The Monstercross is run on about as enjoyable, singletrack-rich as one could assemble here. The 60-mile loop began by ambitiously diving into the stupendously technical trails of the Dells before linking in to a series of windy, fast, and flowy trails stitched together, wrapping around the entirety of town. My plan was to ride at a moderate pace until my legs blew up, and then limp home. Thirty minutes in, I found myself alone at the head of the race with Dan Hight in the midst of the Dells. Neither of us were taking any risks trying to ride the sections that have high consequences for failure, so we hiked a fair bit. But apparently everyone behind us was hiking even more, because the disappeared from sight quite quickly. Local knowledge is rather advantageous on those trails. But before too long after exiting the Dells, I ended up alone at the front. By two hours in my legs started to ache. An hour later my legs started to really deteriorate, but the riding was so much fun that I didn't really want to bail. That and I didn't want to bail off the front of the race.
The Dells! Photo by John Schilling
Eventually, I hit the huge climb up Trail 396 and then Spruce Mountain Road. Living right near both, I know that section well and had started to dread an hour or more of steady climbing. My legs had nothing left, so my pace felt like it had slowed to a crawl. But I finished 396. And then I had nearly made it to the high point on the course when my chain snapped! Huh. That doesn't happen too often to me. I stopped and fixed it, and in a couple minutes, I was rolling again. The brief stop actually helped my legs feel a bit better, and then the big descent down Smith Ravine helped a bit more. Every couple minutes I glanced behind me, expecting to see someone bearing down on me. But no one ever caught me, even after noticing my chain was about to snap again and trying in vain to soft-pedal the last bit of singletrack. But that failed, so I had to fix it once again. I ended up finishing in around 6:25, bringing to a close a rather uncomfortable day on the bike.
Fast forward one week, and I found myself warming up for a fat tire crit in downtown. I have not raced a crit in something like 5 years. I'd never raced a fat tire crit before, and I'd never had the gall to enter the pro field of any mountain bike race. But for some reason, back in December, I did just that for the Whiskey 50, and doing so required racing a crit. So I did. And boy did my lungs and legs burned. I managed about 12 anerobic minutes of the 20-minute race before getting pulled. Then I took yesterday to recover as best as possible before the main event this morning.
Ouch. And dorky tires. Photo by Sonya Looney
Today I rode my Salsa El Mariachi hardtail with the same tires I've been using for the past few weeks (Racing Ralph on the front and a Maxxis Ikon on the rear). My legs felt pretty heavy warming up, which included almost two hours of easy riding with a few efforts. Hopefully everything would fall into place and I could more or less fake my way to somewhere toward the back of the middle of the pro field. The starting climb out of town was brutally fast, so I hung out at the back of the pack an watched riders both crash (??) and fall off the pace. When the road kicked up to a painfully steep grade, the field broke in several parts, and I found myself somewhere near the middle, and that's somehow exactly where I remained for the subsequent 45 miles.
Strung out as the climbing up 48 began. Photo by Steve Lummer
Much of the singletrack on this course is pleasantly technical, and I felt right at home, slowly gaining a few spots. Then the route dives down several thousand vertical feet of dirt road into Skull Valley, where you then turn around and climb back out, ending even higher up in the Sierra Prieta. The descent was agonizingly long (seeing as you have to climb up every inch you go down), but it wasn't until the final half mile or so that the leaders hammered past, starting their climb out. My small group of four rounded the end of the descent and began our own climb, and the others made sure the pace was brisk. I was impressed. And then our group swelled as another small pack caught us and quickly moved through and kept up their pace. I let them go, opting instead to sit at a heartrate of 180 that I knew I could push for another 40 minutes. That plan paid off as I caught and passed half the guys that had ridden away from me. My calves and hamstrings ached like they rarely do, but they let me push a steady pace all the way over the top.
The final bit of singletrack was packed with spectators! Photo by Doug Korrell
Then the fun really began. The last 30 minutes of the course is mostly a fantastic descent back to town. I was well ahead of the pace I had hoped to be riding, my legs were more or less holding up, my tires still had air in them, and I couldn't see anyone behind me (or ahead of me). Not a bad place to be. So I hammered, and before long, sealant was spurting out of my front tire. Oops, perhaps I was being a bit reckless with my line choices. The hole sealed up without me slowing down, and the descent went on, and on, and on. It's interrupted only by one short climb, affectionately known as Cramp Hill. And cramp my legs did, so I spun up it gingerly. One guy caught me after that, and then together, we railed the last few miles of the descent and hit the road together. He immediately put in a hard effort and gapped me. I chased hard for a few miles but couldn't quite catch him.
Back in town, the final turn brings you into the raucous finishing straight. I sat up, gave out some high fives to kids reaching across the barriers, and rolled across somewhat stunned at my time of 3:17. I had ambitiously hoped for 3:30. I'm a bit uncertain how my legs had enough in them to ride that fast, but I'll happily take it. At the start of the day, they felt sluggish enough that I was simply hoping to finish in 4 hours! That time put me just outside of the top 30, which given the caliber of field we had, I couldn't be more pleased.
Finished! Photo by Chris Dunn
A recovery week or two should give me ample time to reflect on all these results an how exactly all this has been possible. Then I'll perhaps give something else big a go and see what sorts of dividends all these big efforts will pay!