Saturday, April 30, 2016

Race Report: Inaugural Old Copper 20 Mountain Bike Race

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 section of trail would eventually meet up with the Big Frog/Cohutta course and would merge with them for around 6 miles. During this section I was able to get around some slower riders from the other races and put in another big attack on a fire road section. I could tell my buddy didn't have the legs to stay with me so I left him. After the fire road, we entered some more singletrack. I worked my way through the groups and finally came up on a group of speedy dudes from the 65. I hung with them and used that opportunity to recover a bit. I knew there was another big gravel climb coming up and I wanted to attack again there. Finally the trail opened up to the gravel and I settled in on the climb yet again. I pushed hard here. I wanted as much time as I could get. The course turned off onto a HUGE gravel decent down the road we initially climbed. This is where the 20 milers split off from the other groups again. I was alone. I looked over my shoulder occasionally knowing I would see someone gaining. No one. At the next turn, we hit the same singletrack section from the beginning for a second time. I checked behind me again. No one. On the winding singletrack climb I could see a LONG way back down the mountain. No one. I was beginning to think I could actually win this thing. There were only 4 miles left at this point. I would have to flat or crash or possibly stop for a sandwich and nap to be caught. Still, I pushed. I just KNEW someone would catch me. At the next split, where first the course went right, it now went straight. This section was AWESOME. Technical, bermed, superfast downhill singletrack bliss. I blistered that section. At the bottom I made the turn back toward the pavement for the final mile of road back to the finish. I was constantly looking over my shoulder. Still, no one was there. I was going to do this. I came through the final bit and almost missed the final turn. I yelled to a girl walking by, “where's the finish?!” She was VERY surprised but pointed me in the correct direction. I rode, alone, across the line in just under 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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.