The Hardest Pancake Flat Mountain Bike Race in the World

This past weekend, Boston hosted a UCI Mountain Bike Race, something that hasn't happened in New England since probably the 90s.  To say we had mountain bike fever was putting it lightly.  Despite a team event the day before (the Prouty), we still had a bunch of team members racing mountain bikes and a bunch more ride down just to laugh at us flogging ourselves on roots for two hours in 90 degree heat.  Here's how it went down:

Winning Until I Didn’t - Alex Carlson

I spent the better part of the week between Gnar Weasels and Boston Rebellion day-dreaming about what to expect out of the pro XC weekend ahead of me at Adam’s Farm. I went down the friday before to pre-ride the course and took an hour to do one lap and panic over the rock gardens and get heat-stroke on the fire roads.  I smashed my foot into a rock wall and had to walk the last punchy hill.  I rode the balance bridge though, which was important to me. I decided to do a second lap that pushed more a race-pace and ended up walking zero things and clearing the final hill.  

Prior to the XC race sunday, I made the really smart, well informed, highly responsible decision to do the 3.5 mile trail running race on saturday. I hadn’t run since May.  What could go wrong?  Nothing really.  Except when i woke up Sunday morning and felt like my legs we’re made of rolls of quarters.  Time to tackle my third mountain bike race ever!

Sometime over the week I said I wanted to get second in the Cat3 race. I had gotten third previously at Pinnacle and figured second was a good place to aim. Then we started racing... and I felt amazing.  The whole 3 group went out together so there were about 25 people starting.  I was probably 8th wheel heading into the first rock garden and 4th going into the second rock garden, which I bulldozed and started gaining time on the field. #partybike. Somewhere after the first fireroad, it was myself and a woman named Erica towing each other around.  

Erica shut the door on me hard as I tried to get around her on a B-line.  We started overtaking the Men’s 3 field which was an added obstacle.  I had my ace-in-the-hole coming up though.  Sure enough, my wonderful and ever-trusting friend, the Balance Bridge, came to my aid and carried me into first place.  Time to drop the hammer.  I cleared everything the rest of the lap and came through the arch for my second lap with almost a 1:30 gap.  That’s when I made the mistake of letting up.  I was caught going into the first fire road and it was clear my competition was a little more sprinty than me, or maybe she just didn’t do a trail-run the day before.  She got around me going into the final section of woods but I stayed on her wheel until, in the last K of the last lap, I crashed falling backwards getting up the final steep climb. 

The crash probably cost me about 45 seconds and I almost killed myself trying to make up time.  Little too late, coming onto the final fireroad into the field, she was gone and I crossed the line 32 seconds too late.  Man, was that race fun though.  I had the best race of any discipline of bikes I’ve competed in and am so stoked for my performance, my ability to stick with my competition, and how I pushed myself.  I said I wanted second and I got it.  Am I sore I missed first?  Sure, but now I know I can get first. So bring it on.  

It’s hysterical to me that even six months ago I said I hated mountain bikes, would never ride one, and thought they were dumb.  So of course it’s only reasonable that my first upgrade is probably going to be with mountain biking. 

Gnar Weasels and Barn Burner – Will Crissman

Gnar Weasels:
I did not prepare well for this race, meaning I did a super fun, long backcountry ride in Maine two days before that left me kind of wiped out. Despite the poor preparation, I was psyched for Gnar Weasels. 

There was a big turnout for the SS race and we got to start with the elite, which was good. The start up the hill was a little nuts. It's always a challenge to be in a big group going uphill early on a SS. As geared riders drop into lower gears, I stand up and mash, which in this race meant making a bunch of sketchy passes to the top. I entered the singletrack somewhere near the middle or the back of the pack. 

I saw that Adin Maynard, who had won all of the three previous Kenda Cup races was up in front of me so I tried to stay close. He ended up with a group of five or six riders who started to pull away as the first lap came through. I chased Pete Macleod and a young guy riding for Giant as we came into the second lap. 

Upon making a hard left turn near the top of the singletrack in lap two my chain broke. I ran my bike up to a spot where I could fix it out of the way and I noticed that it was actually the quick link that broke. Fortunately, I always carry an extra quick link and a section of extra chain. I fumbled with it all trying to get going again and in that time Paul Simoes came by along with the top 40-49 riders and a couple of the lead women. What felt like an eternity getting the chain fixed looks like it was only about 3 minutes according to my strava data. 

Still, I rode the rest of lap 2 very cautiously because I was worried the chain would break again. Lap 3 began with similar reserve, although I had growing confidence that if I stayed smooth I could ride through clean. I chased Ellen Noble for a while, unwilling to put in the hard effort to close the 10-15 second she had in front of me and I finally watched her roll away. I came to the end of lap 3 thinking I would bail - I was hurting at that point - and Colin saw me, informed me I was still in the money and told me I could not quit. So I didn't. Nearly out of water I was rescued by Matt Myette who gave me a bottle at the start/finish and I took off for the final lap feeling better that I hadn't given up. Shortly after getting to the top of the climb I came across Adin, who was hurting a bit and I realized that I could overtake him for 2nd place. I knew Paul wasn't too far ahead and thought maybe I could find him. Mostly, I wanted to ride clean, which I did, and I managed to come through in 2nd only about a minute and half or so behind Paul. It was good to finish - you never know what can happen - and I was pleased that even with the broken chain I was close to the win. Props to Paul for riding steady, which he always does. 

Barn Burner:
Again, my preparation for the race consisted of a huge Friday ride a couple days in advance. 

With a new gear ratio for the flatter, faster terrain I again had some chain issues when pre-riding the course that Friday. I came into the race a little concerned about mechanical issues, though I knew that if I could keep the bike together I could do well. I won the SS race last year and I've ridden the trails many times. I rode to the race to warm up, which felt just about right. Then a delayed start in the hot sun made me a little worn out. So I thought I'd start a little easier. Shawn Mottram took off at the start, leading the group through the field and into the singletrack. A guy in front of me stacked himself up on one of the early rock gardens, which slowed the group down and gave Shawn and Adin a little gap on the trail. I decided to be patient and I made my way back up to Adin and Shawn in the field. 

As we got up to the power lines I passed Adin and got up to Shawn's wheel. We made our way through the turny singletrack and near the end Shawn slowed for one instant and I made a pass. Back on the short power line section I put in a little power and got about 10 seconds on Shawn. I knew then that if I could hold that gap in the singletrack I could open it a little bit whenever the trails opened up. Sure enough, the gap held. Shawn was close behind after lap 1, about 30 seconds back after lap 2 and as I finished lap 3 I thought I saw him coming into the start/finish with 40-49 leader Mike Rowell. I gassed it a bit through the first mulch section to open the gap a little bit. 

Mike finally caught me in the open field and came by offering a draft as we approached the power lines. He told me it was Rich Pirro with him at the feed and that my gap on Shawn was pretty big. I knew then that with a couple minutes sitting on Mike's wheel I could get far enough ahead to close the win, as long as I rode the trails cleanly. Trying to stay with Mike through the singletrack I made a couple little mistakes, so I slowed a little bit and let him go, choosing to ride my pace and keep it smooth. Fortunately, that all worked out and I came through for the win. Shawn was only a couple minutes behind. He's always great competition. Pretty sweet to win that race two years in a row and be the repeat New England Singlespeed Champion!

These were two fantastic weekends of racing. It was a total blast to be a part of it all. 

Rich Pirro  photo

Barn Burner – Sharon Sloan

Against my rational better judgement but with a delusional over-estimation of my current fitness level, and after being egged on by my coach, I wound up racing both days of the Boston Rebellion. The short track race was Saturday, and all the 1/2/3 women started together. I knew I wasn’t going to be in the front or anything, but I thought I’d be right in it in the 3’s. So I was pretty bummed to be in last place and already hurting by halfway up the fireroad on the first lap. Passing a few women who’d fallen in the rock garden while riding it pretty smoothly myself helped the mood a bit, but I was still way back. I was increasingly hurting and thinking uncharitable things about my poor beleaguered coach, until racers ahead of me started cracking. I got lapped by a few of the 1’s, but was able to start picking off some of the 3’s (and, it turns out, a 2, and a Christin Reuter, who’d flatted or something and had taken up being an amazing cheerleader) who’d gone out too hard and didn’t have a continuing exertion-related vertigo to keep them in check and force them to pace themselves over 20 minutes. In the end, I wound up taking second of the 3s, which is probably as well as I should’ve been hoping to do.

I haven’t decided if staying around in the heat to watch the pro women race was a mistake or not. It was so great watching them race, and watching them float over THE rock/root garden made it look so much more actually possible. But I think I got behind in fluids and electrolytes, and gradually got more lightheaded as the day went on, and woke up Sunday morning feeling pretty queasy and with what we can euphemistically call “GI distress”. I'd managed to force down some breakfast while driving back to Adams Farm, but while warming up I tried to get down some chews, and then the puking started. All told, I barfed like seven times before the race started, and toyed with scratching. But I got to stand on the start with Alex on one side, and some of the other 35+ cat 3 ladies on the other. We realized that there were some DNS’s, and that we were therefore the only three old farts there, and that if we all survived we’d all get to be on the podium. Woot! This wasn’t a given for me, really - I was cramping and miserable before the first rock garden. I rode for a while with one of my competitors, Lauren, until we got to the twisties section and she took off while I got all vertigoing and leaned over to puke again and then had trouble getting the bike going because the world was definitely moving in circles. After managing to get out of that section, though, I started feeling a bit better. My new little 12yo buddy Hope and I traded places and encouraged each other a few times until my greater downhilling mass and year of forced practice in staying upright despite your brain wanting you to fall over dropped her for good. I started picking off some of the masters guys and junior kids. Eventually I entered some dazed zone in which the bike somehow kept going forward and it and I finally lurched across the finish and nearly ran over Marty. Third of the old ladies, but as we’d discussed, hey, it’s a podium! (And for closure, the cramping and inability to eat lasted for another two days until I finally remembered that I had some oral rehydration solution powder. Hooray for modern conveniences. I think staying to watch the pros was probably worth it.)

Barn Burner – Colin Reuter

I was joined by Charlie in the Cat 1 Men’s Short Track on Saturday.

As is traditional for short track, the course was WIDE OPEN save for one technical spot.  It was basically a circuit race on mountain bikes.

When the race started some juniors made sure that we went really fast.

When the race kept going, some juniors exploded, and I wove through a sea of sinking junior ships to just barely connect with the lead group of four the train left the station.

Charlie was in the lead group and clearly under less duress than myself, since he was doing things like “riding on the front” and “attacking” instead of just staying glued to a wheel and wondering how a mountain bike race could average almost 18 mph.

After 4 laps of riding around at warp speed, I was sure that we were almost done, so when the lap cards said “4” I got extremely sad.  Charlie attacked on the hill again, obviously, and I decided that it was time to start pacing myself and let the gap open to the rest of the group.

Unfortunately, I reconnected when the group caught Charlie and started playing cat-n-mouse.  Which meant that instead of time-trialing by myself to 5th place I was going to have to try to win, and it was going to hurt.

Nothing changed until the last lap.  I chopped the kid in 4th on the turn at the top of the hill, he chopped me back going into the rock garden, and there I was in 5th wheel with 30 seconds left to race.  THIS IS NOT A WINNING POSITION, COLIN.

Luckily everyone else seemed to be planning on winning the sprint from the last corner, so when I opened up the sprint after the bridge I started making quick progress up the outside.  I realized I was on pace to dive bomb, er, come over the top going into the last corner, and OH MY GOD I MIGHT ACTUALLY WIN THIS THING!

Then I clipped bars with the guy in second, stopped pedaling for just a second, and that was that.  I didn’t get past the kid in first before the turn, and no one was passing anyone in the final 50 yards on bumpy grass.

As for the XC the next day… this video says it all.