I arrived at the race site on Friday. I had been talking with my buddies about whether or not to drop to the 20. Storms were supposed to move in around lunch time and knew I didn't want to do several hours of gravel riding in the rain. It just wasn't worth the risk. I didn't want to jeopardize my tri season for what was going to be training ride. I knew, however, if I dropped to the 20 I was going to race it. We had pre-ridden the first part of the 20 earlier in the day and I knew it suited me well. After careful consideration, I did it. I changed my registration to the 20 and picked up my packet of goodies for the Old Copper 20. A little added intrigue was brought about by this being the first year for the 20. There was catered pasta for the racers. We had our fill then headed back to the cabin for the night. After some general chatter and banter, it was off to bed.
Race morning came as usual. The 20 started at 8:30. I got up and wandered to the kitchen. The 65'ers were up and readying their breakfast. I did the same. Oatmeal. It was instant, and rather meh. It was carbs, that's about it. After breakfast, I got dressed and we loaded up and headed out to the race site.
The race started as a neutral roll out for around a mile. Once the trail opened up to the gravel road, we lined up and they started us by category. I was racing open class. I had sized up a couple of potential competitors during the morning and the roll out. The first mile or so of the race was a steady climb up the gravel road. My plan was to test the legs on the lower slopes of the climb and try to keep the leaders in site until we hit the singletrack. I did just that... except that I was one of the leaders. I was marking this speedy looking kid who turned out to be not quite as speedy as I thought. Another guy passed us. I upped the pace and kept him around 100yds or so in front of me. Before long, I looked back and the rest of the group was fading behind me. We were dropping the whole pack.. on the first climb. I began to worry a bit that I was going out too hard and they knew something I didn't. I did a quick mental check, glanced at the HR and saw it was good. I knew I could sustain the pace and decided to keep going. We neared the single track and put in a quick attack to bridge to the guy in front of me. I wanted to be with him on the singletrack so I could stay with him. Before long, the trail turned up and I could tell he was suffering. He let me by. He stayed right on my wheel for a while. We chatted for a bit. He was also from Knoxville. We agreed to try and work together to build our lead. Eventually the trail opened up onto a gravel decent. We were flying. The next section of trail came up and we turned off the gravel once again.
This course was absolutely fantastic. I felt like it was tailor-made for my riding style. Long, grinding climbs; flowy singletrack; technical singletrack all rolled into a little slice of mountain bike heaven. I am glad I opted to drop from the 65. The 20 was the perfect ride for me today. I got everything right. It's not often that happens but today... was a good day.