There are several races that I look forward to every summer, but the Pinnacle may be my favorite. It is always a well run event, and being in Newport, NH makes it relatively close to home, which is always nice. The main reason I like it is the course; it has everything: long climbs, technical single-track, tight handling, rolling terrain, roots, rocks and a really, really fun long descent. You really have to be a good all around mountain biker to do well.
This is the fourth race in EFTA’s point series. There was a pretty good turnout for the race with around 200 riders. There were about 10 single-speed riders and the field seemed to be a bit tougher than in previous years. This year they started us after the elite class but before the experts were released. That was nice since those of us with one gear need to grunt up the initial climb and getting stuck behind spinning riders at the tail of the expert field is more than a bit frustrating. None of that to deal with here. We were left unencumbered to deal with our quad and hamstring pain on our own terms.
The single-speed class took off fast (as usual) but strung out pretty quickly on the long climb. As soon as we got past the short intro trail and started climbing, our group broke apart. The course climbs up some double track that seems to just morph into a single-track at some undetermined point. Our non-shifting train wound up a couple of switchback climbs before dumping back onto double-track. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to blow myself up trying to catch up to the lead riders on the first climb. I would pace myself, at least a little bit. The course curved around some water towers before really getting into the thick of the climbing. We went up a steep section of trail which was just damp enough to make traction a factor but not enough to be a real problem. At the top of this pitch, we returned to the narrow paths with more switchback turns, relentlessly gaining elevation. Along this section, the lead riders must have put quite a bit of distance on me as I only caught occasional glimpses of them up the trail. Eventually, we returned to double-track for a short stretch. Of course, this continued to climb, but not steep enough that I would need to get out of the saddle. I had one rider in sight at this point and I determined that I was in approximately fifth place as far as I was able to tell.
Once at the top of the climb, the fun begins. My gearing may be slightly tall for this course, but on the remaining 2/3 of the course it would be an advantage. Here, we wound up some speed and rolled around the corners with sufficient speed that the climb could almost be forgotten. Almost. There were plenty of rocky sections and enough soft mud to keep things interesting. After traversing a roller coaster cut out of the side-hill, things turned downhill in a serious way. I still had that same rider ahead of me occasionally getting out of sight. At the end of the descent was the “plummet” dropping into the start/finish area at 30+ mph.
On the second lap, the pace didn’t let up. I kept the same rider, TJ, in sight but could never quite gain on him enough to be able to attempt a pass. His presence continued to taunt me for the remainder of the race – always a minute or less ahead of me. Toward the end of the second climb, Carl DeVincent passed me followed by NEMBA teammate, Shawn Smith, a little later. I rode most of the rest of that lap solo with only an occasional pass from a geared Expert rider.
On the final lap, I maintained my shadow status with TJ. I would reel him in quite close and then he’d put some distance on me. I think it depended on the terrain but I couldn’t say for sure. It seemed to be the same places that I would catch up each lap. My plan to pace myself seemed to be working well. I definitely had some fatigue going but I wasn’t destroyed and managed to avoid getting into my dreaded “survival mode.” A small pack of Expert riders did burn by me half way up the ascent. I caught back up with Shawn by the top of the climb and was able to pass him when he decided to take one of the curves a bit too wide and crash. I was getting sloppy myself and had trouble sticking to good lines through the rocks and occasional mud. I was still hunting for any single-speed riders I might be able to catch, but that never materialized. I rode the final decent alone to come in fifth place. At 1:51:51 I was only about 30 seconds down from TJ at the finish.
Overall, I felt that I managed this race really well. I paced myself just about perfectly throughout the entire course. Looking at my HRM data, I averaged just below my anaerobic threshold for almost the entire race. I ate well, didn’t bonk, didn’t cramp, and stayed hydrated right up to the very end of the race. The only thing that was a problem was not sleeping well for the two nights prior to the race. I laid in bed Sunday morning wondering if it would be better to just bag it all and sleep in. No doubt, it cost me some time as I was noticeably tired at the start. Regardless, Kevin wins the prize of the day for finishing the race just a few minutes behind me with blistered and bloody hands on a fully rigid single-speed. I’m just a lightweight in comparison.
Official results are up on the Pinnacle web site as well as on EFTA’s site (PDF). Thanks to Brian Currier and everyone else who helped make the race happen. It was an excellent day. Even the rain held off until we were all done.
For more wordsmithing by our Kingdom correspondent, Mark Tucker, visit http://singlespeedslog.wordpress.com/.