Yes, in spite of all appearances this summer, I still do bike races. The last race I was in was the Vermont Summer Epic at Trapps all the way back in June. Now that my knee is completely healed, I was ready to go back out for some more abuse at the Millstone Grind. We had another dry, sunny day, just like we did for the race last summer. I opted to enter the single-speed “marathon” class again this year. I did this partially because I actually like the longer distance (30 miles), but also because USA Cycling won’t let me race in Cat. 1 without getting an annual license. I’ll reserve that rant as an option for a future post. Being part of the Root 66 series, the race pulls a decent size crowd; the single-speed marathon group was the biggest I’ve ever seen it, with over a dozen of us on the line.
I like riding at Millstone, and not just because it’s close to home. The trails are technical enough that you really have to be a good bike handler to do well, not just have good aerobic capacity. The course was largely the same as it has been in previous years. They did break up one of the longer climbing sections with an extended set of switchbacks in the woods. It was a nice change. Overall, there aren’t really any big climbs on the course but the many short efforts will wear you down over time. That, paired with the lack of any extended downhills, doesn’t allow enough time for recovery. It’s pretty much 100% on the gas for the duration of the race. It definitely makes for a more challenging race that way.
We got off to an early start at 10 am immediately following the geared marathon riders. I decided that I was going to slow my pace down a little early in the race with the hopes of having more reserves to draw on toward the end. Initially, I tried to shadow Marc Stannard riding his single-speed MukLuk, figuring he’d be a little slower on that fat tired machine. When that proved not to be the case, I decided to let him go and stick to my own pace.
In the first couple of miles, I managed to bottom out my rear tire at least three times, so I stopped to add some air. Considering how rocky Millstone is, I figured it would be better to take the time to pump it up than to be forced to take the time to repair a flat later on. I got to watch everyone ride by while fumbling with my pump . It took me about half way through the first lap to start catching up with the back of my single-speed group. My tire was now a little too hard but at least I could be confident that I wouldn’t flat, even if I would end up a little battered as a result.
I rode mostly alone for the second lap but started picking off a few more single-speed riders in my third lap. Unfortunately, toward the end of the third lap, I started feeling an occasional “twinge” in my quads. That’s never a good sign. As I got further into the 4th lap, this grew from twinges to outright leg cramps. I started drinking lots of water (with electrolytes) to try to mitigate the impact, but I knew that would ultimately be a losing proposition. I caught up with Marc several times over the final laps and he commented that he was having leg cramps as well. I think he was managing it better than I was. After the race, I heard quite a few other racers complaining about having problems with muscle cramps so at least I wasn’t alone in my misery.
The Pro/Cat. 1 riders started their race at noon. About two thirds of the way through my final lap, a pair of them caught up with me. They passed me on a particularly rocky climb like I was standing still. It was utterly demoralizing, especially considering that I was struggling up that short slope on foot. On the final steep switchback climb of the lap, I was barely able to walk at all thanks to the involuntary spasms in my legs. I seriously contemplated crawling on all fours while dragging my bike. Thankfully, I could still pedal, relying on my hamstrings for most of what little power I still had. The final lap was nothing but pure suffering. Still, I managed to not lose any ground and even picked up another rider or two from my category. I’m often puzzled by the fact that I like bike racing.
I managed to come in a few minutes behind Marc who followed George Lapierre – exactly the same order we had last year. That would have been great, but this time around there were two other riders ahead of us so there was no podium for me this year. Once I recovered a little, it was time to eat. They had some burgers, pasta and some decent beers available after the race which, thankfully, was included in the registration. Good stuff. Food always tastes much, much better after a race. Race results are up on the Root66 web site. My Strava data for the race can be found here.