Race Report: 12 Hours in the Wild West

 

Though I was traveling quite a bit for work in the weeks leading up to the race, I was able to put in some quality training time on both the bike and snowshoes.
Snowshoeing UT with Happy Feet

I was expecting my new Pivot LES to be built up by race day, but there was a delay from Chris King with my hubs.

New Weapon

Craig at Industry Bikes graciously offered up his wheelset so that I could race the LES. After careful consideration however, I decided it was not meant to be. I wasn’t sure if I’d have time for a proper shakedown ride before the race. An improper saddle height, stem length, etc., no matter how trivial, is amplified during an endurance race. I chose to have one last hurrah on the Selma.

I made my way to NM after work that Thursday. The worlds greatest pit crew, a.k.a. Skocich and my kids, couldn’t make this race due to multiple commitments, not the least of which was helping with a fundraiser for my nieces diabetes camp. Happy Feet came along for the ride though.

I chose not to camp at the race venue, opting instead to work out of my hotel on Friday. I was fortunate that I had a small window during lunch to get in a good pre-ride and even more fortunate that I got to ride with 92Fifty’ Cyclery riders Brian Sells and Leslie Handy!

 

Brian Sells, photo by Leslie Handy

After one lap with these guys, I got a real taste of what race day would be like. The predication? Pain. At 1,700ft of vertical gain per lap, running a 32×19 was just plain stupid.

The 7:00am race start came quick. It was chilly, but we were greeted with an amazing sunrise.

We started out and almost immediately hit the singletrack. I stayed with the chaser group for the first few miles. I knew there were 2 singlespeeders ahead of me, so I tried to keep them in sight. I followed my typical race plan and stayed on top of my fueling/hydration. I was fueling with 4 3hr bottles of Hammer Sustained Energy.

I was in 3rd after the 2nd lap and would remain in that position for the rest of the race. As is typical with Zia Rides events, the vibe is always positive. One really cool thing they did for this race was to give you an update of your standing as you came through the timing tent. For someone who’s pit crew was a stuffed penguin, that intel was a huge relief!

The other really fun aspect of this race (besides the 98% singletrack!), were the volunteers. The course was staffed with EcoServants, an AmeriCorps group. Some of which had never witnessed a mountain bike race before.

Talk about being in the spirit, these guys and girls had us racers smiling for miles. One in particular, left an impression on me that will forever be burned into my memory. While grunting up the last big climb of lap number 4, I was defeated and slowed to an absolutely crawl. Just as I could see the apex of the hill, there she was at the top, in the middle of the trail, squatting like a weightlifter doing squats, arms waving in an upward motion. Slowing gesturing me up the hill. I couldn’t hear, but her lips seemed to mouth “c’mon, c’mon.” Maybe I imagined the whole damn thing, but I tell you, she willed me up that climb and I am forever grateful to her and the other volunteers of this race.

By the 5th lap, I was seriously questioning my goal of 7 laps (last year’s winning number). Most of the climbing was on the first 5 miles of the course. My slow grinds on the tall gear were brutal. Strong, steady headwinds made it absolutely demoralizing. After the race, I rider, I didn’t catch his name, had one of the best quotes of the day: “Why is that when you’re riding into a headwind, you feel like you’re the only one suffering? Surely no one else is feeling the same pain.”

Though I was slowing down, my pace was still pretty consistent. I knew I would have time for a 7th lap. The question was, would it matter? Memories of OP still fresh in my mind, I resounded to the fact that I would go out for a 7th lap, no matter what position I was in. Still believing I was in 3rd, I crossed through the timing tent for one more lap, despite every muscle in my body screaming to lay down in the dirt.

As I came through, they announced I was in 2nd. Thinking 3rd was right behind me, I burned every last match I had. That was one of the hardest 14 miles I’ve ever ridden. Reluctantly pedaling into the fierce winds, the flats were every bit as difficult as the climbs, but I was not willing to relent, convinced that 3rd was right on tail.

I came across the finish line in 2nd place with a lap time 15 minutes longer than my first lap. Turns out….I was racing a ghost that last lap. 3rd place packed it in after 6 laps and was not chasing me after all. It would be Brian Sells (1st place solo male) who would have THE quote of the day: “NEVER QUIT!”

I gorged on pizza and waited to watch Brian Sells finish. As he approached the finish, I was surprised to see Leslie Handy right on his wheel. Leslie had some major mechanicals earlier in the race and was looking pretty battered when I last saw him in the pit. Major kudos to Leslie for rallying and finishing strong. Perhaps the best image of the weekend however, was seeing Brian’s 12yr old daughter sprinting to greet her dad, grinning ear to ear, as the announcer proclaimed he was the first place finisher. That moment pretty much summed up what racing is like….pure joy.

 Final Results: 2nd place Solo Male Singlespeed, 98 miles, 11,900 ft total climbing

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