I was pretty pumped to be racing at Lewis Morris, and felt pretty good throughout the past week - I'm tapering my volume into the Stewart Six Pack next weekend, and my body seemed appreciative of the lighter training load.
As a concession to age or common sense, I decided to try racing with a suspension fork. Wow, what a game changer.
I currently have a Fox with remote lockout on order, which will be the ultimate killer app for the single speed, but even with the top-of-the-crown dial of the fork I transplanted from my geared Moots, the nature of Lewis Morris (half a lap of mostly climbing followed by half a lap of descending) made it realistic to flip the switch the required two times per lap.
We lined up in a field of 12 single-minded and equally geared riders. Reasonably fast start, but nothing too crazy, I was 4 or 5 back and half-way to the hole-shot I saw an opening and spun her up, and got the hole-shot, kept going at a pretty juicy pace to see if I could string out the field behind me.
That seemed to work for a little while, but two climbs in the eventual winner, Ramunas Katkus, came flying by me and left all of us in the dust, never to be seen again. There was no way I was going to be able to stay with him for long without blowing myself up completely, so I let him go and stayed on the gas at my fast. I was so focused on riding hard, that I didn't spend a whole lot of time looking behind me; by the time we got to that one really steep climb, I could feel all the work I had done, and before I knew it, three singles came by me. Crap. I was able to stay with them once we crested the climb, and noticed them slowing as we started the next (single-track) climb a few minutes later. I had worked too hard to string out the field to let peeps get back on, so I shouted a few gentle encouragements to get a move on. By the time we reached the back parking lot, two of the guys ahead of me were getting a little fried and coasted onto the gravel - I dug deep, spun up, and flew by them with my sights set on Brian Kelley a hundred yards ahead (gotta love the mental game of passing strong, even if you're probably feeling just as wiped as the guy you're passing). As we continued along the winding back climb, much to my surprise (as Kelley usually bests me by minutes), I was able to slowly reel him in, and then passed him as he let off the gas after we crossed the fire-road at the top of the climb. Nice, second place.
At this point of the loop, I unlocked the fork, and start flying downhill. How sweet it is to actually gain time on the downhill, and not to arrive at the bottom all banged up from fighting a rigid fork. I knew there were a lot of strong riders in the field behind me, so I focused on being smooth, steady and fast. Climbing that rooted slightly uphill double-track before the muddy section was so much faster with the Fox fork, I was actually looking forward to it as I got closer to the end of each lap!
One lap down, lock the fork, get ready for some more climbing, stay on the gas. I didn't have anyone on my wheel, but wasn't sure how far back the next rider was. Turns out I didn't have to wonder for too long, because by the time I got to the top of the really steep climb, I could see Chris Long 20 feet behind me. Once we crested, my ability to spin fast allowed me to keep him from closing the gap, but a Finkraft guy, Matt Howard, did come around me and continued to build a gap at a steady pace. Bummer, but I was pushing as hard as I could, so I put him out of my mind and continued to race hard. And for the last lap and a half, I was riding on my own, in my own little world of pain and pleasure. Push, push, push, don't let anyone catch you, and maybe the guy ahead will run out of gas; neither of these eventualities occurred so that's how I finished: in third place, at 1:37. Still need to download my garmin, but lap-times were around 31, 32, 34. Definitely great day, and a solid finish in a strong field. Turns out the race was crazy close, Chris Long came across the line just 20 seconds behind me, and Chris LeDonne another 20 seconds behind him.