The weather doesn’t get much better for racing than it was for the Weeping Willow this year. It was a perfect sunny day with the temperatures getting up around the lower 80s by mid-day. The course was dry and fast, and the crowds were big. It seemed like most of the NEMBA team showed up to race.
We showed up early for the beginner and sport class races that morning. The sport class fields were huge. I haven’t seen crowds like this at a race since sometime in the mid-90s. Registration had filled up at 425 over a week ago. There were quite a few team or vendor tents around the starting area which just added to the festive feel of the event.
My daughter, Emma, raced in the junior-novice-women’s class. The beginners started shortly after the massive sport contingent. She didn’t ride nearly as well as she could, finishing third out of three, but still enjoyed the race.
The course itself was actually quite fun. It was an eight mile loop that had a lot of single-track and a surprising amount of really fast double-track. The single-track wasn’t particularly challenging in a technical sense but it was very twisty which made things interesting. Willowdale State Forest is pretty close to the shore, so the hills there were not an issue. That’s not to say that the course was completely flat. There were many small climbs scattered around the loop. None of them were challenging but enough to make me aware of their presence by my final lap. The overall theme here was speed.
The elite, expert and single-speed classes started at noon. The elites started before the single-speed, followed by the experts. I’m not sure that it was a good idea sending the single-speed riders off just before the experts were unleashed. Anywhere that the course was open, they were able to shift up and crank up the speed way beyond what a single-speed rider could manage. The faster experts started catching up with lead single-speed riders before the end of the first lap.
Our group was surprisingly large – 24 were registered for the single-speed class. The initial pace was much faster than I would have chosen if it were up to me. With an extra dose of poor judgment I joined in the frenzy and started passing riders. I managed to work my way up to third place by the start of the second lap. However, on the second lap, I started to feel the effects of this poor judgment. I started really hurting, so I decided to just settle down the pace to recover a little.
Normally, I like to run a lower tire pressure (around 20psi) but this was causing me problems. With the faster pace, I had bottomed out my tires several times. I decided that if I didn’t take a minute or so to put some more air in my tires, I would eventually end up having to change a flat. Early in the second lap, I found a decent place to stop and add some air. Once I did this, everyone decided to come out of the woodwork and pass by me. Kevin Orlowski showed up almost immediately. I don’t know how many riders went by in those few minutes, but it seemed like it was most of them. With much firmer rear tire, I resumed my race.
At some point during this lap, we almost formed a rolling team NEMBA meeting on the trail. Myself, Kevin, Carl DeVincent and Shawn Smith were all clustered together. All we needed was Shaun Pinney to show up. This didn’t last long as we all continued at our own pace. I rode the latter portion of that lap mostly alone. This was good as I started to realize that I hadn’t been drinking enough, and I was getting hints of cramps in my calves. Anyone who has raced much knows that once you’ve dug yourself into this hole, there’s no climbing back out. I started taking in a lot more water hoping to keep the situation from getting worse.
On the final lap, I started to feel a little better even though I was still dealing with my calves. My energy had returned, and I was feeling like I was racing again instead of just surviving. I started picking off other riders and moved up several places in my class. I was also now familiar enough with the course where I was able to get a flow going in several sections. On the final single-track section, I caught up with one last single-speed rider, Bo Fuller. I pulled by him once we hit the road figuring that I could move up just one more place before we finished. Unfortunately, he returned that favor almost immediately and took off down the rolling double-track. I was unable to spin that quickly and had to concede my temporary 4th place. I ended up finishing in 5th with a time somewhere around 2:04. The mileage was significantly more than the advertised 21; it was closer to 25 for our three laps. Official results can be downloaded from EFTA‘s website (pdf).
I wish I had discovered this race in previous years. It was a fun course and well organized. On top of that, they had a really good raffle afterward where they essentially just gave away a lot of really nice stuff. The only down side to the day was that there was one rider who got hurt badly enough that he left in an ambulance. I hate to see that. Aside from that, we had a great day racing, watching and just hanging out under the NEMBA tent. Thanks to all those who were involved in making this event happen. Next up will be the Pinnacle.