2009 Hodges Dam MTB Race Team Report - 8-2-09
The conditions mainly overcast with some occasional sun and it was warm and humid with temps in the 80’s. The trails were tacky in many spots with a number of mud pits, large water puddles and one crazy deep water crossing.
The course was a 6.6 mile long 550’ of vertical per lap. There were no big climbs but there were a few steep scrambles. It was primarily rolling terrain with fast, flowing, twisty, bermed, dirt-bike created single-track coupled with rooty, rocky single-track connected together by sections of access road. The course had some mud-puddles in the deep bermed sections as well as a floating, slick, bridge of doom that you had to wade out and step up onto, at which point it submerged into the murky water. There was also a 50 yard long section of water that was nearly 3’ deep as well as a couple large, deep, high speed access road puddles. Overall though, the remainder of the course was remarkably dry given the recent rain. The course was a total body workout for sure.
Cat3 did two laps, Cat2 did three laps, Cat1 and Pro did four laps.
Excellent work everyone on a very, very interesting course. Stellar NEBC results for all and congrats to Juan on completing his first MTB race. This was also the MA State Championships so we have a number of podium finishes for that competition as well.
- Cris Rothfuss – (Pro/Cat1 Women – 2nd/2nd State)
- Michael Rowell – (Cat1 Men 40-49 – 2nd/2nd State)
- Scott Brooks – (Cat1 Men 30-39 – 4th/3rd State)
- Norm Collard – (Cat2 Men 50-59 – 2nd/2nd State)
- Janet Ramos – (Cat3 Women 35+ – 3rd/3rd State)
- Juan Ramos – (First Timer 19+ – 5th)
I’m sure that Mike has nicely summarized the course, but a few things need to be emphasized. At times during the race, I felt as if I was participating in a Japanese game show. The bridge was floating and partially submerged. It sank, swayed from right to left, and teeter-tottered end-to-end as you progressed along its length. The gap between the shoreline and each end of the bridge was several feet across and the water was nearly knee-deep. Oh, and the wood was slick, slick, slick. I cracked a joke to several spectators while trying to stay upright, and they promised to set it on fire for my next lap to increase the ridiculousness value. As for the deepest water traverse (about 50 yards long), the water was over the top of my wheels. Basically, I was riding a bike that was underwater. And these were only two of the more, um, unusual aspects of the course. Truth be told, it was fun. Oh, the race. Well, Mo Bruno and I were the only women in the Pro/Open field, and we had no company from any Expert women. So they sent us off with the older masters. This turned out to be great. Much of the first part of the race is fast, flowy single-track, and Mo and I were mixed in with the guys. The pace felt great to me, but was probably a bit slow for Mo. As a result, I got to keep her in sight for about 20 minutes. And then I over-cooked a corner, slid out, jammed a foot down and rolled my ankle. It hurt like a son-of-a-gun and it took me awhile to shake it off and decide whether I could/should keep pedaling. In the end, I decided that it was going to swell anyway, so I should finish the race. That meant another two hours of trying to go fast while alone, but I think I rode reasonably hard and got a nice workout in. And I got to ride my bike through a lake four times.
I decided to get to the race early, bring two bikes and ride my non-race bike on an exploratory warm up lap. I also waited to register until after the pre-ride, in order to decide which race to do. I had three options, Pro/Cat1 Open (which I’ve been racing all year and was slated for 5 laps but which ended up only doing 4 laps), Cat1 40-49 (which I raced last year, would have a ton of good guys in it and was slated for 4 laps) or Cat1 Single-Speed Open (most of the guys moved on to the Pro/Cat1 Open race this season as the regular race wasn’t brutal enough).
After the pre-ride I decided 4 laps was enough and although the SS was enticing on this course, I opted for the Cat1 old folks. On the line we had many of the old cast and crew of Master’s tough guys including JB., Marky G., Johan, Brian M. and Brian R. as well as a bunch of others I didn’t know. I was excited to see how I’d do against the guys.
The start was sane and I settled into the back of the lead group of five. Once we hit the single-track the pace bumped and gaps started forming which meant the leader, JB, was getting further away from me. I started making passes and before too long climbed into 2nd. Unfortunately there was a sizable gap to 1st which I spent most of the next lap closing down. When I caught JB I went to the front and started setting tempo. I much prefer to lead and set my pace than to follow someone else and let them dictate. This was working well and I was getting some good digs in on the bumpy and technical stuff and lead for the next lap. Unfortunately right at the base of the first uphill scramble a stick lodged in my front wheel/fork and launched me over the bars. JB was able to move ahead and also got by a lapped rider. Although I didn’t lose much time at all, the lapped rider proved key as we were in a technical single track section where I was unable to pass and the other rider struggled and bobbled a couple of times. A sizable gap formed. I spent the rest of the race trying to close it as JB spent the race burying himself to open it. On the final access road stretch he had a good hundred yards on me but I could see that he was suffering and continually looking back under his shoulder. I gave it everything my cramping legs could muster but was still 5 seconds back at the line.
What I learned from this race was that being competitive totally changes ones outlook. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to race at the front of a field vs. some where in the middle and also how much fun it is to try and employ tactics in an MTB race vs. just trying to survive and finish.
Hodges Dam, Mass State Championships. This race was highlighted on my calendar for months. I grew up in the area, so aside from all the glories that would be showered on whom ever became State Champion, I had the opportunity to return to my childhood area. The night before the race, I read a report from a friend who identified several areas of the course as flooded. Hmm, perhaps the race I’ve been looking forward too isn’t the best idea. Hours of internal debate and I decide to race.
Arriving at the course, the promoter mentions how the flooded areas have drained significantly and now the sections in question are “only” up to his ankles. Walking back to my car, Mike Rowell was returning from a lap on the course. Seems the promoter was optimistic regarding the drainage, the course was still very much under water. Game time!
Lining up, I notice that there are a total of 12 riders in my category, and some very fast guys. A good start was going to be important, as the course is flat and fast for the first half mile. As the whistle blows I fumble with my pedal and roll off the line very slowly. I continue to have issues with my pedal for the first 20 feet and as quick as the whistle blew, I’m at the pack of the group. A big
difference between roadies and fat tire riders, is a roadies comfort being next to other riders. On this non-technical, fast section, I casually needle my way to the front of the group and take my place
second in line. At the first climb, I notice that a small gap has formed behind me and I am riding smoothly in second. It’s going to be a long race, so I decide to just sit in for awhile and let someone
else pull me. Out of no where, I start catapulting over my bike and land on the ground. WTF! I pick myself and my bike up and glance over it. Everything looks fine, but man my ankle hurts. I remount
and start to pedal, but the chain has come off. I dismount and look at it. The whole time I have a weird out of body sensation. Noticing that the chain has come off the outside of the chain-ring and is
dislodged from the derailleur, I start to put everything back. With the chain snapping into place, my mind snaps back into the race. Back on my bike and I’m racing again, now in last, not second. The next three laps see lots of riders and I make my way back up the pack. One of the biggest downsides in MTB racing, is you almost never know where you are. Rider numbers are located on the front of bikes and with so many fields on the course at once, it’s impossible for racers or spectators to keep track of position in a back, unless you are first.
On the last lap a rider bridges up to me. I quickly ask him what field he’s in, because if he’s in another field, I will let him pass on his way. He acknowledges that he’s in my field and we’ve got a race on!!! We work our way through a swoopy section of the course and come to the final riser. This is a bit technical, with a left and right path around a lone tree. The right path is a bit longer, but the left path has large roots at the top, making a dismount required. I jump off my bike and start to run the right path, and I see the rider take the left. We are keeping pace with each other up this rise, when he stops to dismount. At this point, the right path lets me get back on my bike and I put a 30 second super interval in. I gap the rider and with me out of sight start to pedal for everything I have. On the road section I glance over my shoulder and confirm that the gap is large and I’m out sight. Not content to let him get back to me, I continue to hammer all the way to the line. Final result, 4th place in my field, 3rd Mass finisher.
Turns out there is a medal for first, but there’s also a medal for third! No confirmation from the guy who won on whether he’s been showered in glories or not, but I’m pretty stoked that in my first
season of cat 1 racing, I’ve got a nifty state championship medal.
Racing Cat 2 has one advantage – late race start time of 2pm allows plenty of time the day of race to get ready. Overcast skies but no rain other than a very light drizzle made for pretty good racing conditions. Arrived at Hodges Dam at 12:30pm. Suited up, chatted with a few people and got a briefing on the trail hazards…so, decided with over an hour to kill, to pre-ride the course; hit the trails a little after 1pm and rode a nice easy steady pace to check out the “hazards”. About a mile into the course, at the bottom of a hill, come to a water way about 10 yds wide with a floating wood bridge. Required by race officials to dismount and walk across. As you step on the bridge, it submerges about 6-10 inches. Pretty wild. A short steep climb with loose dirt comes up next and I notice experts are dismounting and trotting up. I do the same as the loose dirt would be too much of grind on the legs to attempt to ride. Single track is relatively fast and non-technical and is connected with some fire roads. After a 15 yd mud bug, and a short climb comes the deep water way about 40 yds long and 18-24” deep but rideable. A couple more 6-10” deep and 20 yd long puddles on fire roads and dry fast single track. Finish the loop with about a 1/2 mile fire road to S/F field. Finish the warmup lap and check my computer that reads 6.5 miles (not the 5.5 mi per race flyer).. Cheered on Mike Rowell and Scott Brooks on the course racing Cat 1 during warmup lap.
Line up with the Cat 2 50+: 8 of us total. Start begins with about 1/2 mile of fire road and a short climb into single track. One guy goes off fast and puts about 10 yds on me as I follow him in 2nd place into the single track. About a mile into race, I’m holding him at about 10 yds ahead of me, he flats. “That sucks buddy”. I’m now in 1st place with only a mile into the race. 1st lap goes relatively smoothly, dismounting for the floating bridge, 2 steep climbs and the mud bog. Finish 1st lap in a little over 31 minutes. Not bad. Meanwhile, no sight of 2nd place guy and I’ve passed at least a dozen juniors and the slower 40-49 racers from the 2 previous start waves.
Have a few difficulties in 2nd lap with a couple of hard falls including an “endo” in a mud hole. No damage to me or bike but slows me down a bit. 2nd lap time was 34 minutes…mainly due to the several crashes and remounting and getting bearings back. Into the 3rd lap and after the fire road into the short steep climb into the single track, “SNAP!” my chain brakes. F$@%!! Feeling great one minute and the next minute, totally deflated. Fortunately, I carried by multi-tool and spare sram link. Have some difficulty getting the link to “snap” into place. Flip the bike over and start pedaling hoping to use the torque to snap in. Instead, chain comes apart. Fortunately, sram links are still on. Reconnect but again can’t snap in. Damn!!! Meanwhile a dozen or so racers come by. A good 11 minutes before I see the 2nd place guy in 50+ come by. What to do….DNF? I’m only a 1/2 mile or so from the S/F. No, let’s try again. Flip bike over and pedal easy for 20-30 seconds and a couple of hard torques on the pedals….chain is holding. Now I hear a clicking sound like a broken spoke. Stop again and look, no broken spoke but can’t quite locate where noise is coming from. Decide to live with it. Figure the 50+ race leader has about 3 min on me and 5+ miles to go.
Okay, back into race mode…chain is holding okay. I start catching and passing racers again. HR is pegged at 165. Legs feel good after the 15 minute mechanical stop. No crashes or mechanicals the rest of the way. With about a mile to go I think I see my race leader at the top of a hill…maybe 200 yds ahead of me. Push a little harder for the final mile…doing 21mph on last dirt road stretch. Finish but didn’t catch race leader. Nonetheless, confident I finished 2nd in 50+ Cat. Given the 15 min stop, not too bad. Clean up and check results. Sure enough, 2nd place, only 28 seconds behind 1st place. Damn….so close…needed another 1/2 mile. Oh well. Frustrated on the one hand but happy I finished as I came close to throwing in the towel. Finished with a time of 1:53 and change. Without mechanicals, would have been around 1:38 I figure. That would have given me 1st place with a good 15 minutes ahead of 2nd place. As always, glad I raced. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to chat with Mike or Scott after their race but had to line up for mine fairly quickly after they finished.
Before the race I was told that the parking lot (aka grassy field) was under water a week ago today whick made me appreciate that I only had to ride through 4 water bars, one of which was 1 1/2 feet deep with a little dip at the end. The other water crossing was at a floating bridge that was submerged yet floating. There was lots of swoopy single track, a few fire roads, and tons of rocks and roots on the trail as well. I had not expectations going into the race although I was hoping for a podium spot which I got. :) Juan caught me on the first lap as I wiped out and it rattled my cage a bit (I was whining about it for a while). He was my rabbit inspiration for the rest of the 1st lap as I do better trying to catch someone else. At the end of the 1st lap I rode away from him and I caught up to another woman in my race (different age category). 2/3 of the way through the 2nd lap I caught her and passed her because I found a little bit of energy somehow. To quote Cris Rothfuss from one of her race reports, I began to find my ‘competitive side’ at the end of the 2nd lap (it’s been dormant for a while). This mountain biking thing is foreign to me but I am partially doing it to get up my nerve for cyclocross which is coming up soon. I am glad that I am venturing out of the box a bit (from road) to riding in the dirt—it will make me a better road rider and it already has from doing just 2 mountain bike races. Also, apparently I qualified to go to nationals at Mt. Snow which is next weekend but I am not sure if I will go as a few folks told me today that the course is brutal. Who knows, maybe I will go for more torture in the dirt.