Rider Diaries

Battle The Bear, by Chris Key

Battle of the Bear
Sunday morning I woke up to a soar throat and a stuffy nose for the third day in a row. I wasn’t very excited to start my MTB season at less than 100%, but I was willing to push through the pain and get out there. After five months without racing I was pretty nervous and anxious to see if my training had paid off. After a slow start to the morning I packed up the car made my way to the race venue. We got a great parking spot next to five teammates and the team tent. We all went together to get out numbers, then had about 30 minutes to kill. We all made sure our bikes were working well, got a small snack, and got in our kits.
By the time we had done all that it was time to start our warmup. We found a road to warm up on next to the course. It was close enough to cheer for the racers while we were between intervals. It was very impressive to see nearly 20 Tokyo Joe’s riders warming up in unison. But in no time it was time to head back to the start, and go to staging. I grabbed my race bottles and took off a layer of warm clothes in preparation of the hard start that went immediately into a short but steep climb.
Once the 17-18 category started we rolled up to the line. We started, and immediately I had dropped everyone except one kid. After a few minutes went by I let him pass so I could draft him. Soon after we caught the back of the 17-18 year old race. I was feeling pretty strong even though I was under the weather, but I didn’t know if I could drop him so I just sat on his wheel. For the rest of the lap the name of the game was passing. The course was almost completely single track, which makes it fun but also hard to get around the other racers.
We mostly struggled to pass on all the climbs. The trail was thin, and it was either impossible to ride around, or extremely rough and bumpy. When we did pass on the climbs, I had a harder time than the guy I was drafting. This was because of how small the opportunities to pass were. At best we had around a bike length of trail where it was wide enough to pass, so I had to stay super close and let who were were passing know there were two of us. We were lucky that we didn’t get flats by passing on grass. There were goat heads everywhere, and rocks covered in grass that could have easily made us crash if we hit one.
We made it to the start finish without incident, and to my surprise I still wasn’t working too hard. It helped that I drafted the whole lap, but I expected to be barely holding onto his wheel because I was sick. We stayed at the same pace for a couple more minutes until he looked back to see me a couple bike lengths back. He accelerated thinking I was blowing up, but I was really just grabbing a sip of water. I responded immediately and got onto his wheel as soon as possible. I still was well within my limits and with less people to pass we were able to keep our speed nicely.
Then for a while we slowly speeded up until we got to the final climb. As we hit the gentle start of the climb I noticed my competitor look back twice. When we got to the first switch back he looked back one more time. I knew he would attack, so I prepared for a hard acceleration. As predicted he accelerated after the switch back. I didn’t let any gap form, to show that I wasn’t going to give up easily. As we came over the climb I was still glued to his wheel. I knew I was stronger, so I planed where I would attack. After evaluating where he was weakest I decided on the same spot I used to launch a winning attack the year before. From that point my only task was to stay within striking distance.
Everything went to plan except for a few people that I had a hard time passing, but I was able to stay on his wheel and soon it was time to attack. The attack started with a hard acceleration. I was able to make it past him in the perfect spot, but as I got onto the bridge I came across a problem. There was a line of four juniors in the 10-12 category on the single file bridge. My attack was ruined. I passed as soon as possible, and went ahead with the attack even though there was no surprise left to benefit me. I stomped on the pedals as hard as possible, and burried myself to get away. After a couple hundred yards I looked back and say him falling of the pace. I kept up the pace, and didn’t let up until I came into the finish area. I crossed the line and was greeted by my family and teammates. I had made a 12 second gap in less than a mile, and felt as though I could have kept it up for another lap. Later I compared my times from the year before to this years and was astonished to find that I went six minutes faster.
It was reassuring to know that my extremely hard work is paying off. I really stepped up the training and it showed in the race. I wasn’t sure the changes and more strict following of my schedule would make that much of a difference, but it did and now I’m thinking this could be my year.

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