The 1st, and hopefully annual, Wisp XC Challenge brought the second mountain bike race of my season. After kicking off the mountain bike season at Big Bear in the muck and cold, I was more than happy to only need to pull on my swiftwick armwarmers to keep me toasty. My expectations coming into the day were pretty high given the fact that I am really starting to come on form and also the fact that the course was more not super technical but rather super fast and climby. After a quick tire pressure check with teammate Robbie Loehr, who assured me that it was ok to feel the rim a few times in the race, we were off to the start line.
Having a mediocre start off the line, I was happy that JR had decided to include a nice fast and wide prologue to give the Expert and single speed fields time to spread out. After about 3 minutes or so on ski slope and fire access road we hit the first downhill of the day. Even though it was only a bombed out fire road, I was still happy to find Robbie in front of me who kindly led me to the fastest lines and around slower riders. As we hit the flat fire road at the bottom I started making moves to get up close to the front as to not put myself behind the conundrum that would ensue upon entering the single track. As we made the turn into the first single track section I found myself second in the Expert field and 3rd overall behind Travis Saler and Montana Miller. I don’t exactly remember what happened at this point because Travis was crushing the pace and at that point I could still see him and, for some reason or another, though I may be able to get back on his wheel. After that sort of dumb but fun effort and getting caught by another racer in my category, I decided to settle into my own pace.
At the first climb, I noticed Gerry Pflug starting to bear down on me. Since he was on a single speed, I really didn’t care too much if he passed me or not since it would not hurt me in the Expert standings but I definitely did not want to get outclimbed by a guy churning a big gear. We traded back and forth for the rest of the lap, me taking the long stuff by spinning away and him taking the steep stuff through pure brute strength, but he ended up getting away from me on the last steep climb.
I came through the start/finish to start my second lap in 3rd in the Expert field. Coming up the last climb before the start/finish, I kept noticing another DPT teammate behind me by a bit but could not figure out quite who it was. It was coming through the start finish that I was able to get a good look and realize it was Gunnar Shogren and his new Tomac singlespeed bearing down on me. After bombing down the fire road and back through the single track where Gunnar passed me, I caught back up on the climb. Letting Gunnar set the pace, we motored up the first climb and then….back into the woods. Following Gunnar through the twisting, fast double track was by far the best part of the day. We railed every turn and then crushed it through the flats, which I am pretty sure resulted in my fastest lap of the day. Then it was back to climbing. I again let the single speeder set the pace as I played lookout for any potential competition that could sneak up behind us. After crossing the ski slope and hitting the road, I pulled through to try to give Gunnar a little draft across the flat, paved road. We continued on back through the start/finish where, as Gunnar grabbed a fresh bottle, spectators and crew alike yelled jokingly for me to attack.
I again gave Gunnar the line as I knew I would only slow us down trying to lead the technical sections. After letting Gunnar get a little gap through the woods I was more then ready to latch back onto his wheel during the climb. I shifted down and got ready to put in a little effort to catch back on when, oh no, chain suck! My chain, which later was found to have a pebble lodged in one of the fancy little weight saving cutouts, sucked up into my front derailleur. I tried to back pedal it out but it was too bound and I was forced to stop and spend 30 seconds fixing things. Having to stop really didn’t bug me nor did losing Gunnar but rather the overall funk that having to stop put in my flow. After fixing my debacle and spending 10 minutes bouncing all over the trail trying to get back in my zone, I got a grove going just in time for the start of the last climb. At this point, my legs were really starting to hurt and I was starting to wonder why my bike had two front tires. I really knew that now was when I was going to have to suck it up and just focus on getting up the road but damn was I hurting! I finished off my last bottle of Gatorade, put my head down, and just kept turning the pedals. With less than a mile to go, I had a good view from the top of the ridge to see the gap I had on the next rider back. Upon seeing that he was not gaining any ground, I settled into “no fail” pace and just made sure not to do anything stupid that could cost me the podium. I crossed the line in third and about 15 minutes away from a bonk.
After a quick stop by the car for a post race apple cinnamon raw bar, I hit the showers at ASCI to get ready for the podium. Thanks to ABRA, ASCI, and Wisp for providing a great event and an awesome venue. Also, a big thanks to our sponsors for keeping us clothed, fed, and making sure we always have something to put our beverage of choice in!