My, what a crazy weekend! Before I really get into it, a quick recap of this season from my point of view: I kicked it off by giving new meaning to the phrase ‘hand-brake’. My stubbornness and impatience and a cumbersome splint prevented it from healing as quickly as it should, so I attempted racing camp eagle with a splinted pinky. Before actually racing, I had my best (worst?) mtb crash ever at nearly 30mph on the super-D preride, threatening a prolonged finger healing time. So I decided maybe I shouldn’t race that weekend and was Feedzone Man for the team.
Fast forward a week to a freshly healed pinky and triumphant return to racing with a win at Huntsville, but quite a points deficit to make up. The following week, a solid performance in the time trial and XC in Lufkin and Kyle’s absence allowed a large bit of the margin to be recouped….
The next weekend at Flat Rock saw the return of go-fast socks and roadie power with wins in the time trial and short track over some of the stiffest competition Texas mtb-ing has to offer. I had a good XC race the next day with a 2nd place to Rick of Texas State, who wouldn’t be racing at conference anyways. Such a successful weekend pushed me into a solid but not quite comfortable conference lead. I was confident that I could cement it for back-to-back conference wins this weekend, but nervous nonetheless.
The stress of a 5-straight week racing season and a ruthless course schedule this semester had me a bit on edge… When I finally got a chance to clean my bike after last weekend just an hour before we were to leave for Bar-H and discovered that my bottom bracket had seized up–well, Lee and Shane can tell you I wasn’t pleasant to deal with. After a failed attempt to steal the bottom bracket from my roadie, Ian and Aggieland Cycling saved me with a quick-fix shimano road bottom bracket. With that taken care of, I relaxed a bit as we made the 5-hour haul to St. Jo for our conference championships.
As if we’ve had tons of practice recently, the Aggie camp was constructed just minutes after our arrival Friday night. The clear skies and blazing moon actually made it difficult to fall asleep, though! Saturday morning was a bit cold, and we got Jacque to agree to move back the time trial start times so we could pre-ride the course. Steve picked out an awesome course–climbing well over 100 vertical feet in a half mile from the gun, then a fast section at the top of the ridge, followed by a rushing descent and some fun climby stuff to wrap it up. I had the advantage of starting last as the current conference leader with Steve as my minute man…and was quite relaxed during the last minute before I started–something that can only result from the countless times I’ve toed the starting line, contemplating the mental and physical anguish that await. Everything is automatic now, so when I got the ‘go’ signal my start was fast, yet reserved.
My plan, carried to execution, was to ramp up my effort over the opening climb so that I would just barely have enough gas left at the top to reach cruising speed quickly. Towards the half-way point of the course, I had reeled Steve in just before the downhill. Wanting to keep my advantage on the descent, I pushed pretty hard but managed to maintain control. The finishing section went smoothly and I sprinted across the line just shy of the 14 minute mark for what would be the winning time of the day by 45 seconds over Kyle from t.u.
After playing bike shop for an hour or so, Steve and I rounded up the team for what was sure to be an awesome pre-ride of the XC course. Nearly 20 Aggies hit the trail to check out what awaited us the next day; again, Steve’s course selection had me all riled up to race. And since I give due credit where credit is due, Lee did beat me by a few inches in the wall climb duel during our mid-ride break–we could have made it all the up if those big rocks weren’t there. I’ll buy him ice cream sometime as a prize, don’t worry.
The short track was sure to be a blast with lap times just over a minute–tough little hill every lap followed by a fun and twisty downhill section, and very fast. We started quickly, and I got to work setting the pace. I wanted to pace Shane and Steve through the race so they could beat their conference competition, which worked well for a while. Steve elected to hold his own pace, whereas Shane, Kyle, and Drew were all tied to me for the first 10 minutes. The Tinker Juarez signed jersey prime blew our group up, though, so I tried to set a pace that would keep Kyle behind me but allow Shane to catch up again. He slowly worked back up over a few laps, and to my astonishment Steve reappeared at the back of our train–I was impressed!
That didn’t last long, though, as Kyle slipped up on the inside of a turn and slid out. I held the same pace for a lap or two so he could have a chance to return, but when he didn’t make progress Steve couldn’t pass on the opportunity to attack. “I’m attacking Haga!” Good times. When it started to hint of the coming rain with Kyle still fighting just out of eyesight, I decided it was time to build up some insurance in case I pulled a dummy move. I gave it a go and quickly built up my lead over the last 4 laps of the race. Kyle managed to pass Steve, and Shane was fighting to bring Steve back. It came down to a few seconds between them for 3rd and 4th, but Steve held Hagasita off.
By that time it was turning from a light sprinkle to an increasing rain, so I hurried back to camp and got my bike in the trailer before the skies let loose. After the conference dinner and meeting we went to bed, since sitting around a campfire in the rain isn’t too enticing. I went to bed with the expectation that it would stop raining by the time I woke up. Not yet? Back to sleep a little longer. Still raining? Back to sleep…and so on. It never stopped.
Somehow we came to have almost the whole conference under the specialized tent at one point, debating whether to call the race or just shorten them all significantly. Jacque showed up with the new points totals, so we headed to the house to contemplate our options. As it worked out in the Men’s A standings, everyone was within range of the racer below them in standings; that is, Shane would pass Drew in the standings if he raced and Drew didn’t, Drew would pass Steve if Steve elected not to race, Steve and Kyle…, and finally Kyle and myself. So if anyone decided to race, everyone above them in the standings would have to race to defend their position. Thankfully I was in a position that all I had to do is finish the race (and Kyle could win) and I would still hold the lead by 1 point. We bounced back and forth for a while, but elected to boycott the conditions to preserve our bikes for Nationals in two weeks.
Ah, good. The smart decision. With that settled, we sat around in the house chatting about I-don’t-remember. None of us noticed Steve’s absence. It was 15 minutes before the start of the race that Hattaway kindly informed us that Steve was kitting up. So we quickly ran to ‘persuade’ Steve that he didn’t want to race. “Steve, don’t take those pants off!” “Steve, you’re wasting that chamois butter!” “Steve, don’t you put those socks on!” So with 10 minutes to the start of the race, Kyle and I had to run off and get ready for a race that we didn’t want to do. Thankfully it had been shortened to a merciful 12 miles.
I must say that the start was the most fun of any this season, with every racer but Matt already clipped in and leaning on each other (somehow Steve ended up sandwiched in the middle? weird). We got started fast, and in the 100 yards to the singletrack my drivetrain was filled with sand-mud and both brakes were clogged and dragging. I bobbled on a slippery climb and Kyle got by. I tried to catch him for a while but soon backed off to try and baby my bike a bit. The first lap through the lower half of the course was messy, but not miserable because we were making fresh tracks. As I finished lap 1, I called out for water. Tom brought a gallon to me, so I poured all of it over my drivetrain and brakes. At the halfway point of the lap, I put the race on hold to use the bike wash right next to the course. The kind Tech rider let me borrow the hose for a minute so I could get on my merry way.
The second lap through the nasty stuff was, well, nasty. After all of the riders had been through once, the course became much slower and rutted out. I finished 2nd just two minutes behind Kyle. My rear brake is currently useless, as pulling it back to the bars does nothing. Brake pads…gnarly. Chain…bleh. In general, everything had sand and mud in it.
As we were waiting for Steve to finish, he walked around the corner. Kyle saw him first: “Whaaaa?” I think my exact words were, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Yes, the trail showed mercy to Steve in the form of a busted chain, making the nastiness in which I wallowed entirely unnecessary.
In the end, I defended my title as Conference Champion and Steve completed the podium with 3rd for the season. The Aggies, aside from a 10th consecutive year as champions, also swept the Men’s B podium (Tom, Clint, and Kevin)! Newcomer Ben Silva snagged 2nd in the C’s and Kath Hattaway was 2nd in Women’s A’s. Congrats to everyone who raced this weekend on your success, and thanks for your contribution to the team!
Once all that was done, we managed to get the cars out of the muddy field and onto the road for the long drive home….
Race reports from other points of view are welcome and encouraged!
Photos courtesy of C. Haga Photography
Chad “front-row callup–whoop!” Haga
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