Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Balanced Attack

It doesn't happen very often but every once in a while everything falls in its right place. When it does, you just have to sit back and enjoy every last second of it, because it may never happen again. That's how I felt this past Saturday at the Platte River State Park Battle Royale. I consider this to be the premier mountain bike race on the Nebraska calendar. The trail has a little bit of everything and definitely rewards the well rounded rider. Like it's always said, "You can't win the race on (fill in the blank), but you can sure lose it". That's kind of what Platte is like, there is no one spot where you can ride away, you have to be steady over all of it, but one mistake on any given section can cause you big headaches.

After learning my lesson about early attacks at Swanson where I had to hold off a very hard charging Kent McNeill, I decided to play Platte a bit more conservatively and let the race develop a little. It was going to be a tough day. Warm and humid, hydration would be key. I opted for more hydration than I've ever used before. Instead of starting with two large bottles for the two hour event, I decided on 4 small bottles one for each half hour lap. Keeping the bike as light as possible grabbing a bottle each time through the start finish.

Although not a huge fan of Lemans style starts my long CX legs do have an advantage. At the whistle, I slotted in 4th behind teammates Greg Shimonek and Kent McNeill with Cam Kirkpatrick in third wheel. All the guys I felt like I needed to keep an eye on in front of me. Behind us it was Kevin Limpach and John Rokke with teammate Ryan Feagan dangling off a few bike lengths back.

Greg was setting a comfortable pace, not too fast but fast enough to make the guys behind lose contact on occasion and have to chase back on. As we entered the technical sections of Roller Coaster and Yuntu it began to get interesting. The rock garden in Yuntu always creates some mayhem. Kent dove into the inside line, bobbling, but getting past Greg. Cam got bottled up behind Kent allowing me to get past him taking the middle line. With Kent now on the front the tempo got bumped up a bit and it seemed like Greg had to work a bit harder to stay in contact.

The four of us came through at the end of lap 1 together with Kevin and John not too far behind. I grabbed a bottle, got back in line behind Greg as we headed up the 'dozer cut first climb. Pace was still good and comfortable but I felt like I could go quite a bit faster if given space on the descents. By the time we reached the green gate, the highest point on the course, I decided to find out how comfortable everybody was on the downhills. I passed Kent and Greg and let off the brakes descending through Roller Coaster. I got a decent gap, and just continued to climb at what I felt was the same pace we'd been riding at. I did the same through Yuntu, nailed the rock garden and continued over to and down the Gully. By the end of the lap I had about 30 seconds on Kent and a bit more on the others. To my surprise, Kent's son Dillon saw me grabbing my own bottles on lap one and started giving me hand-ups which was sweet. Thanks Dillon!

Photo: Tom Winfield
I rode the dozer cut nice and steady again, thinking that if Kent caught me, no big deal, we can still just ride smooth and really fight it out on the last lap. I caught little glimpses of Kent here and there with Cam but I couldn't really tell how far back they were. I just kept thinking if I kept it smooth on the descents, they'd have to climb even harder to catch me. The tactic worked as by the end of 3 laps I was a little over a minute up on Kent.

Last lap it. The legs felt fresh so I really wanted to push it. Too many times I've seen or been a victim of Kent's super human last lap charges and I wasn't about to let it happen today. Outside of a slight hamstring cramp climbing the dozer cut I could pretty much climb and descend as fast as I wanted. For once I could truly enjoy the final lap of race with no 'visible' threat from behind. I rolled across the line 2:30 ahead of Kent with Cam, John, and a hard charging Steve Jarrett in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

A minute after I rolled through, Anne rolled in taking the win in the Women's marathon as we pulled off the double/double, wins at both Swanson and Platte. Stoked!

I'd always wanted / dreamed of winning at Platte ever since we first started riding there in 1991.  That's 21 years for you "I hate math" folks. A long time searching for the big "W". The win makes it two for two on the mountain bike this season. The switch to gears has been a good, and fun, decision.

Next up we've got some gravel riding, some road racing, and then some more mountain biking. On the mountain bike side of things I was excited to see Ida Grove is the weekend before Ponca. Been wanting to go back since Nate and I first raced there a few years back. Jesse Bergman has some bitchin' trails built there. Then Ponca, my other favorite Platte/Missouri valley track. Good stuff through the end of June, then it's time to start thinking cyclocross, but then this is all just training for 'cross right? Right!

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