to deal with.
We ate dinner and chatted until it got too cold. We said goodnight and went off to bed.
I slept in the back of the Subaru - I was too lazy to set up a tent, and the forecast was for a little rain, so I wasn't about to sleep under the stars. That turned out to be a good call as it rained off and on all night. The bright side of that was that the rain would keep the dust down on the trails.
We ate breakfast, registered, did a nice warm-up ride - nearly 40 minutes. I then got a little cold, waiting for the race to start. Things were delayed a little bit by some guy deciding to drive his pickup truck through the racers. Everyone thought this was rude, but it turns out, he was going to pick up Bryan Ross (see previous race) who had crashed and suffered a concussion during his warm-up. Luckily, he seemed to turn out OK, but he didn't race that day.
It had been sprinkling on and off all morning, and the start of the race was no different. The Clydesdales and the Cat 2 Men 50-59 and 60+ all started together, so it was a bit challenging to see who I'd be racing against. We took off and began the nearly 4 miles of dirt road riding. I didn't start quite as fast as I should have and had to spend a few minutes of energy catching up to the lead group - you'd think I'd learn. We cruised pretty fast in a pace-line, eventually catching up to a few of the stragglers of the Cat2 40-49 (Jason was one of the first, he hadn't been riding much this year). The pace-line spread out a bit, and I worked to stay with the top 4 or 5 guys, letting the others spread out behind us. This meant I was in good position - the first Clydesdale.
Since I had pre-ridden the course, I knew the turn off of the road onto the single track was a crazy sharp left turn (think 120 degrees), and as we flew up to it the first few guys totally missed it. I was beginning my turn when a guy came up on my inside and I fell. I scraped my knee just a little bit, but was OK other than that. But, that did mean I lost some precious time there as a bunch of people passed me while I was dusting myself off. I didn't lose but a minute or so, but even Jason caught up and passed me.
I spent the next 5-10 minutes just getting my composure back. I think things like a little crash, or having to get off and walk the bike, really throw me off. I'd been pushing pretty hard, but I think the transition to singletrack would have been ok, but after the crash, it really felt challenging to get back up to speed. I was definitely having to work to breathe - granted, we were at 5200' elevation, but still.
It turns out, a Clydesdale passed me at that point. grrr.... He finished 4 minutes in front of me. Jason finished 20 minutes behind me, happy to be done.
The race was fun, as usual. The overall topography is all downhill the first half, then all uphill to the finish. I pushed pretty hard on the first lap, and kind of settled into a nice rhythm in the second. In general, I tried not to let people pass me, and there were but a few - generally much smaller - guys who did. Right at the beginning of the second lap I was riding with a couple other guys - they were stuck behind me (they didn't ask, so I didn't pull over). One of them was the Cat 2 50-59 series winner. He figured he was third in this race and I told him we could try to catch the other guys, but he wasn't too worried, so we just chatted and rode. We eventually dropped the other two that were with us and it was just the two of us. I'd like to say I beat him, but I've a feeling he dropped me at some point.
I rolled across the finish line after a final burst of speed (just to make sure no last minute passes happened), and that's when I found out I was second. Bummer, but it was by 4 minutes, which is a lot to make up. I chatted with third place after the race, he was almost two minutes behind me. He said he kept on seeing me, but just couldn't catch up - go me.
I stayed for the awards ceremony, and of course the Clydesdales were the 2nd to last to get awards, by which time it had begun to pour and most everyone had left.
Jason and I packed up and drove home.