What an amazing day! If you were scared away by the long drive or maybe the questionable forecast then you goofed. This was one of those days where the course and the conditions combined to create a uniquely challenging day that any true mountain biker should be actively searching out. I went in a bit skeptical of the move to Catamount because I was such a huge fan of the course at Millstone but I have to say this course was really great. Such a good cross section of true New England riding. Legit climb, technical descents, tight / fast and flowy singletrack…a real treat. Throw in some mud and voila! perfectly brutal day on the bike.
There were a decent amount of day-of reg’d Marathon riders and the field was a bit bigger than I thought it was going to be. Looked to be about 6 u40 and 15ish 40+ guys. The initial grassy start loop did a great job of getting everyone soaking wet and muddy within the first 2mins so that was good. Got that right out of the way. A few of the real serious riders got to business right away but I was towards the front of the second group which is where I tend to like to be early. It was nice being the first group on course. Had a chance to get acquainted with the conditions and line choices without much traffic. Luckily I made it through the first two laps without any major issues. Bike seemed to be holding together despite the mud doing its best to grind everything to a halt.
I was settling into a decent rhythm coming into lap 3 and was expecting a primarily solo day riding my pace basically by myself except for the occasional Cat2 and Cat3 traffic. But then Tyler C. had to go and catch me on the dirt road climb coming into the feed area. I stopped quickly to swap bottles and he opened up a bit of a gap heading into lap 3. I was able to get back up to him on the climb and our paces were matching up, little gaps here and there but we rode much of that lap together.
He stopped for a feed coming through lap 4 and I was planning on getting my last feed for the last lap so I continued to roll on. I didn’t exactly attack but as we hit the first climb I still had about 10-15secs and I decided if I already had the gap I was going to put in some effort to really make him work to close it back down. Rode the climb as hard as I could (which wasn’t really all that hard, calves were starting to flirt with cramping). He was still there but I could tell the gap was starting to stretch ever so slightly. I rode the descent and middle technical stuff pretty clean that lap and by the time we hit the twisty woods that made it very easy to check on your gaps I realized that I had managed to get out of sight. Although looking at the Strava Flyby this AM it was only barely.
I continued to put the pressure on hoping that if he couldn’t see me he’d subconsciously slow up assuming I was long gone. Unfortunately for me Tyler did not fall for the out of sight out of mind trick, if anything I might have accidentally fell for the reverse. I had sort of thought I had made it clear enough that lap 5 was just going to be riding tempo and stay consistent. But rolling into the final climb and the initial switchback sections I swing around AND THERE HE IS AGAIN. 5-10 secs back. As we snaked up the climb I could tell he was clawing me back slowly but surely. I topped out still in the lead but only barely. I was hoping to gap him back off on the descent but I was getting pretty tired and my lines were getting pretty bad.
He made the catch on the short little doubletrack section right before the main rock garden. I basically sat up and slowed way down hoping that he would come around so I could just sit on his wheel but he didn’t fall for that trick either. I led through the rock garden and into the next mud boggy sections. My 3in tires struggled in that stuff, they picked up a lot of mud and had a tendency to float on top in the greasy stuff and get really squirrely. I got a little sideways and was forced to dab and he came around and made his move. He got about 10-15secs pretty quickly as I struggled with all the extra weight. I tried but couldn’t close the gap immediately so I backed off and just tried to keep him close to try and capitalize on any mistakes he might make.
He wasn’t making any and things were holding at about 10secs. Then the Pro’s caught us in the ‘twisty woods’ and I was able to sneak into their slipstream for a second as they blew by. Funny how seeing guys smashing it gives you a bit of a mental boost to try and be doing the same. It was the point in the course where there was really no point in attempting to reserve any kind of energy, time to go all in and hope you make it to the finish. I managed to get into striking distance right before the last rooty little climb before the final dirt road haul to the finish. With the Pro and 40+ Marathon traffic that was around I’m not sure if he knew I had bridged back up and that it was me sitting on his wheel.
He started to spin things up on the dirt road and I thought for sure at some point he would sneak a peak behind and see me right there and maybe sit up and try to force me come around and start my effort earlier. But he never checked and I was able to hide behind him until the final stretch through the feed zone. I opened my, what you might call a ‘sprint’ but after 5 laps I’m not sure it qualified, with about 50m to go and was able to get around him before the line.
It was a really awesome hard fought battle the whole day. Many thanks to Tyler for turning the screws and making the day that much more interesting. Next time take a look behind you with about 500m to go and make sure there are no creepers like me getting a free ride!