I continue my, some would say sick, fascination with ultracross, a strange hybrid between mtb and cx. Gordon and I went up to Brevard for the 2nd annual Pisgah MonsterCross Challenge, and a challenge it was.
The course was 70 miles and included about 7-8k of climbing and about 7-8k of descents, the latter being the real challenge. About 30 miles of pavement and 40 miles of gravel. Here is a video from last year’s race.
For this event, I gave my CX bike, the Black Stallion, a new drive train, my Secret Weapon. I threw my 12-36 mtb cassette on with my 50/34 compact crank. No walking up any hills on this bad boy! The only problem was the chain wasn’t really long enough to reach the full set of gears. On the 54, I could only get to about 28 on the rear. No problem, I would just drop to the small ring before getting into those big cogs. Decided to stay with the Clement LAS file treads (tubeless, 40/45 psi) even though they didn’t grip well for Savage CX. Figured the lower gearing and about 5 fewer pounds would be the ticket.
Started out with Gordon but quickly dropped him (I’m really not a very good friend in these events; something about the timing chip and the adrenaline that winds me up at the start). The real climbing started about mile 13, for 8 miles with an average grade of 6%. That section was paved and also boasted spectacular views. Even with heavy legs, sunny and 65 made for a beautiful climb. On the way up, I guy on a SINGLESPEED passed me, out of the saddle, giving me a pleasant “How’s it going”. I caught my breathe for second and gave him some pleasantry as if I wasn’t suffering a bit. What a beast! Got to the Blue Ridge Parkway in decent shape. BRP had some mad descents (again paved—loving my file treads!) through mile 45, dropping about 3000 ft. Adrenaline pumping! Heading up a few of the BRP rollers, I forgot to shift back to the small ring and jammed my chain and had to stop (this happened several more times-ok, I’m a slow learner). Back onto the gravel and we started a 3 mile climb averaging 5% that Gordon and I both found hellish. Got to the top of that with major cramping and ready for good descent.
I had just finished the descent, cruising along about 20 mph when all of a sudden I hit a huge washout. My front tire came out ok but I was sitting on the saddle when the back tire hit and catapulted me (remember those 45 psi in the rear tire; great on BRP, not so much here). It wasn’t quite an endo, more of a half endo since by the time I was over the bars, the bike went left and I went right, into a ditch. I was able to get in a half twist for the judges and landed simultaneously on my head, hip and shoulder, using my hip to bring me to a stop. I thought I nailed the landing but the judges only gave me a 7.7 out of 10, maybe because I lost my glasses and came up with a dirt and mud wedge into my helmet vents. A kind soul, hearing the shriek and witnessing my biking gymnastics, stopped. I was laying on the ground, both legs fully cramped, moaning and rolling over in the gravel. I know it’s human nature but we need another phrase at a time like this besides “Are you ok?”. I didn’t answer him, figuring my grunts and writhing would be enough (remember, I don’t do pain very well—ask my wife!). He was nice enough to pick up my bike and try to put the chain back on (the chain has slipped passed the chain preventer, another story). I told him I’d be fine, which I doubted, but why make him wait for the ambulance. This was a race after all, by God!. After doing a complete check of all systems (no broken bones) and getting the f****ing chain back on, I was able to mount my bike and slowly pedal away. Seemed like I lost an hour but it was probably only 5 or 10 minutes. Damage report: hip road rash (technically gravel rash), ripped HammerCross bibs (good thing we are ordering new kits), sore shoulder, left shifter folded in, and lots of dirt in the helmet (note to file: clean out the helmet before riding again; the dirt dropping into the sweating glasses makes it hard to see). This is how Garmin recorded the event:
I headed on, remembering the kind soul’s last words, “We’re almost there”. No, my friend, 15 miles with a bleeding/bruised hip and dirt falling into your eyes is NOT almost there (needless to say, my cheery attitude had taken a turn for the bitter). Took me a couple miles but finally started to get back to “normal”. Two more big climbs and a final descent. Heading up the last climb, I down-shifted and the chain jammed again. WTF! This time the chain had come off the large cog and jammed between the cassette and spokes. Some Secret Weapon this is turning out to be (Note to file: never, ever set up bike with a new drive train the day before a race). Started heading down the final descent and man, was this sketchy. Total concentration required here. There must have been 4″ of loose gravel through the turns. I did learn that to prevent another bike launch that I needed to keep my butt off the saddle 3 or 4 inches. Several problems with this: 1) my legs were screaming from the climbing and didn’t want to be my full suspension and 2) being in the drops (the only way to keep hands on the bars) meant I was basically in a triathlon aero position. Not good for the back. So I timidly wound my way down the 5 mile descent white knuckled, hands and arms cramping (I’m buying some disc brakes, I don’t care what my wife says!) and back wrenching (I was thinking about stopping, but this was a RACE!). I did see some amazing MTB guys flying past me, literally going twice my speed. It was true artistry watching them rip through the corners with their rear tire swinging wide, as if not a care in the world.
I finished in 5:53, 16th out of 30 in the 50+ Master’s division. Totally spent (ok, so I did sprint 500 yards to try to catch this one dude). At the end, they put these silly barriers to give it some CX legitimacy:
Gordon was 4 minutes back: 114/138 Male Open (at 49, he doesn’t get the special break gents like me are afforded; maybe next year). Actually, Gordon had the best race between us. He had no crashes and scored 2 (two) beers at the rest stop! Beers at the rest stop? Hmmmm…I think I’ve got a new strategy for the next ultracross race. It should help with the pain and make me much more fluid on the descents!