Last time around, we both rode our fat bikes at TVR. This year, we both rode our Carvers. Emma rode the frame she won here last year. I wanted to give my 29+ tires a shot at dealing with the rock gardens and test out the new Magnum fork.
Conditions seemed to be much drier this year. On the drive down, I noticed that most of the rivers and brooks in the area were quite low…at least we wouldn’t end up all muddy. The day was turning out sunny and the forecast was for nice warm temperatures in the lower 80s. Perfect racing weather in my book.
I joined the Expert Vet. 2 class on the line this year. There was some discussion about keeping the race to a “gentleman’s pace” but that pretty much went out the window as soon as we left the line. I quickly drifted to the back of the pack – which was my expectation and plan. I’ve been riding quite a bit this summer, but not training at all. Based on my times from Strava over the past few months, I knew that I wasn’t anywhere near as strong as I’ve been in the past. Given that, my plan was to hold my place toward the back and see who I could pick off later in the race. It was a good plan, but things were not going to work out that way.
The first couple of miles of the course are generally up hill. Not severe, but you’re definitely climbing. I knew by the time we hit the singletrack section of the climb up toward Sampson’s Pebble that I was riding over my head. I was going to need to back off the pace a bit or blow up well before the finish. TVR has always been a race that plays to my strengths and having to resign myself to a slow pace is more than just a little difficult to accept. Regardless, I decided that I could still enjoy the course and maybe gain some places later in the race.Crossing over the top of the climb at The Pebble, I started the descent into the extra-credit, bonus, mega- technical loop. I can ride the rock gardens pretty well and figured this would be an opportunity to gain some ground on the competition. I wasn’t very far down the hill when my front wheel started to take on a mushy feel. The mushy feel quickly became a floppy feel. Flat tire. I should have known. I love my 29+ rig, but the typical 10-12psi I run in the tires was a really bad idea on this course. I pulled the bike off the side of the trail and began the process of replacing the tube. This is never an easy task when my manual dexterity is hampered by the adrenaline and time pressure I get early on in a race. If that wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t get the tire off the rim. Usually, I can break the bead and just roll one side of the tire off the rim with my bare hands, but not this time. Frustration built as I tried to find my tire levers somewhere in my hydration pack. My Osprey pack has many little pockets all over the outside as well as the interior where my tire levers might be, but weren’t. Eventually, I did find them and was able to pry the bead off the rim. All the while, everyone was passing me. Everyone. I had no idea that there were that many people on the course behind me. It felt like more people than I had seen queued up at the start. I managed to get the tubes swapped and put my bike back together and then I cleaned up all the junk I’d dumped out of my bag hunting for tire levers. (More people passed by). I finished off by pumping up the front tire with quite a bit more air this time. I was determined not to get another pinch flat. Twelve minutes wasted.
Now began the process of regaining my position at the end of the expert field, instead of the end of the entire field. I picked off several riders over the remainder of the technical loop. On the climb back up to The Pebble, I thought the front tire felt a bit softer than I’d like. I stopped to put some more air in, just to be sure.
From The Pebble, I started the long meandering descent. I quickly became aware that I’d overdone it with the tire pressure. With both tires overinflated, the bike was rattling and bouncing around like a basketball. I thought that maybe I just needed to adjust to the difference in handling. I was getting knocked around like a pinball on all the rocks. Toward the end of the lap, I knew that this wasn’t working. I was way more beat up that I ought to be at that point. I decided that I’d drop a little air pressure out next time I got up to the Pebble. I still wasn’t anywhere near the other riders from the expert field.
As planned, I took a little air out of the front tire once at the top of the climb. Not a lot. As I made my way down the rocky sections going down toward the lake, I felt the front end of the bike squirming a little. This caused me to slip out on a corner and hit my head pretty hard on a tree. That hurt. I checked the helmet for damage before continuing. It’s funny how bikers will check their equipment before worrying about damage to their own bodies.
It wasn’t long before I had to stop and add a lot more air. I knew that I hadn’t drained that much out. I continued my “race” which had become more of a survival trip now. For the remainder of the course, I would have to stop every mile or two and repeat the process of pulling out the pump, overfilling the tire, and putting the pump away. I would lose a couple of minutes each time. The lead women from the Sport class would catch up with me each time I finished the process. I’m sure they got tired of my efforts to pass them only to have me stop and fall behind again.
If the slow leak wasn’t bad enough, I started to develop cramps in my feet over the last couple of miles. This also came with hints of cramps in my calves and quads, but never full-blown cramps. I should have been drinking earlier and more frequently, but I hadn’t. I’ve been racing for over twenty years and I am still prone to making that mistake. You’d think I would learn.
I was so sick of stopping to add air that I decided to just ride it out for the last mile or two. In the past I have always loved the part of the course that rolls along the edge of the lake. Partially because the end is so close and partially because it is fun to rip along the undulating singletrack. The soft tire kept my speeds down and took most of the fun out of that experience. By the time I reached the finish area, the tire was pretty squat on the ground and I was just glad to be done. I don’t know how I placed and I’m not sure I care just yet.
My daughter Emma, on the other hand, had a pretty good race. She pulled a finish time that was much faster than any of her previous attempts at this race. Her default “win” got her a gift certificate. On top of that she won $100 cash in the post-race raffle. No wonder she likes coming back here.
Once again, the Team Bums folks put on a great race. The course is challenging, but not in a miserable way. It really tests every aspect of your riding ability. I don’t know if there were any competing events this weekend, but the turnout was surprisingly low for some reason. That’s a shame because this is one of the best races in New England, in my opinion.