August 8, 2007
Solo Race #34 for Nat Ross is in the books. One would think that the more you do--the easier they get. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
I knew going into the race this year that it was going to be extremely tough. It was my second 24 hour race of the summer, but my first race against Chris Eatough since last year's National Championships. Although the field was stacked with the best endurance racers in the nation, I figured that Chris, last year's champion, was the man to beat. If you have not seen the movie by Gripped Films called 24 Solo, then you should! Do yourself a favor and check out www.grippedfilms.com.
If you've watched it then, you know why Chris consistently wins races. One major key to his fitness this year was winning the BC Bike Race. His preparation for nationals included a six-day mountain bike stage race in Canada. I, too, did a stage race before this event. It was RAAM-Race Across America, where our four-man team (Beaver Creek-Catlin) defended our title.
For the second year in a row, the USA Cycling 24 hour national championship was in Wausau, Wisconsin, located just up the road from the offices of Gary Fisher. Earlier in the week, I stopped by the mothership to pick up my new carbon 29' hardtail appropriately named "SuperFly" for the event. I spent the better part of an afternoon dialing in the new race bike. I worked on configuring my saddle fore/aft, saddle angle, and height as well as my effective body extension. I am super anal when it comes to my race bikes. They are all set up with identical saddle characteristics so that every time I hop on to a different bike, my legs can't tell the difference. I have used the WobbleNaught fit for the past four years. Lately, I even started doing fits in Golden, Colorado, out of the www.ProBikeCenter.com.
As a key part of my preparation for the race, I survey the course and find locations on the course to feed, attack, ease up, and conserve energy. It pays to know the course inside and out. Typically, I pre-ride one lap on the course two days before the race, however this year I pre-rode two laps full-throttle two days before as well as one lap around the course the day before. On race day, I arrived at the venue three hours before the start to make sure that everything was dialed. I was ready for the throw-down that was about to take place.
Growing up in the mountains as a Colorado native, I'm not all that accustomed to humidity and heat. Fortunately, the weather forecast for the weekend (mid 80's) was going to be quite mild. I remember reading somewhere that you can cool your body's core temp by as much as two degrees with a shaved head, but it's not like I would ever consider cutting my hair to cool down. I guess I would rather look cool than be cool.
As I was pre-riding the course I heard several people say, "There's Tinker". Oh well--at least I was getting called one of the fastest longhairs on two wheels. Tinker is a crowd favorite wherever he goes, so my feelings weren't hurt too badly.
Back to the race, Myron Billy "The Man" and I ate a quick "greasy spoon breakfast" with the Tough Girls at 6 am and headed to my tent to get ready for the big day. Myron is my support guru and went over all of my bikes to confirm that everything was dialed. I warmed up by running the Lemans running start several times and hopped on the trainer for a good half hour. I like to start fast and make sure that I'm ready for a full day and night of racing. I learned that technique from Rishi Grewal (Klein). He was the first pro to get into 24 hour racing and was immediately successful because he started super fast and held on to win almost every endurance event he entered before retiring.
Fast forward to the Start. I showed up to the start a few minutes early and took a spot at the side of the course keeping my iPod on rocking out to Mos Def-- because I still get nervous before the big events. The run went smooth enough, and I found myself on the bike within the top 20. I worked my way to the front of the group before the first singletrack, and quickly got into the groove. When I have good legs, I like to be aggressive and animate the race. Usually for the first lap, I like to be the first racer across the line. Marco took the first leg on the Trek/Fisher 4-Man team and came across first this time, although I was right behind him. My first lap turned out to be the fastest solo lap recorded during the race.
My legs felt great and were perfectly rested. I charged the next two laps at my own pace and didn't even look back for Chris. You see, when you race Chris, you basically sign up for second place. He rarely makes mistakes and has the best crew in the business. His support crew has re-written the book on 24 Hour Solo racing due to their extremely high efficiency rate.
I knew that I had to keep the pace high if I was to stay in front of him. Shortly into the fourth lap, I heard Chris approaching from behind. I figured the time was coming, but was not ready to give up the lead yet. Eatough rode up to me and we both took pulls as we passed many other racers for the remaining day laps. He tried to drop me on every technical section of singletrack; however, I rode my ass off to keep up with him since he has such an advantage over me on the "East Coast style" rocky, rooty, singletrack. He was unable to gap me and we rode till dark together.
Unfortunately, I made my biggest mistakes of the race on laps three and four. All I had put into my system was basically sugar (Clif Bloks and Clif Shots)-whoops. My stomach was rotting and by the fifth lap my stomach was in knots and I could not eat anything solid. I knew this was going to be trouble for me for the next few hours. I had no choice but to let up and ride my own pace and try to get my stomach back to normal. Chris put some time on me at this point, and I was never able to get it back.
My second mistake happened several laps later. I pushed my battery too long on my helmet and it went out with over ten miles to go on the ninth lap. That lap was slower than I wanted, and I lost a bit more time. By now, I was a good fifteen minutes back and was in full chase mode. Mentally I was almost at a cracking point. I had tried so hard to crack Chris, but ended up cracking myself. Much different scenario from what things was like during the daylight. I rode through the night chasing Chris hoping he would slow down, but that, of course, never happened.
Soon, the light came and I found myself with only several hours remaining in the race. Yee Haw! There comes a point when enough is enough, and there was no way I was going to reel Chris back in. Mentally, I had given this race all that I had--at this point, I was already settling for second. Mark Hendershot (Santa Cruz) was sitting in third, but he was a ways back. We looked pretty locked in to the exact podium from 2006-Eatough, Ross, and Hendershot.
In the end, I was pleased with second place, as I could have not ridden any better that day. Hats off to Chris and Pua as the National Champions. They both get the Stars and Stripes for a year. Chris better watch out next year, because I won't be settling for second!
See you on the dirt,