Sunday June 3rd was the MMBA’s Championship Point Series at Hanson Hills in beautiful Grayling Michigan at the Hanson Hills Recreation Area. The weather promiesed 30% chance of rain on the day of the race and Friday’s steady drizzle seemed to promise the chance of rain. However, while cool and cloudy in the morning, the weather cleared up, the sky turned blue and the temperatures climbed from the low 50s into the mid-60s during the race. The trail was in great condition with the exception of one puddle! The event was another record breaker for the Championship Point Series with Brent Walk reporting nearly 300 racers!
Hanson is a flowing scenic trail with very little techinical sections but steady climbs will test all riders. What passes for technical on the course are the slightly bumpy fast downhill sections and any weaving flat single-track. Technical sections like one would find at Fort Custer or even Yankee Springs are not present at this course.
The race starts out on a flowing two track for about 1-1/2 miles then turns up to the hills and begins a long steady climb. What follows for the remainder of the 10-1/2 mile lap are steady climbs of varying length often followed by a flat flowing section and then a fast sometimes bumpy downhill, then repeat.
The elites had a large field with over a dozen racers. Team-mate Earl Hillaker sped off at the 10am start time to compete in this crowd. Several waves later nine of us in expert men 50+ began our race.
The field quickly sped away from me and I had on racer right in front of me and another right behind me as we hit the first long climb. The racer in front pulled way here and I spent the next several miles trying to stay in front of my competitor and put distance between us. Every fast downhill and weaving singletrack I’d open up 50-60 yards on him, but the next hill climb he’d be right back on my wheel. Then, between mile four and five the two of us were caught by the first elite women racers. The lead woman soon passed both my competitor and me with two other women behind him. She had passed me on a climb, which I expected. However, to my detriment, right after this climb we had a fast bumpy downhill and a steady section of weaving singletrack. She was skittish on the downhill and I had to ride my brakes the entire descent. Once reaching the weaving flat section I really wanted to go about 2-3 MPH faster but she was apparently pacing herself. Consequently, she basically blocked my ability to open up any space on my competitor and he was on my wheel the whole time. The very next climby he passed me and despite riding as hard as I could I lost sight of him by about mile six. Shortly after this I passed a racer from a younger category who was wearing a green shirt.
I rode hard for the remainder of the event with my heart rate regularly in the 156-165 range. I still had some goals to motivate me. First, I wanted to maybe catch my competitor of he bonked or had a mechanical or some such. Second I wanted to NOT be lapped in my lap two by elite racers. Third, early in lap three that green-shirted racers caught up to me again and I wanted to at least finish in front of him so as to not be the very last expert racer. But as before, every climb he’d close the gap and every downhill and weaving singletrack I’d open the gap again. Finally, as we neared the end of the lap in the last two miles, I gutted out a couple small climbs and rocketted down the descents, cranking on any flat section I could to open a gap. Within the last mile was a very long long climb. My big concernn was that if I did not have ehough of a gap going into this very long climb he’d pass me here. If I could reach the top without getting passed I had a lock on finishing in front of him because the last half mile of the course was fast downhill and aggressive benchcut sections. As I reached the top and glanced back he wasn’t there so I knew I could finish in front of him- a minor success. I was able to avoid being lapped as well by elite racers.
I actually think the racer I was trying to catch, and failed, was the one I did finish in front of at Ft Custer. Of course at Custer I opened up a gap due to the very technical nature of the course, which Hanson lacks. But that’s series racing.
I finished and rode to my car and saw team-mate Earl enjoying a sponsor beverage. He reported he took third place in his very competitive crowded Elite category, winning some prize money as well.
All in all a great biking day!