“S**T!…I should have gone to Napa for the weekend!”
There are days when the racing Gods just don’t want you to win. I should have taken the hint when they blew my race number into Lake Shasta before I even picked up my package and the race organizers had to replace it. The Lemurian is a tough, hard course with plenty of technical sections plus dangerous UCI spec high speed ruts. And now I have an impending feeling of doom…
I got my gear together and took a short warmup lap. The course starts on a wide open paved road which climbs onto a dirt road before pitching upward to steep and loose fire road for some 2000’ of vertical in the first few miles. As a climber, I quite like this. I got back to the start to line up and as I was hanging out on the side of the pack wondering if it was a mass start, the gun goes off and the entire field moves away… I guess it is a mass start so here we go.
Now in my opinion a 360+ person unstaged mass start including Cat2/3 is a bad idea and about 50ft into the race, my opinion is reinforced when someone runs out of talent and crashes on the pavement taking a massive section of the field with them. The racing Gods just barely missed me with that one. I hope it’s no one I know and continue riding. I didn’t get a very good position for the start and I’m working from about 100 back as I start working through the field. I feel pretty strong so I’m putting a lot of people behind me. I crest the top in about 10-15th place and I feel pretty good about how I feel… as I start the dangerous high speed descent I think “Safety First”.
On the second pitch down, I start to lose control and I know immediately what it is… a flat. I pull over quickly and grab my CO2. I put it into the tire and I hear the unmistakable “whoosh” of a side wall slice. I instantly feel stupid for not bringing a tube, I try to get sealant onto the cut to seal it, but from the size, I already know it’s a lost cause. S**T! Let this be a lesson. I start the long walk back to the start/finish. The guys I know ride past and give me a “That sucks!” grimace as I try to avoid oncoming riders. I crest the hill and start walking back down the hill as riders continue to ride past.
Nearing the back of the pack, someone asks “do you need anything?” I say half joking “Sure, have you got a spare tube and a pump?” To my surprise, he dismounts and starts getting out his pack! Awesome! He loans me his pump and a tube and I start to fixing my tire. I get the tube replaced quickly, but I’m not much for pumps and for some reason this thing is giving me a tough time. I wonder if it’s even working as I fuss with the settings and dials. Spending several more minutes feeling useless pumping on the side of the trail, I wonder if I’m just pumping up this tire so I can ride back to the start. Eventually another guy asks “Do you need anything?” and my reply is “Have you got any CO2 or a bigger pump?” A guy dismounts and gets out his pack and CO2! Nice!! He inflates my wheel for me.
Option 1: Go directly back to the start/finish and hang out: I’m pretty much out of the race.
Option 2: Ride the race course with no spare tube and no CO2 on a tire with a sidewall cut
I’ve driven for hours, stayed in a hotel, and I feel pretty good so I opt for Option 2, at least to see if the tube will hold out on the downhill section. I’m unused to riding this far down the field and riders are picking their way slowly down the hill. I don’t much care since I’m out of the race and I’m testing the tire to make sure it keeps its air. As I hit the bottom of the hill, I can turn left and ride the pavement back to the start/finish, or turn right and continue the ride across the dam. I turn right and peg it in high gear. Strangely, riders this far down the field are more on a casual ride than racing, so they are riding three abreast across the road with no thought to riders passing them. I try my best to pick my way through the groups safely and without being too much of an ass, trying to pass as many people on the road as possible before a single track section.
As I hit the first single track, I realize that this is gonna be an interval training session instead of a race as I hang out behind packs of Cat2/3 riders until I find passing zones. At the slightest sign of a sections wide enough to make passes, I pin it and pass as many people as I can. Uphills are good passing sections since the speed differential is greatest there. It is still sections of casual riding punctuated with furious sprints to make passes, but it’s a beautiful day and the course is super fun.
As the ride wears on, I have managed to make my way back to lycra clad matching kit race types who must be Cat2 at least and I continue to pull up the field. There are still sections where I have to sit around and wait patiently for passing zones but I’m still feeling good. As I start the last climbing section another 2500’ mixed fire road single track climb, I start catching Pro women, so I know I’m probably starting to catch the back of the Cat1 field. I crush out a pace on the climb and continue making lots of passes.
As I crest the top of the climb and start the descent, I catch the top Pro female rider, so I figure I’m back into the Cat1 men field again. The downhill sections are littered with Cat2 Medium Course riders and Cat3 Short Course riders, so I pick my way through the field not worrying too much about position and not wanting to foul anyone else up. I eventually roll through the finish line in ~2:40, 20 minutes or so behind Brian Butler, who won the division today and serves as my measuring stick. In all, I feel okay with my training ride, although more than a little bummed and feeling a bit stupid about A) forgetting my tube and B) selecting such fragile tires for my race fleet. It’s a long drive for a couple training rides even if the course was nice and beautiful. I’ve been pushing my luck for too long, so a change in tire selection is in order. Live and learn… both critical aspects.