Saturday closed with a fine 74 degree weather, but Sunday morning June 2nd race day saw a 30 degree drop in temperature and blustery winds greeted racers at the Hanson Hills CPS race in Grayling!
While I forgot my normal complement of base layers and leg warmers, I was fortunate enough to have my thermal jacket with me for the race, which in the end proved sufficient.
The race started at 10 am for the Elites and Expert racers to head out onto the 10+ mile course for three laps. Hanson Hills is NOT very technical and is a climbers course. The climbs are significant and the downhills fast and often bumpy. But there essentially no obstacles and only a few twisting and winding sections to navigate.
Jeremy Karel led off the Founders team racers onto the course, competing in a field of five elite racers. Categories departed in waves and I headed out six minutes later with a field of 12 in our Expert Men 50+.
Tom Stolz competed against eight other Expert/Elite Singlespeed racers who departed the start line after my category.
The course winds out about a mile and then begins a long steady grade climb. I was passed in the first mile by most of the field as we hit the climb but once on the flatter area at the top of the hill, the 50+ group had broken into two smaller packs. The first pack was far out of sight but I was in front of a couple racers and behind three others and we were wheel to wheel. I was ready to make a move and started to pass the racer immediately in front of me because we had a wide shoulder of grass and moss on which to pass. However, I didn’t move far enough to the left as I passed and my front wheel slid on the edge berm of the trail tread as I stood up to hammer past the other racer and I went down hard on my left side as the racers behind me passed me and the ones in front pulled away. I got up quickly and jumped on the bike despite my now sore left ribs and began riding hard. I wanted to catch the immediate group I’d tried to stay with on the pass (which was led by our Freewheeler friend Bill Shaver). They proved to be too strong for me to close such a gap after the crash. I may have stayed with a couple of them had it not been for the crash.
Eventually I caught a couple of competitors who passed me and I kept a hard spinning pace to try to motor away. But glancing over my shoulder periodically I could see one of the racers behind me most of the rest of lap one and also lap two. By mid-way through lap two I wasn’t sure who was behind me and at one point a racer called to pass me on a slight climb (which I expected) and it turned out to be a singlespeed racers. “Good pace” he said as he passed. I then decided to use him as my rabbit for incentive to ride hard and worked to keep him in sight. My actual competitor was still behind me constantly at about 100 yards or so. I could distinguish him at a glance back due to a distinctive green jersey kit. He’d close the gap a little on climbs, but I’d open it up again on downhills and technical twisting trail segments. All the while I kept the singlespeeder in sight.
Third lap, I continued to press forward, not letting off the gas at all and on one short, but fairly steep climb I’d closed the gap on the single speed rider. He was 2/3rds up the hill as I started the climb when I heard a hard “CRACK” sound and he was off his bike to the side picking up his chain as I passed him. Tough break with only three miles left in the race. I felt good and surged onward vowing to put an even larger gap on my competitor. At this point, other than “green jersey” guy I had no idea now of where I was in the field or who was behind me. I had long ago realized I would not catch the others in front of me.
My sole focus in the last three miles was to reach the last final long climb ahead of any competitor because after that it is a fast swooping downhill ride into the finish and bumpy. Passing here would be extremely difficult so if I reached the top of this downhill I’d stay ahead of any competitor. I hit the bottom of the climb and gutted out a steady RPM to reach the top and as I did I glanced back and saw no riders at all. Then through the singletrack bench cut and left onto the downhills I rode down the grassy hill into the chute and the finish. I turned circles in the lot to see who came in after me. It turned out two other racers had passed the green jersey racer and he came in after them.
My goal was to improve my results over 2011. Last year I was 10th of 11 (and #11 was a DNF) with a time of 2:53. This year I ended up 8th of 12 and my computer time said 2:39. Significant improvement in placement and decent improvement in finish time.
Jeremy Karel took a fourth place finish in his tough field, edged out barely from third place by about a half a second! CLOSE FINISH. Tom Stolz had a tough field and finished 5th of nine for decent series points captured.
Next up for many racers- Meijer State Games time trial at Cannonsburg June 22nd.