For various reasons, it has been over ten years since I’ve attended the Coyote Hill Classic. There seemed to always be some conflict that prevented me from getting there but, thankfully, not this year. I had preregistered on Friday evening so I was committed to doing the race. This is probably a good thing as I woke up to about an inch of snow in our yard on Sunday morning. If I hadn’t already signed up, I’m sure I would have crawled back under the covers instead of packing the Jeep. The snow, paired with almost seven inches of rain the previous week, probably contributed to a relatively low turnout for the event this year.
The Coyote Hill Classic mountain bike race has been going on every spring for quite a while – 17 years, in fact. The race is hosted at the Coyote Hill Mountain Bike Camp in West Fairlee, VT and organized by the camp owner, Tom Masterson. I raced against Tom many times back in the early 90s and could always count on him to make sure I would be relegated to second, at best. This wasn’t too surprising as Tom has several national titles to his credit. When he sets a course, you can be sure that it’s going to be a good mountain bike course, nothing less.
The course itself really was great, even if the conditions were less than ideal. The trails are the kind of terrain that most bikers would enjoy riding purely for the fun of it. We started off with a short climb and then traversed a few sections of field connected by short segments of single-track. Due to all the recent rain, these field sections were severely soggy. Once through the fields, we would remain in the woods for about five miles. Close to 90% of the course was tight, winding single-track with only occasional, brief lengths of double-track. This made passing a bit challenging. There were numerous small stream crossings which always make things more interesting. There was plenty of climbing to be had but it was broken up in such a way that it never felt oppressive. The course frequently doubled back on itself where you could see other riders through the woods but couldn’t be sure if they were ahead of you or riding trial that you’ve already covered. After about a mile or so of following the single-track, I completely lost any sense of direction. The course went on like this until the last mile when it descended for quite a while – long enough that you knew a climb had to be coming to make up for all the descending. Instead of a huge gain in elevation, the course took a long gradual climb in the woods along the edge of a large hay field. After a return to the grassy fields, we were treated to one more section of uphill single-track along the opposite side of the field before starting another lap.
I was joined by my NEMBA teammate, Kevin Orlowski, in the Cat. 2 single-speed class. We both would have preferred to race in the Cat. 1 race, but since neither of us hold an annual USA Cycling license, their rules prevented us from doing so. In a normal (dry) situation, the 12 mile Cat. 2 distance would have been ridiculously short for my tastes. In hindsight, I am certain I wouldn’t have enjoyed a third lap slogging through the mud in those conditions.
Somehow, I managed to be at the back of the line at the start and then promptly fumbled the first bridge crossing putting myself way off the back before we even hit the woods. I watched everyone ride away downhill. For a little while, I was dead last in a 12 mile race. Fortunately, when the course turned uphill, I was able to start regaining some ground. While ripping through the single-track, I couldn’t help thinking about how this course would be even more enjoyable if the conditions were drier. I put in some work to try to catch up to the leaders, passing quite a few of the geared riders on the way. Once I reached Kevin, I knew that I was at least in a reasonable spot. I settled in behind him a brief while to recover before getting my ambition up to chase the guys up front. Before the end of the lap, I pulled away. I would later learn that Kevin damaged his tire early in the second lap and could not finish the race. At just over 45 minutes for the first lap, our pace was slower than I had expected, even with all the mud.
Going into my second lap, my wife informed me that I was in third or fourth place. I figured I could grind through and maybe move up a place or two. Eventually, I started reeling in the second place rider, Curtis Lavoie. Curtis managed to edge me out at the Weeping Willow race a few weeks ago. I pulled up close behind him and then he picked up his pace and gradually pulled away from me. We repeated this sequence several times over the remainder of the race. Toward the end, I had pretty much dropped into survival mode. I don’t think I had eaten enough before the race because I was really struggling with some hints of bonking. I was keeping my pace up to get to the end sooner rather than trying to win. I was right behind Curtis going into the fields but didn’t have any kick left to catch him before the finish. I watched him cross the line just seconds before I would get there, which left me with third place. Still, 1:35 minutes of the mud was enough for me, and I was glad to be able to change into some dry clothes, get some food, and relax a while.
The turnout for the Cat 1 races appeared to be considerably better than it was for Cat. 2 or 3. I watched as the Pro/open men voted in favor of doing four laps. I think I was home and eating supper before they were done. We hung around in the cold for the Cat. 2 awards before hitting the road. Final results for all the races should be posted on the Root66 results page soon.
Coyote Hill Classic is a great race that I think tends to fly under the radar of anyone who isn’t already following the Root66 series. That’s actually unfortunate as it is a very well run event with an outstanding course. Both the race and the overall tone of the event remind me of the early days of mountain bike racing. When the weather is more typical for late May (ie. not freezing cold), it would be great to just hang around talking and watching the other races for the remainder of the day. I plan on coming back next year, and I’ll probably add the Coyote Hill Fall Classic this September as well.
For more wordsmithing by our Kingdom correspondent, Mark Tucker, visit http://singlespeedslog.