This Sunday marked the 1st singletrack riding I have done in 6 months, as well as the 1st mountain bike race of the year. At first glance you would think this combination would be disastrous. My thinking was that this was mostly likely the case for everyone due to our bad winter and wet spring, and we would be in the same boat. The race, the Do the Rock” mountain bike race was held at the beautiful Rock Cut State Park in Rockford, IL. This race is the local kick-off to the race season, and is a fairly low key race, but attracts some fast racers wanting to test their form before the upcoming big races.

On Friday I got a call from Jason Meshberg of Flatlandina, wanting to know if I was interested in sharing a ride. Since he lives down the road in Lyons, it made perfect sense. I met him at his house around 7:30, we loaded up his car, stopped for some coffee and were on the highway heading west. On the way to the park we saw a caravan of Triple Xr’s on a mission for the first racing and dirt riding of the year. This event was an awesome turn out for the dirtbags, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

I really had no expectations for this race, I was happy just to get out on the dirt on a beautiful day, but as the race start got closer I could feel the butterflies creeping in. There were 90+ riders lined up for the 2 lap sport race that came out to 20 or so miles. We were all to start at the same time, which was going to make for an interesting first few miles. At the start I had teammates Francois, Keith, Alex, and Josh. Hopefully I am not forgetting anyone. We were all lining up towards the rear of the pack, hoping to avoid some of the early carnage, but as the gun went off, race mode kicked in and I was off, weaving through the field trying to make up some spots. Why I didn’t line up towards the front I don’t know. I need to be more aggressive in mountain bike races. I still have this mentality that as soon as the singletrack starts I will just be getting in everyone’s way.

The course started out with a ¼ mile asphalt section the quickly narrowed into a doubletrack section. Reports from the one lap racers were that the course had some big mud holes to negotiate. They were littered along the entire course; some short, and some long that required dismounts and a good bit of running. For the most part the course was in really good shape with a mix of fast doubletrack, tight singletrack and some good climbs.

By the end of the asphalt I was able to move up to mid pack, as we headed onto the dirt. Through the double track I picked off a few more riders before heading into the first section of singletrack. At this point it was a game of follow the leader. I did get a aggressive at one point before a log crossing. I dismounted and used my cross skills to run over the logs, passing several riders with the effort. Next up were the worst sections of mud. These were deep bogs that were trying to rip your shoes off while running. With the running I have been doing this winter I felt pretty strong on my feet as I maxed out the heart rate in the effort. The rest of the lap I found myself riding with a Get a Grip rider. We worked well together catching up to, and passing several riders. The one good thing about starting at the back is there is always another carrot in front of you to chase down. On the last hilly section of lap one I passed three or four additional riders. Everyone seemed to be really suffering, while I was feeling really good on the climb. As lap one finished up, I did a quick water bottle change and was off. Last year I really struggled on the 2nd lap, and was nervous that same back and leg pains would start to creep in. After each mile passed by and there was no major pain I was feeling more confident. Through the 2nd lap I was able to catch 4 or 5 riders, feeling smooth (for me) on the singletrack, and riding aggressively on the climbs. I was running a rigid fork, so I lost a bit of speed on the down hills, however I really feel like I made up for it with efficiency on the climbs and added control on the tight sections.

As I rolled into the finishing shoot I was greeted by Mr. Meshberg, who told I finished about 45 seconds behind him, probably in the Top 10. I couldn’t believe that was the case. I knew I had passed a good share of riders, but I didn’t think that many. Well, Jason was right. I finished 9th overall, and 2nd in my age group. Not a bad result for a poor starting position, and no miles on the dirt this year until the race. For my efforts I walked away with an engraved pint glass, which will get put to good use drinking one of the many tasty Goose Island brews.

My post race assessment was that I actually “raced”. In the past couple of years mountain bike races consisted of me hanging on for dear life, while not trying to take out other riders out, and hopefully finishing the event. The singletrack at Rock Cut isn’t the most technical, but compared to last years race I felt much more comfortable on the technical sections, and raced aggressive at points during the event. Also, if I had started at the front of the pack, maybe I would have been competing for a Top 5 position, who knows.

Also, big props to Paolo, Stiggity and the others that did the 3 lap race. Too much for me to handle this early in the year, but they did a great job, and will be stronger because of their efforts. And thanks to the promoters; the line for registration was long, but the race was run really well, and the door prizes were also a nice touch (I now have enough Gel for the season).