|Finishing Lap #1 of the Pinnacle|
in Newport, NH
[Photo: Gianina Lindsey]
Newport, NH -- Is it possible to love something but at the same time not enjoy it? Sunday I continued my tormented relationship with mountain bike racing at the Pinnacle in Newport, NH. Before I go any further...let me say that the folks at Team-Pinnacle are fantastic! aR has been racing their fall double duathlon, the Pinnacle Challenge, for ever and ever. They couldn't be nicer and have some the best singletrack in the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee Region for sure. Now back to the story. For years I've really, really enjoyed mountain biking. Heck, I just bought myself a new Felt Q720 hardtail to add to my collection. Nothing fancy, mountain biking is a diversionary activity for me so I can't really justify dropping $3k on a rig that will spend more time next to my furnace than in the woods. But it's something I love and it's something I can do with my son Brayden (more on him later) and my brother Jay (when he's around...or when we take trips to places like Moab). And it has always seemed to me that if you really enjoyed something "recreationally" then it's only natural that you'd also really enjoy it "competitively". It's that way for trail racing, road racing, and snowshoeing for me. But as hard as I try, I just can't seem to love mountain bike racing as much as I do mountain bike riding. And I'll try to explain that paradox. Brayden, Timmy Lindsey, the Lindsey Clan, and I headed to Newport this weekend for a planned Father's Day mountain bike race. I'm familiar with the course from the Pinnacle Challenge each fall and as I already mentioned the folks at Team-Pinnacle are great so it really was an easy choice. Timmy, in his first mountain bike race, planned to ride the Novice class (2 laps/10 miles) while Brayden & I the Sport class (3 laps/16 miles). The first mistake I made was in my own self-evaluation and class selection. I've raced the 24 Hours of Great Glen for the past 4 years and I've ridden Slick Rock in Utah so surely if anyone is a novice it is not I! Like I said...mistake #1. I lined up with the other Sport-Masters II riders who would go off in the 3rd wave exactly 2 minutes behind the first group with no fewer than 5 or 6 waves of Sport & Novice riders to follow. The course would include a shortened 4 mile loop and then two 6 mile loops climbing all the way to the top of the Pinnacle before the incredibly fast and fun 2+ mile berm filled "pump track" descent. The bonus would be riding the "pump track" on all three loops. It almost made the killer granny gear climbs worth it...almost. Within minutes of starting the race I felt like I was log jamming faster traffic behind me on the narrow technical singletrack. Acknowledging I was slower I repeatedly pulled off to let the stronger riders pass thus eliminating any possible rhythm or momentum (of mine). The RDs describe the Pinnacle course as "technical" and these dudes are mountain bikers but in years past I've ridden the entire track without as much as a dab. But in all cases I've been riding with very little pressure from a large chase pack. Normally I'm accustomed to yielding to faster guys (and gals) on mountain bikes so it's really not that big of a deal but nearly 3/4 of the Sport & Novice field behind me (some 20+) passed me during that first lap making for a choppy first 40 minutes. One of those 20+ was my son Brayden who started several minutes back. With very little effort he made up the time gap and passed me before we hit the high point of the course. His 18 year old legs, substantially more seat time, and fearlessness on the descents were a trifecta that I couldn't possibly overcome and, with the exception of video games, for the first time in his life he was kicking his old man's ass in something competitive. Is there any better male "right of passage" than that? Okay, there are a few but it's probably in the Top 5. Just before "The Plummet", located at the end of each loop, I took a wrong turn. Within a 100 meters I realized my mistake and doubled-back but the mind screwing was just beginning. Racing through the START/FINISH area I headed out for loop 2 of 3. This time a longer 6 mile version of the same loop we just did including an additional ascent to the very top of the course. Again, like in the first loop although with slightly less frequency, I dodged out of the way as faster riders approached from behind. By this time my confidence began to wane and I was dishing on technical spots that I otherwise could pull off. And for some reason each time I fell it became harder and harder to get my shoe released from my pedal resulting in repeated slow motion hip/forearm shivers to the dirt. Approaching the big drop back to the START/FINISH I had had enough and decided to call it quits. I wasn't bonked or injured. I just wasn't having any fun. And looking at my watch...the Expert and Elite classes were getting ready to get on course for their 4 laps! I knew had I started that 3rd lap all of those riders would be racing around me as well. With respect to not funking up their race I opted to just get out of the way. My first DNF this year for sure and perhaps...ever? It's weird, as the standard bearer for this team and organization I feel incredibly guilty and ashamed when I don't measure up to our mantra, RACE acidotic which means giving nothing less than everything you have. It's what I admire in so many of my teammates and what at times I lack so woefully. I still love mountain biking, I just don't think I enjoy mountain bike racing. And I'm really, really bummed and confused about it.
NEXT UP: US Mountain Running Championships at Cranmore Mountain (NH)
POST-SCRIPT: Nobody asked me and nobody probably cares but after reflecting 24 hours on the race I know what I'd do differently if I ever hosted a mountain bike race. First, the Expert and Elite classes would race first thereby assuring that these folks would have a clear course to ride. I'm sure they think it sucks to have to avoid the slower Sport & Novice riders. Depending on the course (laps or loop) the Sport & Novice riders would race once the Elite & Expert riders had finished or began their final lap. And the Sport & Novice riders would seed themselves according to ability like any other damn trail or road race. It makes absolutely no sense to me to line faster riders up behind the slower ones. Seeding would assure that the fast folks get out and race on clean track and the slower riders would ride off the back also having a clean track to ride. Clearly the likelihood exists that the slower riders will be lapped but only a small margin and only near the end of their race (or not at all for the fewer lap Novice riders). For sure I'm no mountain bike racer or RD and as someone as already said to me..."they obviously do it the way they do it for a reason!" but for me I'd probably enjoy it a little more without feeling like I'm holding everyone else up. But what the hell do I know?