Often in racing, the hardest part isn’t the race itself, but the week coming up to the race. Especially true for the first race of the season. Early the week, nerves where high. But by Friday, nerves turned to excitement. When race morning finally came around, I was ready to race!
Too early for a fast start
I have done the Desert RATS Classic once before the year prior. In 2017, the roll out was moderately paced — not too fast, not too slow. I was hoping for the same this year, but no such luck. Immediately, a pack of about six of us where off to the races at a crazy fast pace. This pack included my friend Caleb Reese, a young fast cat of Pedal Pushers Racing. Soon, the pack divided into two. In front, a group of three. Behind, me, Caleb, and another racer.
In this scenario, what usually happens is a fast group of racers start out too hot and fizzle by the end. However, after the first thirty minutes of the lead group still pulling hard, I didn’t want to leave “fizzle” to chance. It was time to start pulling them back in and close the gap. Caleb and I took turns taking pulls to catch up, narrowing our group down to just us.
The goal was to catch up before the first big climb of Zion Curtain trail. This trail is a particularly nasty one with a technical up and down. Since the race is an out of back, you do it both ways as well. As we entered Zion Curtain, we caught a glimpse of the lead group starting up the mountain. We almost hit our goal, but not quite — our chase continued uphill. Caleb was riding strong and started to pull away. Nonetheless, I hold my pace because A) I knew I had it play it smart this early in the race B) there was no way I was holding the young’uns pace. By this time, we were only an hour into a long day.
Get’em on the down
Barely keeping Caleb in site, we swiftly climbed the first big one of the day. It wasn’t until near the top that I finally caught up. As I passed, I told him that we needed to descend like mad men if we wanted rake them in. I took the lead and hold on tight to rip the descent — with a big smile on my face of course. It was time for me to pull away from Caleb. In his defense, he was on a hardtail. In addition, my Trek Top Fuel 9.8 excels on the downhills like an all mountain bike. By the time we reached the bottom, the lead group was still nowhere in sight. Thus, the hunt continued.
Dirt Road Flyin’
After round one of Zion Curtain, it was onto a long rough dirt road section. First up was a steep climb, which at that point I was riding solo and feeling good. Once on top, the trail continues upward, but only with a slight grade. This is where Caleb came out of nowhere and we rode together until the next down descent. Once again, I pull away flying down the mountain. Nearing the midway turnaround point, I kept my eyes open for the top three to calculate the time gap. The first-place racer was riding super strong with a big gap in front — chances were slim to none to catch him. Quite some time past until before I saw second place roll by, and he was only two minutes ahead! Third place soon came by with only a minute gap! I hit the turn-around point ready to climb my way back into top three. It was time to rock ‘n roll!
Zion, Round Two
After chewing up and spitting out the dirt road section going the opposite direction, my competition was still just out of sight. I knew it was going to take a hard effort back up Zion Curtain, and this way was more brutal. I settled into my pain cave, and up I went. Although my physical sight was blurred with pain, my eyes remained on the prize.
Once at the top, still no site of anyone! Although frustrated, this just fueled my determination even more. I had one last chance to catch up by cooking the uber rough Zion Curtain downhill! The key to going fast on the descents is staying low. I kept repeating, “stay low”, to myself as I flew down the mountain. I also repeated, “don’t die” a couple of times for good measure. Near the bottom, after nearly four hours of chasing, I finally saw one of my competitors! We finished Zions Curtain entering the last leg of race riding neck to neck.
The last miles
Within the last hour of the race, it was a cat and mouse game between the two of us. I pulled away on the first section of flats and descents for a while, but he caught me on the last big climb. I knew the race ended with one last descent to another flat section, so all I could do was hold on. I kept him in site, and pushed like hell. Within the last couple of miles, I began to slowly close in my competition. It came down to the last feet and inches as I continued to close the gap. Unfortunately, I still needed a couple of more inches to fully rake him back in. It was only by a mere two seconds that my competition grabbed the top three from my grasp. Second place only had 1:12 on me as well.
No podium, but a huge victory nonetheless
Although I just missed the podium, there wasn’t room for any disappointment. I still beat my personal record by a huge twenty-nine minutes margin! Plus, I couldn’t have been beaten by a nicer guy! Great meeting you Cameron.
To make this kind of progress in one year is a feat I’m still trying to grasp. On paper, I averaged twenty-eight watts higher than the previous year! For reference, my biggest gain over a year of training has only been ten watts in the past. I have made drastic changes in my training and life during 2018, unsure how it would play out. This first race proved that everything I’ve done thus far has been a massive success! What can I say other than damn, I feel so Pro!