Well, King city hosted its second annual Tour de King on/off road race on Sunday and this one is well on its way to becoming a classic. What a great event. David Shedd and I both tackled this point to point 50k race and decided to ride our cross bikes rather than our mountain bikes because on the map it looked like there was a lot more gravel and paved road than trail.
The race took off after a 2km neutral section and after some sorting out I ended up in the front group of about a dozen with super pro mountain bikers Derek Zandstra and Cameron Jette from Scott - 3 Rox Racing. The pace was good but nothing super difficult and I was feeling awesome since the initial 12k was on gravel and pavement. At one point I even attacked and strung out the field trying to drop some of the mountain bikers before the single track began and the tide turned. Ah, for those two glorious minutes I actually led the race.
Well, I'll make no bones about it. I've owned a mountain bike for less than a month and a cross bike for one week and I'm no off road wizard. We hit the first section of single track and I got my 'A' double snake dropped on the hairy down hills. The mountain bikers went off the front and the cross guys dropped me too. I was in lonely no-man's land and to add insult to injury a couple of mountain bikers who had been dropped earlier passed me back. Yep, that front suspension does wonders for the descending confidence.
How hard was this race? The hardest 50k I've ever ridden. I fell into a pattern of passing a bunch of mountain bikers on the road sections and being passed back on the single track which was getting more frequent and more technical as the race went on. I could have fallen about twenty times on the white knuckle, rocky decents which ended without warning in slippery 110 degree turns or on the 50km/h gravel road descent where I was fish tailing across the road locking up the back wheel in the turns, but somehow I managed to keep the wheels in contact with mother earth. In fact, I can unreservedly say that my bike handling skills were improving with every passing kilometer. The rocks, the roots, the logs I rode over, I was starting to have fun. I actually learned how to turn the bike at the bottom of steep hills by locking the back wheel and sliding the bike sideways so that it ended up facing in the desired direction.
Still, the single track was torture on a cross bike with relatively skinny tires and no suspension. My fillings were rattling loose, my hands were in constant danger of becoming dislodged from the bars on the bumps, and my stress level was stratospheric. Every time it looked like the final section of single track would end, it would suddenly turn into the forest again for more mountain bike 'fun'. By this time my sciatic nerve and hip were killing me (poor fit on a new bike and lots of bumps), mountain bikers were blasting by me and disappearing up the trail with startling rapidity, and I was thinking this couldn't get any worse. Wrong again. "Snap!" Yep, that was the sound of my chain giving out with less than 4k to go. What was that Jeff told me last Monday? Ah yes, don't shift under power while going uphill. Honestly, I couldn't help it. That damn hill came out of nowhere and I was still in high gear when I hit its lower slopes. Kiss the top twenty placing goodbye.
Well, I'll admit, I'm pretty dumb, but fortunately not dumb enough to forget to bring a chain tool. Being about as useless at bike mechanics as I am at off road bicycling it took me about ten minutes to fix the blessed chain, ten minutes of watching people whiz by as I was stuck at the side of the trail covered in a pleasant mix of grease and sweat. To make matters worse, once I got going again I realized that I had left my glasses behind. Quick calculation, forty dollar Riders... keep rolling. Once I got going again I found that I was among people who were closer to my skill level. A few mountain bikers passed me and I passed a few on the run in to the finish line.
When I finished I was starving, dehydrated, frustrated, elated, relieved, and in a lot of pain from my lower back and hip. I wolfed down the awesome meal (included in the race entry fee) and checked the results. My goal had been to finish in two hours and I finished in 1:59:48, not bad. I was 8th out of about sixty guys in my age group and 49th overall. What really hurt was that the third place guy in my age group finished nine minutes ahead of me. "Damn you chain!" Oh well, there's always next year. I have a beautiful titanium hard tail mountain bike at home with this race's name on it.
So the conclusion? The answer is mountain bike. David agreed as he witnessed a guy in front of him on a cross bike run into a tree and break his collar bone. A 29er hard tail is what the men's and women's winners rode. The other conclusion? This race is awesome as is off road racing in general. I'll be back next year with fatter tires and a year of mountain biking experience behind me. Look out Derek Zandstra. I'm sure he's shaking in his boots already :)