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About 300 riders lined-up for the 9am start of the 100K race that basically does one gigantic loop around Michaux State Forest on a combination of gravel roads, paved roads and single track trails. The race started in a grass field with cross tape outlining the course. But, rather than a row of eight riders staged at the front of the pack like a typical cross race, the front line had about 30-40 riders lined-up and everyone seemed juiced to get the hole shot. Needless to say, the start was a little hectic and I was glad to find my way to the front of the frenzied mess quickly.
By the time the leaders reached the road, things seemed to calm down a bit, but the pace was anything but slow. I stayed at the front with the lead group on the first long climb and by the top, there were maybe about ten riders that made the most important breakaway of the race. Our group seemed to ride well together and the pace stayed high along the fast paved roads leading to the KOM climb, which kept our group from getting caught by any other riders. I was happy to be up at the front on the climb and could tell my body was feeling good.
After the KOM climb, the gravel roads started again. A few riders already seemed to be having trouble negotiating the fast gravel descents and I heard a couple of tires blow in our dwindling group. I continued to stay at the front of the group because I knew that one of the most technical sections of the course was fast approaching, the Lippencote Trail. This trail would be tricky on a MTB, but on a cross bike it is just plain ridiculous. That doesn't mean it isn't fun, but it sure does test your bike handling skills to say the least.
I had a crazy-fast run down the Lippencote Trail, but the two guys that went down the trail ahead of me were still able to put some time on me going down this technical trail. When the trail came back onto the road, there was nobody behind me, but I could still see the two riders up the road. I put my head down and started hammering the road section to catch the two in front of me, which I was able to do by the time we all entered the trails leading to the Wigwam Trail.
The Wigwam Trail is basically a steep, rocky trail going back up the ridge under power lines. There are a couple of sections which are impossible to ride-up with any type of bike. I was able to shoulder my cross bike to make a fast ascent of the trail and by the top, I found myself in first place. It would have been nice to have another rider with me at this point to help share the work, but since that didn't happen, I ended-up riding alone for about the next 30 miles along mostly paved and gravel roads.
When the course went back into the woods the trail became more of a technical single track mountain bike trail. It seemed like I had a pretty good lead at this point, so I rode the trail pretty conservative and chatted with Thom from Cyclingdirt.org. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed on the gas because as the trail approached the final steep climb I was caught by another rider. I tried to match his climbing speed up the final climb, but my legs didn't have the juice to do it. By the top of the climb, it was too late in the race for me to try and get the leader back, so I rode the final 2-3 downhill miles alone into the finish, which put me in second overall and in the first 40+ finishing position. Finishing first at Iron Cross also gave me a lock on the 40+ US UltraCross Series Win, so overall I am very happy with my result.
It's hard to almost win a race overall after leading for so long, but I can't make any excuses for my ride. I rode as hard as I could and had a blast doing it. I doubt if my fast and mechanical-free ride would have been possible without the use of my Salsa La Cruz Disc Frame and my Stans NoTubes Crest Tubeless Wheel System. The Steel Salsa frame had such a smooth and predictable ride over the rough stuff and the disc brake set-up worked perfectly on the fast and steep descents. And, I couldn't be happier with my wheel choice after my flat infested ride from Iron Cross last year when I used tubes. There is no doubt in my mind that Salsa and Notubes helped me tremendously at the race this year. Thanks to both of these companies for your support!
Happy Trails, Gerry