Yesterday was the second to last race in the Oregon XC series. It is called the Test of Endurance and many riders use it to get ready for Bike BC ( a mountain bike stage race in BC Canada), The Cream Puff (a 100 mile Mountain Bike race in Oakridge) or the High Cascades 100 (another 100 miler in Bend). I used it to help my team win the Team Competition in Oregon XC Series, and to solidify my lead in the Individual 55+ competition in the Oregon XC series. I raced this race last year and had taken it off my calendar for this year. I changed my mind when I realized our team could really solidify our lead and that my competition in the individual was so close that whoever won Pickett's (next week) would win the series. If I would have a good race at TOE I could clinch the series overall and if I had a bad race it would still come down to Pickett's.
Anyway I was there, after driving with two pros Chris Sheppard and Ben Thompson. They had made fun of all my stuff and then kept asking me for things out of my bag. Old wise timer I am.
OK the race. In two races this year I blew, I got passed close to the end and could do nothing. I decided this was not going to happen again. My time last year was around 6 hours and I figured it would be about the same this year (though I hoped for better). I used my Heart Rate Monitor and figured I could go for 6 hours at a heart rate of 160 + or - a few beats. I started off the first climb and was in first thinking sweet Mark is behind and David (who won the Mudslinger which used the same course) was no where to be seen. Whoops, there goes David and there is no way I can keep that pace. David has a very unusual stance on the bike. His saddle is way forward, maybe three inches forward of normal. He is very strong but on single track he can't really handle the bike because he is so far forward. The first single track we take I see him on the ground, OK back to first. Then we start the long climb and I go back to my pace again. I am feeling good at this point and confident. Then here comes Mark. He goes by but is not really going any harder than I am so I get on his wheel (first lead change). His chain falls off while he shifts and I go back out front (second lead change). Down some muddy single track up a steep climb and then the first Aid Station and 25% done. I don't stop and I don't see Mark, we learn at this time that David is out with a mechanical from his crash so it is me and Mark. After some more technical muddy trail we get back on some gravel road getting ready for the second climb. Here comes Mark again, I manage to stay on his wheel (third lead change). At the top of the climb he has another chain problem and I try to push the pace down the hill (forth lead change). He tricks me and passes me on the descent (fifth lead change). Fine, back on his wheel for some drafting and a quick pass before the funnest section of trail on the course, The Panama Canal (sixth lead change). We are now at the second aid station and 50% done. I stop to drink a coke and there goes Mark (seventh lead change). This time he gets quite a lead. I am patient though and keep my heart rate stead at 160. We get to the first muddy single track (did I mention it misted and rained most of the day) and I am not feeling that good. I figure this is it but as I go around a corner I see Mark pushing his bike up a muddy climb. I dig deep and pedal up the same climb and catch up. No passing no lead change but back together. We are now 4 hours into this race and we still can't get rid of each other. He pushes it on the climb and gets to the single track first. I can see him as we descend through the trees and we are together as we hit the road and climb to the third aid station. This time I can tell something is wrong. He is grimacing and make some awful sounds. His leg is cramping. I go by (eighth lead change) and this time I am thinking I can win this thing if I don't blow. I stop at the aid station this time to get my last coke and Mark some how has overcome his cramp and goes by (ninth lead change). I get going as soon as I can and do my best to catch him. There is quite a bit of single track here and I don't seem but I keep pushing. Around a tight bend and there he his walking with a bad limp and again these noises from his mouth don't sound good. Back in front (tenth lead change), and this time I push a little harder. Up the second climb, through the Panama canal and then the two miles to the finish. I am wasted as I cross the line. Not only was that physically tough, but mentally tough also. Passing and getting passed and trying to go harder without blowing trying to ride smooth etc. When I have done 100 mile races I don't really race. I just go out and try to finish. This was a race from the get go. Never a let up until I finished. I won, Mark ended up third about 8 minutes back. His cramp got the best of him to my advantage. This clinches my series victory even if I don't race Pickett's. The team picked up some valuable points as Jodi, Austin, Serena had their usual high places and Mark (another Mark our teammate) came through with a 12th place.
This is a tough sport. It is not just about being strong, it is about going downhill, saving energy and being mentally tough. I have never had a race where I was switching leads for 5 hours. Mark made me earn this victory and he made it extra sweet by testing me and not giving up. For me a rival is the one who makes a victory possible. A rival is not someone you want to taunt but someone you want to thank. I would not be racing if there was no one to race against. I also have to thank Steve Lacey who was only 5 minutes behind me. He passed Mark and that is why I have clinched the series. 6 hours, only 8 minutes between the top three, that is a tight competition. Today I have taken a long nap, washed my bike and hung out. Sorry for the long blog but the words just came out.