Teammate David Barrett wrote us a fantastic play-by-play from last weekends collegiate mtb race in Waco, TX, enjoy.
"On Sunday I rode my first collegiate mountain bike race. I was nervous for days leading up to the race. I have ridden in three other mountain bike races but that was twelve years ago when I first starting mountain biking. This was the first race that I was aware of what I stood to lose during the race (i.e. my dignity, my breakfast, some skin). In the twelve years since my first race I have mountain biked with some regularity and spent a lot of time in recent years on challenging single track in southern Utah. This year I trained on and raced road bikes for the first time. Despite all of this I felt like I was entering completely uncharted territory.
The race course started on the top of a bluff and quickly descends to the river below. Over the course of eight miles the trail would climb back up the the level of the starting line and descend again through a web of twisty, technical single track. I had ridden the course the day before the race and was mulling over possible race strategies. I felt that the trail suited my riding style but I was still nervous. I arrived one and half hours before my start time to make sure I was registered and my bike was tuned to race. The weather Sunday was unexpectedly and unseasonably cold. I wore every bit of clothing I had as I worked in the parking lot to get my brakes set just so and my chain tension dialed. I rode laps around the parking lot. I got registered for the B cross country race. Rode a couple more laps. Went to the bathroom. Tweaked my brakes again. Road some more. Munched some energy gummies.
At 9:05 I stripped off a couple of layers and rolled up to the start line. My bike is a steel, suspension-less, decidedly "non-race" single speed and I wasn't sure whether to be embarrassed or proud of it. The gun went off. Soon after I was five spots off the front in only an eight man field. Great. As I expected, though I had been pretty confident in my gear selection, it was not enough to get into a good position going into the first section of tight single track. So I sat back and tried to be patient. We dropped into a tight, winding, rooty decent toward a flat section along the river below. At the bottom of the decent the trail widened just a little and my impatience could't be quelled.
"Do you mind if I…thanks," I managed to get out as I slithered past a Texas State rider. As I entered the flat, relatively open section of trail, I could see a rider from Texas A&M up ahead. I picked up my cadence. A minute later I was behind him. We were keeping a similar tempo. But I could see up ahead where the trail broke to the right and entered a section of short, punchy climbs, the kind of climbs suited my style. The trail was wide and I didn't hesitate to sprint past him, legs almost flailing with the high cadence. I entered the short switch backs ahead of him and I never saw him again. A flat bridge crossing, a short loose climb, sharp turn and I could see two more rider grinding up a modest but steep climb. I started up the climb, mashing the pedals, trying to defy physics. But I was over eager, over excited and I slowed to a crawl. I was too tense to balance long enough to unclip my left shoe.
As I was lying on the ground under my bike, writhing and thrashing to get my foot untethered, I had an epiphany: the guys on geared bikes are climbing this hill really slowly. I never would have expected it. After riding a single speed for so long I had come to believe that every rider attacks climbs with the same bullishness as a single speed rider must. False! I got on my feet, picked up my bike and ran up the hill past the two riders who had been climbing ahead of me. I walked every other long climb for the rest of the race.
Now I was in second place, only a mile into the first of two eight mile laps. At first I didn't see the lead rider, but after a couple of minutes of winding through tight trees I was on his wheel. My heart rate monitor wasn't working properly but I knew I was working harder than I should have been. I sat in behind the UNT rider. After having to stop to work out some misleading trail markings, four other riders I had passed earlier caught back up to the UNT rider and I. It wasn't long, though, before the UNT rider and I were alone off the front again. It was then that I realized that if I was going to win, this was the man I would have to beat.
I stayed on his wheel a while and caught my breath. We were riding along at a pretty moderate pace and I started making small talk. I ask about school and told him that I had gone to UNT also. The back and forth stopped after a while and I decided to make a move to see if he could follow. At a wide spot in the trail I asked to move up ahead and then took off. I rode fast, hip checking trees, sprinting out of turns and listening as the sound of the UNT rider's chattering derailleur faded away.
I was by myself riding a nice quick tempo. The trail was incredibly fun. There were steep, rocky descents, long thigh busting climbs, and super smooth single track winding through rainforest-thick vegetation. A section called The Vortex is a sequence of six ten-foot tall berms that snake their way down the bluff between two hills. It was like riding in the fantasy of any ten year old who has ever popped a wheelie. The fact that I was racing gradually moved from the forefront of my mind. I wasn't nervous anymore. I was simply riding a trail alone, as fast as I could, as fast as I wanted, like I had always done. The truth is, race results, training objections and power readings aside, riding fast is just more fun.
The next hour passed this way with only occasional reminders that there was some kind of official structure to the ride. I didn't see another rider from my group but I pass three A riders by the end of my first lap. The second lap passes the way the first one finished, just another trail ride. My legs were tired by the time I made the final climb toward the finish line, but I knew it was only because I was pushing myself having fun.
There were only a handful of people standing around the finish line when I came across. I tapped on the window of the car where the officials were sitting to keep warm. The official confirmed that I had finished first (I was just a little curious because of several snafus in the trail marking). It was just icing on the cake. A couple of my teammates were in the parking lot loading up their car to leave. They congratulated me as I put my bike in the car for the drive home."