The Black Bear Rampage was the first mountain bike race for me since the 12 Hours of Tsali way back in May.It has been a strange summer indeed. Last year, I was racing on average about every two to three weeks and this year it's been three months between them and that's just weird. Heading to the Ocoee Whitewater Center on Saturday, I got excited. I was ready to ride! After finding a safe place to park (the WW Ctr was too damned spooky!, I went to the Thunder Rock Campground and poached a parking place, hey the campground was full. I woulda gladly paid if I actually stayed in it), I got the Honda in RV mode and put Talledega Nights in my laptop (always cracks me up) and settled in.
Sunday morning was a bit cool and it's no secret that I am a baby when it comes to cold. I'll suck it up and ride in it but I will bitch and complain every step until I get comfortable. After getting dressed and enough nutrients packed in my water bottles for 4 hours in the woods, I set off to try to warm-up. I had been here before at the 2008 Cohutta 100. I knew the start was going to be a roughly 2 mile road climb that was gonna hurt. I wanted to be ready because my goals for the day were: Stay with the leaders up the road climb and into the singletrack, try to find a comfortable spot to hang out for three hours or so and then try to surge towards the end and pick up as many spots as I could. I wanted to podium but being realistic, this was my first mtb race in 3 months and even though I have done lots of road riding in the mountains and several short track races, there is no substitute for off-road endurance racing except doing it. I was just going to have fun.
At the start,I asserted myself near the back of the lead group of 10 or so and the climb with cold legs really hurt! Kinda like being punched repeatedly in the testicles by a wild chimpanzee.... uh or something like that. Over the top and into the singletrack, I tried to keep contact with the leaders but it was clear after the first 4 or 5 miles that they weren't going to be worrying about me that day. I faded some and found a pace that I could live with for most of the race. I still planned to try to speed up some towards the end of it but for now I was on cruise control.
There were sections of the course that were fairly rooty and rocky. My summer of mostly road riding cost me a little of my rigid singlespeed riding fitness and that manifest itself mostly in my arms got the shit beat out of them. My triceps ached by the midpoint of the race and that hasn't happened in a long time. It took me a crazy long time to warm-up after the start. My inner child was throwing a fit because I was doing something that I hadn't done in awhile but I've never been much to bow down to my personal frailties and I just ignored it and rode on. Finally on a long climb, oddly enough, near the 20 mile mark, I felt good! I passed about 7 people on my way to the top, many of which just passed me a little earlier. Unfortunately only one was a singlespeed so from that I knew I was probably outside the top ten. I didn't let it bother me and I just kept going and kept trying to keeo my pace as high as I could without doing serious damage to myself. I felt moderately good and had plenty of energy. Through the whole race, I only walked one climb and it was one that pretty much everyone I saw was walking so I was cool with that.
With about 10 miles to go, we went back through the Whitewater Center and I was "smelling the barn" so to speak, or maybe smelling like a barn, both I guess. Rolling through the final 10 miles of singletrack, I accelerated a little and had a little fun. I was a little disappointed that I wasn't closer to the front but it is what it is.
I ended up 14th in the singlespeed class and was on my bike for 3:50. Not a bad time and not a bad result really but I think I'll go back next year with a better plan. It was a very fun race and the course was a sweet mix of mostly singletrack with some fireroad and just a little pavement.
Next on my agenda is the 12 Hours Of Dauset where I will be riding on a 2 man team with my long-time pal and teamate Bob Lamberson. I am really looking forward to riding with Bob again. Our paths have been kinda funky this year and we've hardly ridden together at all.