Still disappointed and feeling like a fool about my DNF down in Georgia, I rolled into Stokesville, VA unsure of whether or not I really wanted to ride another 100miler. The NUE series has taken its toll on me and general exhaustion crept into my body like color seems to be creeping into the leaves 'round these parts. All I wanted to do was finish and be done with it. Shenandoah 100. This was the final race on the NUE calendar. With no chance of placing in the series (you have to complete 4 out of the 8. I only had two finishes.), I didn't care much about who I finished ahead of or behind. Finishing strong always feels good but so does having fun. Traveling to Fool's Gold and now this race with long-time NUE SS racer and fellow team mate, Matt Ferrari, I got to hear plenty a story about doing these races. My interest was piqued when he told me about the seemingly under-appreciated, somewhat covert "Rock star" competition. It takes into account the full experience and looks back to the glory days of mtb racing. Why travel so far to merely ride your bike, when you can party it up the night before as well? Starting a 100mile mountain bike race fresh is so overrated. Why not start it a bit blurry and really see how bad-a** you are? Ah, yes. This seemed like a far better plan. "Let's enjoy ourselves", my inner dialogue said.
My resolve was only fortified after we got our warm-up ride in on Saturday afternoon. I had nothing but lead in my legs and questioned how much of it would melt away on Sunday. So we got back to camp, we cleaned up, we got dinner, and my Dixie cup stayed full until, well, I honestly can't remember. Good 'ole PA boys Buck and Harlan were present so I knew I was in good company. The party ensued under the pavilion until the lights went out; then the few of us that remained moved to the fire light and under an incredible blanket of stars. Was there four of us there round the fire light? Three? Five maybe? I am quite unclear. Not everyone there was racing, so it's hard to say. In a sleeping camp of well over 600 people, only a few remained awake (though only semi-conscious). The stage was set. The carbs consumed. All we needed to do now was ride ourselves to sobriety and beyond.
I awoke unsure, clueless actually, of how I got in my tent the night before. Somehow, deep down inside, I pulled out the will to go forth, prepare myself for a long day, and get on my bike in the crisp, early morning, still dark air. I awoke in similar shape once before for a race, and to date, it was the only race I've ever won. So I knew I could pull through; maybe even do well. There wasn't much analysis of this sort going on at this hour however. I was on auto pilot. My body knew what to do if my mind wasn't quite there yet.
Coffee. Check. Muffin...slow...get a little more down...Check. Chamois on; without falling over. Check. Lube undercarriage. Check. Fill bottles. Check. Roll out.
The first 20 miles are unclear. All in all, I was in a great mood. I was joking with everyone around me. I don't think anyone really took me seriously when I told them what kind of condition I was in. I rode myself into a rhythm and the mindset to finish. My mood was exponentially improved with every single track descent. Hands down, some of the most fun riding I've ever done. The course consisted of climbs that wound up and up until the flora seemed stunted from oxygen deprivation. Then the trail dropped. Sweet, sweet, bench cut descents. If you weren't smiling at the bottom of these, there was something wrong with you. Good times. Aid stations were friendly and well run (Thank You!). I knew what I needed and did not waste anytime at them.
About two thirds into the race there was a long hill that everyone told horror stories about. I tried to get a pace line going on the gradual stuff with some geared riders, but every time I relinquished the front and got behind someone, the pace dropped. It took too much effort to hold behind someone and sacrifice my momentum/rhythm. Single speeding is all about the momentum and rhythm. So I moved on and up on my own. I was really feeling strong at this point. If I saw someone ahead of me, I passed them. I was a bottle rocket. It was awesome. I must have caught 4 or 5 single speeders on that power climb. I kept looking back on every road section after that, hoping I could hold it.
On the second to last long descent, I was riding just ahead of a full squish rider. Once we got to the bottom, he told me that he couldn't hold my wheel and apparently I kept pulling away from him. What followed was one of the coolest things I ever experienced in these races. After complimenting me on my descending skills, he proceeded to pull me in his draft, checking to see if I was still there, on a flat fire road section for several miles. I barely had to pedal. Talk about comraderie! Right on. Thanks man.
I passed one other single speeder in the final few miles. He was struggling up the final climb and my adrenaline was still pumping. "Finish strong" I told him; I knew I would. Then the final drop, looking out over the Shenandoah Valley. It was the perfect way to finish this race. You bomb straight through the camp, into the wide open field, launch off of a series of grassy rollers, then smile. Just smile.
9:42:36 was my finishing time and what a good time it was.
Good Job to Vicki Barclay, Rich Straub, Matt Ferrari, Erik Lenzing, and Eric Nord, all putting down solid times and placing well.