Peavine Challenge MTB: I Didn't Need That Back Wheel Anyway
By Jim Pavlichek--I completely hated this race last year. Well, not really, but I did feel like how a port-a-potty smells out in the heat. Last year the race was on July 4th weekend and it took 5 hours to get up there the night before. I can't recommend being in a car that long the night before a race. This year was all sorts of different as there was little traffic on the way up. Consequently, my legs felt well rested that night and on race morning. The race was also scheduled to go off at 9am, so the heat was to be less of an issue. I had a spare bottle of electrolyte drink placed for easy pick up at the end of lap 1, but I wound up not needing it.
The course for the Sport category was one and a half laps of the full course for about 18-19 miles or so with about 2500 feet of climbing. After a quick flat start we climbed about 130' on fire road then hit the single track for a couple hundred more feet of gradual but wind blown altitude gain before dropping down a bit to the first main climb of about 400'. Again, fairly gradual, which doesn't mean it was easy. It just means everyone is hammering it. Then we rip off a quick 700' single track climb to the top of the race and almost all down hill to the end, save a couple of leg breaker short climbs thrown in for good measure. The half lap split was at the top of the 400' climb. This might not be completely accurate, but it will suffice to say that this course was all up or down. My pacing and climbing have been getting better, and while I am no gravity-junkie-air-catching-berm-slicing-downhilling-bro-bro, I am by no means a slouch when the trail points down.
I try to get to a race venue early enough to get a good warm up. As I understand it, in addition to warming up your legs, you want the chance to spike your heart rate once or twice before the race starts. So when I got a late start to my warm up I was glad to have an ace in the hole. Well, out of the hole to be more precise. Given my choice, I would not have wanted a big rattlesnake to be crossing the trail right in front of me, but as it happened, the snake was probably too busy trying to get out of my way, and getting run over by me to boot, to do me any harm. However, it did spike my heart rate.
Again, I got a good start. I think all the gut busting bridging I have been doing on the race ride has been helping. At least, that's what I've been telling myself. I hit the single track in 4th and, noticing we had a bit of a gap, settled in behind the other three to hide from the wind. They wound up getting away from me up the first climb, but I knew there was a lot of racing to go and I would need all of the candle I could get. I didn't know it then, but the energy I was banking then would prove invaluable for a tense finish.
The second climb is really the toughest. Only the lead few riders in the first wave can find a good spin and settle in. Everyone else has traffic, and by this point it was thick. Passing people on a fairly steep single track climb and then trying to hold the previous pace is like doing 100 jumping jacks while holding your breath. I got a bead on a guy and just tried to do my best Miguel Indurain and reel him in slowly. I caught him at a saddle in the climb, asked for a pass, and he relented with a sigh, "you got me". I said, "let's work together and get the next guy". He said there was only one ahead of us, but I was pretty sure there were two. No matter. I stayed on the front and kept chugging away. Up the rest of the climb, the next guy, Greg, was a tantalizing 20 seconds or so ahead of us. Thankfully, it became apparent that Greg was not so swift down hill and we caught him readily. Then I proceeded to drop them both on the first section of the descent.
A small guy in an old yellow and blue GT jersey came storming by on some fire road and I saw his number was a 300 series. I didn't know if he was my age group, but I didn't waste time pondering. I just tried to keep him in my sights. It's great to have a carrot when you might otherwise slow down. It turns out he was a 50+. On the next bit of descending, I passed a guy and then we were both passed by a junior kid. The guy warns me saying, "that kids name is Brandon, watch out for him, he's dangerous." Not 5 seconds after I thank him and say I'll keep my distance, Brandon washes out his front wheel in a switchback and eats dirt. He must have good practice with it because, to his credit, he got up and out of the way quickly. The rest of the descent was fast and fun.
I remembered the rest of the descent from last time but felt a little less in control on it than last year. I will try not to strain my arm patting myself on the back with the notion that maybe I was just going a lot faster this year. There was a roller coaster section that I was definitely slower on this year though. Imagine a small V shaped drainage and a very narrow single track snaking down it, like a narrow, dirt version of Lombard Street in SF. My choice of small knob tires did not do me well here. Not enough braking grip meant lots of skidding and ultimately slowed me down. This is my first year trying to race on small knobs and I am still getting used to them. I can really feel the weight and rolling resistance difference, but sometimes a little more meat is good. It is actually pretty neat to have 3 sets of tires and be thinking about set up.
The rest of the race went smoothly. I finished the first lap happy with the knowledge that only a half lap remained and I could really push it. So I did. I was still passing people, but had no idea what category they were in. I topped out on the last of the significant climbing and felt really good about hitting the rest of the, mostly gradual downhill, trail pretty hard. Then, with about 2 miles to go, the trail hit back with a rear flat. It was decision time. Do I stop and change it this close to the finish and risk loosing places, or do I just ride it in and risk loosing places and trashing my rim? I decided to trash my rim. It was pretty squirrely for a while when the trail sloped to the down hill side, and while the slight down hill portions really helped me keep whatever momentum I could muster, the slight uphills dealt out some pretty good hurt. It was worth it though, because no one in my category passed me. Just the guy in the old GT jersey, who passed with a, "Wow, you riding it in like that? Way to go."
I just went as hard as I could and never looked back until about 75 meters before the line, just in case I had to do a wobbly sprint. I didn't. I limped it across, gassed.
Then it was all over save the waiting. I guess I had put a pretty good amount of time into the guys I had passed in my own category because they were saying they thought I took the win. I wasn't so sure though. I really wanted to hope, but I figured 2nd. I wound up 2nd, about 3 1/2 minutes down on the winner. Third was another 3 1/2 minutes behind me. That is what really impressed me. It seems the hard work has been paying off. Free burrito and cheap beer in hand, I retired to the lawn chair I had the tremendous foresight to bring. A little relaxing while they did podium and raffle then a nice long drive home.