There are two ways to approach a race when racing at an elite level:
1. stay within your comfort level and pace yourself
- this method can have great results, however your comfort level probably isn't going to get you on the podium
- this method more than likely needs to be employed if you want to finish on the podium at an elite race because your going to have to ride outside your comfort level
Friday evening was a quick introduction to caliber of riders at the Whiskey 50 this year. The fat tire crit was held downtown as a spectator event on a brutal circuit. If you want to race the 50 mile cross-country on Sunday you have to race the crit. I was busy warming up right before the start (in the hope that it wouldn't hurt as much when the gun went off) and I missed the lineup at the start, resulting in having to start at the back of the pack of 100 guys. Having experienced the crit the year before I realized this might be to my advantage in that I would be pulled sooner. My tactic ended up working for the crit, I just sat in and punished myself until I was pulled when the leaders were about to lap. All in all, a good leg and lung blowout in preparation for Sunday.
Saturday I spent the day enjoying Prescott and the trails. I watched the start of the Whiskey 25 that had 700+ competitors (the 50 on Saturday had another 600+). Mountain biking must be growing because I heard rumor that 2,000 people contacted the event to try to register on-site!
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! As soon as we rolled out from town it was apparent that the field was more aggressive than last year. The first 4 miles of the course is on-road, riding peloton style with the pro field. I sat in and waited for the group to explode when the climbing got steep a few miles in. I put in a hard enough effort to make sure that I was in the lead group and not stuck back in the lemmings once we hit the singletrack. I judged correctly and found myself riding in the top 20 and didn't have to deal with too much congestion on the singletrack.
I was right where I wanted to be 15 miles in when I turned on the road to to the Skull Valley out in back. I knew there was an advantage to riding in a pack on the descent down to the turn around at Skull Valley. Luckily I was close to a few other guys and we managed to form a group about halfway down the descent. As we got close to the turn around we passed the lead pack which to my suprise was comprised over over 10 guys and was only about a minute and a half ahead of the pack I was in (the second chase pack). We hit the turn around and I swapped a couple bottles(thanks Dr. Griggs from Alpine Ortho for the awesome support).
We started the twelve mile climb back out of skull valley in a large pack, roadie style, taking pulls at the front. The pace was blistering and a few guys dropped off. I felt like we were riding as fast as you would on flat ground, however we were climbing a substantial grade. I stayed with the pack for about 5 miles of the climb before I recognized that there was no way I could hold the pace up to the top and I dropped off (30 miles in).
My race turned more into a survival ride, especially once I hit the twelve percent grade portion of the climb. I could only watch as I was passed by rider after rider. My legs began to cramp up and I was lucky to make it to the top of the Skull Valley climb without cramping. Once I hit the singletrack, I was treated to some descending, followed by the worst leg cramping I've ever had. I had to get off the bike because my legs locked up, I couldn't even walk! I had to just stand there,grit my teeth and try to get them to unlock, finally after what seemed like a couple minutes I was able to get back on the bike.
Despite that my race had totally blown up, I was still having a great time! Yes, I might be slightly sick if I can still enjoy myself when my legs are seized. I was still out riding my bike and I had put in a good, calculated effort. My goal was to finish in the top 10 (actually more like the top 15 with the caliber of riders present) and I had given myself a chance to do that. In the end my legs didn't have it, but maybe if I had more miles and races on my legs I might have.
If I had the chance to do it over, I would ride the same way again (maybe drop off the roadie pack a little sooner on the climb). I know I can finish mid-pack or better if I ride in my comfort zone (even if I don't have many miles in), however I'd rather take the risk because of the potential reward. After all, in this type of race there is no coming from mid-pack and riding your way into the lead pack.
Thanks to Team Alpine Orthopaedics for the awesome support and great weekend! And nice job to everyone that finished the Whiskey!
And check out the short video recap of the Pro race (nice shoots of Prescott and the course)