Holy smokes a mountain bike race on Saturday! Finally, a race falls on Mother’s day weekend forcing the race God’s to schedule a Saturday Race. So whats wrong with Sunday races? How about the big let down of the usual long drive home only to have to get up and head to the office the next day. You know you’ve all felt the same way.
Ah the month of May, a month where the weather can be unpredictable. It’s also the month of one of the largest mountain bike races in the Northeast. For me, this was my fourth year in a row racing this event and third year in Expert. It’s only an hour away and the trails are always super fun and have great flow. Also, don’t expect the same course ever. It changes every year. Distance and direction changes to keep you on your toes.
If you’re partaking in the points series, I should also note this is a race where points are at a premium. Do well here and steal some tough points and you’ve got yourself a decent head start on the series on your rivals. The best 7 of 9 points totals from your races are counted towards the overall.
I drove in with my fellow large legged buddy and NEMBA Racing teammate Andrew Schnellinger. (Yes, the rubbing on his new S-Works stays are from his legs.) I know it sounds ridiculous, but true. Andrew and I live only about a mile or so from each other so we’ve been building and riding the local trail network all season. The mood during the drive over to Ipswich MA wasn’t too upbeat. Neither of us had much in the lines of expectations. Of course I’ve heard that from him before. I took him down to the Burlingame mountain bike TT in April and he crushed it with an elite like result. So I was expecting the same at the Willow.
As far as my expectations for the day? I could have flipped a coin. 15 pre registered and one day of registrant. Non familiar names, with the exception of that DeVincent guy, this was not last years race. Vet II stole a few, Colorado took another, Elite took a couple more. Course was being run in reverse, same as 2011, which was a detractor for me. Weather was in my favor, conditions were perfect. Even a few drops of rain fell while we were out on course, bonus! I had my new Scalpel, and no expectations for the day. During my warm up I found myself talking to myself. So, whats it going to be today? Good legs? Bad?
The starting line. Maybe the only good thing about Expert Vet I is the start. We don’t get 25 guys lining up at the start blowing themselves up for the top 5 into the woods. You can keep track of the boys that are out in front fairly easily. As we moved up for the start I said to Carl, check it out, I’ve got the sweet hard pack single track ribbon under my wheel. He then proceeded to move up to the front row and move me out of the way. Now I was on field grass with corn stalks that rip derailleurs off bikes. Thanks man.
Carl not holding back at the start.
So we’re off, a fairly long stretch of double track meets us and continues for about a mile. Zero to 22 miles an hour out of the start. Careful drafting would ensue for that mile. Carl and Andrew were around fourth and fifth wheel as I sat around tenth position into the first single track section. To my surprise the group was all together but you could see a small fraction from time to time starting to form with the rider in 6th position. I could still see the leaders at all times.
I wasn’t feeling terribly taxed coming out of that first section and most of the group was still intact. Maybe 12 of 16 still in the mix. I wanted to get to the front before the next section of ribbon. I threw down a hard acceleration on a small incline moving around about four gents and pulled even with Andrew. How you feeling man? I got back something like “not great” not great and hanging in fourth. Not bad I thought. I pulled even with Carl just after and asked him how he was feeling? “Actually, I feel pretty good” he says. As we continue up the incline I feel the speed increase a bit and with Carl just off to my left shoulder I take a glimpse out the back. I yell four. Carl confirms “Four with a couple of stragglers”. He’s always so detailed.
Continuing on the fire road section and Carl yells out sharp left to show he still has feelings for his old NEMBA Racing mate as we enter the second section of single track. At this point I was third wheel and feeling decent. Wait a minute? What was that in front of me? To my astonishment there was a guy on a 26er hard tail! As we all have known for years now in the New England 26″ bikes are all but extinct, and probably should be outlawed for use due to the dangers they create during the races. Anyway this would not last long as his inferior contact patch would wash out on a downhill sweeping right turn burping his tire and sending him for a ride into the tick infested New England brush. In the process though the 2nd place rider also had to take evasive action and pull off course to avoid the same fate.
Well, just like with NASCAR avoiding the crashes and keeping your ride intact is half the race. I found myself in first position with Carl on my wheel. Together again, only this time he didn’t pass. We continued at a fairly brisk pace and I believe got separation from any remaining riders. Plenty more single track would follow and I just kept the pedals turning waiting for the only climb on the course. I knew what climb it was but was unaware where it was. It was the same climb from 2011 which I hated. Carl was not far back when he let me know that it was coming up. Left Turn and the climb starts shortly after. The climb was punchy at the beginning, but survivable to the top. Carl would be back on my wheel.
During a quick up into a loose marbles sharp lefty. Carl took an outside line and decided he wanted to get off his bike. Maybe his only mistake of the day? I asked if he was ok and he said yes so I continued on, fully expecting to see him grab my wheel on the next double track. I think that was the last time I would see him.
Eric Marro with the Chain Gang feed zone support.
I rode the rest of the race passing the remnants of the earlier fields and somewhere mid lap two I would pass teammate Mark Tucker who took 4th on the day in the single speed division.
My day was not done though. With about two miles to go and not long after passing Mark, my lack of road miles this year started to show. Endurance I thought was suspect heading into the day and that would certainly come to fruition. My right inner quad was cramping. I was sitting in first as nobody had passed me. I found myself trying to work through it. Shift up, shift down. Nope, still not helping. Only thing I could do was let up on the gas. Tank was about empty anyway. Just prior to the final punchy little climb I could see out of the corner of my eye another rider. As he passed, I didn’t recognize him. I couldn’t follow, just watched. He was going pretty good. As we hit the last fire road I watched him disappear. I crossed the line with the suspension locked (so I could pedal standing up like on my single speed) so my quad wouldn’t cramp 2nd place on the day and with the 4th best time in Expert overall. Results here
Who was that guy that caught me? Alexandre Frappier, a three-time Quebec Cup Masters Champion and currently races on the Opus national Cross-Country team.