One of the best parts of mountain bike racing is having your friends and teammates cheering, suffering, and reminiscing over a recovery meal right along with you. Today 7 members of Dan’s Comp team competed in the first 2014 race in the South Eastern Regional Championship series (SERC) at Santos Vortex Trails in Ocala, FL. That’s right, us crazy Indiana folk drove 12 hours to race for less than 2 hours. But the hot sun, perfect trail conditions, and camaraderie made it so worth it we’re already talking about coming back next year.
As the first race of the year it’s always hard to know what to expect from yourself. Yes I’ve been riding, lifting, and sweating through hot yoga but there’s no training like racing and you never know who you might be up against. We knew we’d be fighting for the hole shot with Floridians, who not only get to ride year round, but at this course in particular, it makes a huge difference to know the best lines like the back of your hand. Santos, as with Florida is a flat course in the realm of mountain biking. Certainly no mountains in sight and only a handful of shift-worthy climbs over the 5.5 mile course. Santos offers up some breezy, twisty miles as well as multiple primo technical sections that are reminiscent of our familiar Scales Lake Park and O’bannon State Park trail systems. This was definitely a trail ‘in my wheel house’ as they (who?) say. So as the first race of the season, on a new trail, against unknown competitors I was able to keep the pressure off my mind. We always talk about the jolt of adrenaline that shoots into your gut when you think about lining up for the start, even for just a second! Sometimes it creeps in just by looking up your start time, but man oh man if you don’t nip that in the bud you can slide into a full on anxiety attack.
So here it is a gorgeous 80 degree morning in March and not a smidge of panic until I take off and fly into the hole shot, leading a pack of 4 other Cat. 2 women. The first two miles are fast and smooth flats, twisting through the dense woods before transforming into a compact intestinal system with as many quick ups and downs as switchbacks. It’s not often you can hold every position over the course of a race but I managed to do just that. I went from first to last by going off the trail a measly 10 feet! I didn’t have to get off my bike so I was able to latch on to the back of the train of riders and quickly made up a place. Still within sight of the leader, I hoped my technical skills and good memory of the trail would prevail. I think I audibly said “yes!” as I approached the first quick uphill and saw bikes and riders parting like the Red Sea. Male and female riders got half way up the climb, stopped, fell, and quickly moved to clear the trail; clearly in too hard a gear to make the surge. I was now up to 3rd place. I powered through the technical stuff by myself for a few miles, mentally rehearsing the sequence of upcoming obstacles and hunting down my female prey. Nearing the last climb of the lap I came upon what I was seeking and once again felt a smile across my face. I saw a female rider standing next to her bike and talking with her man friend. All I heard was, “you can still finish the race and if you do I”ll buy you a new bike”. I may have imagined the last part but that was all the fuel I needed. I yelled, “come on girl, get back on that bike!” as I went by as I hate to see anyone’s race get cut short, though I’m not sure if she did or not. Coming into lap 2 and I’m in 2nd place with the 3rd place rider in earshot. It’s a nice reprieve to have the two miles of winding single track, but the question becomes do I recover here or do I gain some ground? I chose the former and paid for it as I got passed, and then fell back about 20 seconds. I could still see her swooping around the upcoming bends and figured I’d for sure pass her in the rocks, but no such luck. If I had passed her through the technical sections I’m not sure I could have fought off another surge from her and her presumed ‘roadie legs’. I was back in third and alone, but still feeling pretty good. I finally settled in to my ride and really enjoyed the onslaught of rocks, roots, wooden berms, short uphills, and large rock slabs. That last lap I perfected my lines and even began to sing the theme song of our trip, “Everything is awesome” from the Lego Movie.
Breaking out of the dense woods I was depleted, feeling the knife twist in my quads as I stood to power through the last couple rock sections. I wasn’t hurting but I’m not sure I could have pushed much harder. I finished the race smiling with my teammates cheering filling my head and my heart. Third place it was, less than 30 seconds behind second but not too shabby for my first race of 2014. A few of the other Dan’s Comp team made the top five in their age group and we were pleasantly surprised with our ability to represent southern Indiana mountain biking. This served as both a race trip and quick reprieve from the terrible riding conditions that have plagued us for a few too many weeks. I suspect this experience of fabulous weather, superb riding, and exceptional team spirit will carry all of us through the rest of March.