Big success in and without the “Big Ring.”
The stage is set, the weather is perfect, the course is dry … fast … rocky. Even before The Don starts his ritualistic countdown the heart-rate is already picking up from a cool 100 to just around 160 as he shouts GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Before anyone else knows what’s going on … I’m off, and the race has begun.
This past weekend was the annual Big Ring Classic held in Wausau’s Nine Mile Forest. It’s called this, because with almost no real climbing throughout the 8-mile course, you can actually spend most of your time in your big ring — should you have one. Technical, rocky singletrack that seemed to just destroy bicycle tubes/tires/rims was spread throughout the extremely fast and open doubletrack. It’s a course well suited to constant high aerobic/anaerobic efforts, and things just flowed real well in the singletrack. I knew it would be a good race for me, turns out I would be right.
I headed up to the race-site with Gehling, Claire, and Rosch in a fantastically outfitted Trek Store van. Sure, we didn’t quite have rear seats, but some camp chairs served their purpose. There’s a lot riding on this race for all of us – Gehling’s doing his first Elite race; Rosch is back in Wisconsin, doing his first WORS race in years; Claire, as always, has an increasingly tougher Elite Women’s field to compete with; I have to prove that this past finish at Treadfest wasn’t just a fluke, and that I really am doing things right for a change. We made our tent city, met up with others pre-rode, had dinner – and except for an unfortunate incident with a Whippoorwill keeping up half the campsite up for most of the night, slept through the wonderful star-filled night that would bring us to morning.
I haven’t camped at a WORS race for almost a year, having all that time before the race almost left me in a rather confused state because my timing was seemingly off. Trying to remember how I did things for Treadfest, I think I got them pretty close. I did have a better breakfast at least, and added some more calories to the morning – I was going to need it. Donning the brand new Trek kit, I suited up, prepped the bike and started my warmup. I’ll go ahead and say that this is the first time that I’ve worn another kit to a race / big cycling event since about 2002, the last 6 years have been UW Cycling team kits, so this honestly is quite a big deal. At least the Women’s Large jersey size fit me perfectly.
I was concerned for the warmup, my legs felt like complete blobs. The next 20-25 minutes of riding would be crucial, I had a plan for the beginning of the race.
There was a large leadout of doubletrack to the first part of the singletrack. Roughly 3 miles or so, if I could get there near the top spots it would give me a HUGE advantage getting through traffic, and allow me to put time on my competitors. I needed to get as close to the front of the start line as possible, and make sure I was warmed up and ready to just rocket off. The time comes closer, the other waves are going off and it’s time for the 18-25 groups to line up. I was surprised to hear my name. I’m sitting 4th in the overall standings right now for Men 25-29, that’s high enough up to get a call-up to the startline. That’s the first time that’s ever happened, sure they call up “Jon Camp” … but you all know it’s me. That counts for a lot, it’s a proud moment, it’s another first in this season that continues to surprise. It sets the tone for the next few minutes.
I knew things were going well when I thought to myself, “… like loaded springs.” Legs had the crap ridden out of them, my adrenaline was going to 11, the start was seconds away … Don counted down to “Go.”
I held the lead to about the first climb a couple miles in, but no one came around, or counter-attacked. As soon as they caught me, we all bunched up. The field had already split big time, and it was the familar faces/bikes/jerseys of those who had been in the top 5 of the last couple races around me. I fell in behind the last race’s leader, and kept his pace. 3rd into the singletrack from my wave, already catching the wave before us – my plan had worked so far. Now it was just my duty to keep this up so I didn’t look like some complete jackass who completely spent himself at the beginning of the race only to finish mid-pack.
The first lap was hard. 8 miles of riding right near my LT threshold. I think I averaged 179 for the first 8 miles, but I was still doing well. Halfway through the lap, my mark crashed big time. I don’t know how, it was on a flat but suddenly in a display of chaos that could only ensue from a bike crash, rider and steed were separated on the gravel and a small group of us scattered. I promised the guy I was passing that I wouldn’t destroy myself in a similar fashion, and put in some extra effort, if he was to get up, he wasn’t going to catch me.
Lap one ends, all is good. At the start of the final lap (lap 2, for those keeping count) two guys from my age group catch me. I see a smile and the words “See ya!” from #2002. All feelings of being tired that I once had were immediately forgotten. A note to others: don’t antagonize your competition, making them angry only makes them stronger. I latched onto the train, used them for a draft for the first few miles, and then it was on. Our 3 stage rocket settled into a rhythm. Taking turns pacing each other, it was just fast enough to keep us all on the breaking point for the most part. I almost fell off the paceline once … I had to literally shout to myself “There’s the race. YOU HAVE TO MOVE!” to find the strength to chase back. I lost count of how many people we passed, we were one of the final waves to go off … but I don’t think there was a single time through the entire 16 miles that I wasn’t passing someone. One rider finally showed some weakness … it was time to go in for the kill. Myself and my talkative buddy both noticed it, the 3rd rider was slowing down big time on the flats, and was slower than the two of us in the singletrack. With 3 miles to go we made a move. We came around him before the start of one of the shorter singletrack sections, and not less than 30 seconds later coming out, we had a sizable gap. “WE HAVE A GAP! LETS MOVE!” I yelled. He listened, we moved. It was now a race between the two of us. It was now officially a battle.
3 miles goes by quickly when you cannot take time to think about anything but matching your opponent’s every move. He was smoother in the singletrack, and I expended too much energy trying to stay on him. Every time he passed someone I did the same. The riders who we were catching up to were awesome in getting out of the way, I wasn’t letting him out of my sights. My Garmin wasn’t fully charged the last week or so, so it had shut off at this point or else I would be able to tell you just how hard I was going. At the end of every race, it seems as though the adrenaline rush gives you the strength to do something you normally wouldn’t. In this case, it was the strength to just hang on.
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, people are just faster. That’s what happened here. With only the last part of doubletrack left, we left the singletrack together. I couldn’t physically hang on anymore, I was going to lose this battle. There was another, however, that still to be won. I still had my broken comrade behind me … somewhere … and I was not about to give him the chance to sneak up from behind. Head down, legs pumping as hard as they could, I see the finish. 11 seconds were all that separated myself and the guy in front of me. My only question … how many were in front of us? We met up after the race, still breathing hard from the effort we had put in. We had just destroyed each other, and I think sharing that similar pain / experience automatically makes it seem like you’ve been long time friends. Congratulations and props were traded, we agreed … racing action like that doesn’t come often, and we had a blast. Even though all this had just happened only minutes ago, we seemed to recap the entire race, every corner, every rock. A battle to the finish, a tale of epic proportions … but how would it end?
I scored my second podium of the year. The 3rd man we broke off? He finished nearly a minute behind the two of us. We were 1, 2 and 3. Top 20 finishes for us all. I scored my best ever finish in a MTB race since I started racing. I’ve never worked so hard in a race before, nor have I ever had so much fun. Sitting on that 2nd step of the podium felt oh so great that afternoon. With this finish, I’m sitting 3rd in the overall Series standings. I had a ton of support from everyone there — Gehling, Claire, Rosch, Dallas, Jen, Sarah, Amelia, Raptor — I don’t think I would’ve been able to make it w/o all the cheering. Thanks guys.
My “big-ring” deficient Ferrous worked flawlessly. My body did everything I needed it to, and then some. 2 podiums in 3 races. This season has already surprised me, and I’m just getting hungrier for more. As of right now … I’m missing a 3rd place finish, as well as a 1st place.
I think you all know which one I’m going for.
See you in the XC race at the Subaru Cup in 2 weeks! I’m only just starting to see what I’m capable of!