Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hop Brook Dam MTB Race 2016- Late Recap

I think this is the 4th year I've come to this race with my son Evan, and now the third with his friend Shane and dad John. I attempted a pre-ride earlier in the week, but two-inches of snow hid most of the tracks, so I followed the reverse as described by Kurt D, the race organizer, on the phone, but lost the sharp left up the second major climb halfway in. I managed to ride some of the route, and entirely miss the rest.

The Cat 3 race was at 2 and the Cat 2 race was at 9. I wanted to start the year trying Cat 2, but didn't want to be at Hopbrook all day waiting for everyone else. So Cat 3 it was. I was riding my new used Tallboy Carbon frame. I traded in my 2015 black beauty for a year older white frame that is considerably less stunning to look at, but riding is another story. It feels stiffer and faster by quite a bit. It has carbon Easton wheels, and an Xfusion Slant 110/140mm fork. The AM fork would add some weight to my otherwise ultra-svelte ride, but I ride hard and I was looking forward to the DH head angles as I bomb downhills with disregard. It seems like my most recent fox forks leaked quite a bit and had to go home to the mother ship earlier than one would have expected... But now I had a 34mm stantion fork, I thought it might hold up better. Unlike my talas, where I only shorten travel on the climb, this would default to short travel except for long DH runs. Time to put theory to the test...

Starting out. We left our house at 11, ready to roll, and all four of us pretty smooth with the routine of loading and provisioning by now.  As we rolled through Naugatuck, Shane pointed out the sign "He Is Risen" and was asking about grammar and tense. There was a running joke We is arrived... lol etc.

 Evan had done a 10k trail run the week before to get ready for the race, combined with soccer, track and being 13 was enough ...meanwhile I had been carefully tracking my rides to make sure I was close to physically ready to explode when the whistle blew. The trails was relatively dry considering that the snow had only just melted. I was greeted with a hug from Sue (Kirk's mom) from Amity bikes as I picked up my number plate, and was glad to see Guy, (but only spoke briefly)... he was busy playing bikes with his grand-daughter. So I was glad to see his priorities were straight. John and Katie were there for more Rad support and John had just finished the Cat 1 race. He said Zak was still out on the course. I looked for Aubrey, but didn't see him, though he raced Fat. Lately the Hop Brook Dam race is more like a bike family reunion, with uncle Kirk coming in from his 5 grueling fast laps to flip burgers while waiting for all the other Cat 1 racers to finish.

The new Rad n Gnar kits looked awesome, but for some reason mine never has all that extra fabric around the torso that John Bien's does... (see pic).

 The first call to line up for the race came as I was watching the cat 1/pro racers get the free burgers, and ice cold free IPAs. I kind of felt like skipping the race part and just going for the burgers and beer in case they were gone by the time I was done. 

We lined up, and I saw a few familiar faces from years before. Most in the age group I came from (40-49), and a couple from my own group. Somehow I made the front line as I usually do. 30 seconds. 15 seconds.... 

GO. I fizzled more than exploded... We took off in reverse route up toward the previous year's finishing DH.  I was passed before we got to the hill. I think I had some nerves holding me up from being aggressive. A rider two people in front of me inconveniently fell and everyone left behind me passed running straight up the climb. I was second to last at this point.  I recovered at the hill top and hit my pace passing several riders as we approached the DH. Everyone seemed as fast. The first place and second place guys were in sight, but just barely they broke and we were caught behind the slower mob. Eventually, I caught one racer just after the road section and followed another around the corner under the power-lines to the first climb. I had calmed down by then my heart and breathing returned to manageable, and I passed several riders who had dismounted to push the steep gravel climb.   

At his point, I wasn't sure who was in which age group but  I remember passing last year's series winner on the inside as we crested the top. My lungs hurt. But no matter how far he pushed inside, I went deeper into the brush and continued around him. Once past, there was the DH. I opened up my front fork and gained some distance and recovered some wind. I was hoping to catch the first two guys, but they were pretty far ahead. The next climb was a long winding trudge littered with slower riders and pushing racers. AS you'd turn the corner and look for the hill to lighten-up, it would only look steeper until the next level you could not see. But when you managed to pedal those few last strokes to that point, the hill continued farther up to the next bend. But when I finally crested, I found it had an even better DH off the back toward the road and dam spillway. I gained some time it appeared and I saw the first two riders having problems in the rock garden at the top of the climb to a thin strip of rocky single track leading back toward the dam.

There was a young kid in front who would not yield for the other racers, so I was able to catch up a bit closer, and met the kid at an opening where passing was not a factor or loss in time. I ended the first lap following a slightly younger roadie, who said it was his first mountain race. I was drafting him through the start and recovering for the next lap. People were yelling "we've got a race", but I had no intention of passing. I drafted to the base of the start hill where the rider fell on the start. The younger roadie dismounted and ran up it and I rode up the right. He was fast and kept his lead, but not for long. He yielded as we hit the flat before the downhill.

I think this is the point where I passed last year's Hop Brook winner from Laurel. I didn't recognize him at this point and thought he was in another age group. I still thought I was in third place.  I was quickly passed by a quick 20-30 year old. As we hit the the DH I told him he better go fast if he's going to pass me here. He did. He totally smoked me on the straight 200 yard rooty descent to a hairpin turn at the bottom. I was recovered and pissed so went as fast as I could to try to catch him. No brakes. How could he be that much faster when I'm not slowing at all? Anyway its moments like that that put you farther ahead of those who don't have a rabbit such as that to chase. I felt comfortable in my pace as we hit the road stretch and began to prepare mentally for the approaching round of climbs. One can only prepare so much... I was dying after the first climb at the water bar when I rounded a dog-leg turn toward the steep climb to the crest, but I caught a glimpse of both the last season's series champ, and the Laurel guy coming up behind me with more energy than I thought I had. Within about 20 feet. I doubled-down, lungs and legs burned, super dizzy. But suddenly I was in the DH and I lost them from sight... until the next climb, they were slightly farther behind and I was slightly faster up. This climb I had more space between us rounding the top as my back and stomach were sore from breathing so hard. I passed my son Evan on this climb and then my friend John. John held my rear wheel for a while, but then as I gapped on the Downhill, the Laurel guy passed him. We ended this section of DH through a stream. I heard someone yelling don't slow-down here. But the Laurel guy behind me slowed and it in the stream and everyone disappeared behind me.

 I gained about 30 seconds on that group and was all by myself. I was wondering if I was in third or fourth. But then as I hit the single-track rock techs on the side of the spillway, there was the Laurel guy gaining ground as he approached across the flat field below. There was another (same?) kid who didn't want to Yield like last lap. But this time he seemed to be trying to hold me up. I took a chance on a mech and went deep into the woods and brush around him without slowing down. I think he swore at me, though I wasn't even close to him. Just the thought of not being able to block me probably steamed him, as I 've noticed with a lot of little racers. I was careful not to pedal until the crunching stopped in the rear wheel and I was pretty sure the twigs had cleared themselves.

Then to my surprise I passed a guy who I thought was way off the front as he pushed his bike and swore. His chain snapped! I said are you okay? but I thought, Lucky me! I was really encouraged and climbed up the gravel/tar? to the dam with new power standing as I sprinted, glancing back to see the Laurel guy looking at me in dismay from below. I think he was hoping to catch me on the road climb and across the dam. My drivetrain was working flawlessly, and I had some legs left to try to power away. My new build has been working well thus far.

I think I may have realized he was in my age group after all and was the guy who killed me by minutes last year. But now on the DH nobody could touch me, or so I felt. I opened up entirely, enjoying being heckled by a couple of Biens, and Fabien E. who was menacing me with a giant stick in the middle of the trail! I hit the finish and was quickly joined the Laurel guy who I only beat by 10 seconds.

It was such a fun race! I went to get a free beer, and the only thing left was a few Anchor Steams.... Not shabby. I had more in the car. Then I remembered Evan. I went back and waited with my phone to take his pic as he finished racing in against a Team Edge racer.
I wonder how I did. Nobody knew. I went to the car and got more beer for John and myself. The results had a problem and seemed to take forever.

Evan and Shane came in and ate 3 hamburgers each. There were none left for me. But then someone came up and said the results were posted and I won! WOW!!! that was unexpected. I never even placed better than 4th at Hop Brook!!!

Chris Logan announced "And the long overdue in age and races, first place: Tom Ghoreyeb!" I was flattered that he even knew my name, or noticed my years of drought there at Hop Brook. And it was the state Championship!!!  I could not believe it. The only way it could have been better is if there was cash in addition to the cool Hop Brook MTB Race T-shirt I won. And it actually fit!

After I podiumed the icing on the cake was Evan. He finished 2nd in his group! 

And so the season continues....