Dirt, Sweat & Gears

May 4, 2007

Mountain bike racing has made a strong comeback! I just finished Race #2, Dirt Sweat & Gears, on the NORBA Ultra-Endurance Calendar in Tennessee. The 12 Hour race was a first-year event that was first class. Given the popularity of endurance racing, it's very rare to get all the greatest talent together in the same place at the same time. It doesn't help that there are so many cool races to compete in across the States. But, these events require an immense amount of time, money, and energy to do. Racers have to plan their race calendar with the expenses in mind and it usually means that endurance racers stay closer to home with the exception of several races each year.

However, endurance riders and racers came from 31 states to break in the 10-mile course for Clay Higgins and his crew. I first heard of the event last fall when Byron Swezy (promoter of Montezuma's Revenge) told me he was helping design a race venue in the South. This put the race on my radar. It also helped that the course had 1,500 feet of climbing per lap. I love to climb!

So, I loaded up my Subaru Tribeca with all my gear and hit the road. I left Colorado in the middle of a blizzard and headed east. The twenty hour drive was painless as I was excited to do a new event.

When I parked in the camping area to pre-ride the course, I met the race director Clay and his main man Kevin who hand made the majority of the course. After the race, I told Clay that I was kidnapping Kevin and taking him back to Colorado with me to build some more stellar singletrack.

I pre-rode the course on my Gary Fisher 29er hardtail and decided that I would race on my full suspension Race Day 29er. The course was mainly singletrack with some super fast jeep roads to mix it up. It was twisty and turny with more than a few climbs. One of the longest climbs was named 911, but the toughest one the legs was the unnamed climb in-between miles nine and ten. The course was littered with roots and sharp rocks everywhere. After pre-riding, I felt confident with my choice of Bontrager Tubeless 29 ACX's if the course was to stay dry. I dialed in my pit going through my, Camelbaks, Light and Motion lights, food, clothes, Smith eyewear, and immense amount of gear. There are a lot of details to take care of before an endurance race. That night, the promoter hosted a "Meet and Greet," so we signed autographs and answered questions about racing for the crowd.

Ready to see how the race unfolded? There was a lot of pre-race hype as every category was stacked. The singlespeeders had to go up against "Fuzzy" (John Mylne) who has won everything this year. The battle was going to be tough between DJ Birch, Jake Kirkpatrick, and the Fuzz.

The women's Pro field was stacked too with gals like Rebecca Rusch (Specialized/ Red Bull), Monique Sawicki "Pua" (Ellsworth), Carey Lowery (Specialized), and Erika Tieszen (Giant).

The Pro men that I had my crew keep a watch on were Sloane Anderson (Topek), Josh Tostado (Giant), Rob Lichtenwalner (Cannondale/Bare Naked), Ernesto Marenchin (Aslylum Cycles), Eddie O'Dea (Kona), and of course, Tinker Juarez (Cannondale).

When the race blasted off at 8 am, I made sure to be front end of the chaos. Tinker flatted on the first lap, so Josh Tostado and I rode away at a blistering pace, as there was US$150 cash for the fastest lap. We were both a few seconds away from that prize, but I had a much larger goal in sight. Josh and I rode together for the first three laps until I began to cramp. Strangely enough it was not my legs. I had chest cramps that would not leave me alone. Finally, by lap five they were gone. At that point, I could pick back up my pace and chase down Josh.

Tinker had started to close in on me, and I had to make my move. I had lost over seven minutes to Josh going into lap six, so it was now or never. I chased hard and got a lucky break. Toast had flatted right in front of me. I rode the next three laps without stopping as to put as much of a gap on both Tinker and him as I could. It worked, and the gap kept growing. It's amazing what a difference driving the pace can make with your headspace. It is so rewarding to be in the lead! Everything worked out amazing for me, and my legs stayed super strong. As I crossed the line with my arms up, I almost crashed into Clay the promoter. Whoops….

Hanging out with everybody at the post-race BBQ and enjoying the flowing beer was rewarding. The amount of prizes that were given away and raffled off was one of the biggest that I have ever witnessed. Racer's got their monies worth out of the entry fee for sure. The band rocked out well after the awards ceremony had ended, but I was worked, and wanted to put my feet up and chill out. The podium was first class as we were paid out in cash!

Talk about Southern Hospitality at it's finest. I'm already signed up for Dirt, Sweat and Gears for next year. I would like to thank the boys from Moab Bikes for all the help. Thanks Guyz!!!

Ride On,

Nat Ross

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