Rocks and roots, roots and rocks. The more technical, the better.
Two days of racing CX at Shelby Farms in Memphis, TN, started out with me returning from Starbucks at 5:30 am and trying to catch the hotel door before it slammed.
It only hurt for about 2 hours, and it just had to be my shifting hand didn’t it?
My race was at 9:15 and I needed to pre-ride, so I got to the venue about 8. I’d went to packet pick up the night before, but needed to grab my timing chip as well. Shelby Farms Park is a large park on the east side of Memphis. So large in fact, that I had to stop and google the location, once inside the park. Location found and I rolled up to registration.
On the way to the tent, you could make out some log obstacles, the barriers, and the huge run-up/fly-over. The later being rather intimidating in it’s size and steepness of the stairs. (I’d later find out that the steps had a 12″ rise to increase the amount of difficulty.) Timing chip in hand, I went back to chamois up.
I was able to take a full lap before the start of the junior race and was glad that I did. The run-up was just as steep as it looked, and on the backside there was a sand pit about a quarter of a mile long, that was really loose. The logs and barriers were normal CX stuff, and the approaches made them not very difficult.
I continued to warm up and then went to cheer on the Jr’s for their final laps. The Jr’s finished, the course was announced as clear, and I took off for another lap. I stopped to reduce my tire psi, and then went down to the start…where it was a cluster fuck. The 4’s, 5’s, single speeders, master 45+, and master 55+ were all going to start en masse. There were about 60+ people ready to go apeshit on the whistle. They called the single speeds to the front, followed by the masters, and then the 4/5’s.
I knock 2 or 3 people out of the way, scream at 3 more, and approach the hard right hander onto the grass. I go wide and let a guy find out how deep the gravel is…he learns that gravity is well in control of his bike and he tumbles down. We start winding our way around trees, I’m passing a shit ton of people, and we make the approach to the run-up/fly-over. I’m dreading this first time as there are way too many people around me. I dismount and suitcase my bike up the first time. I remount at the top and pass 4 or so more people on the steep ramp off the back of the run-up. Some more off camber turns, a little up and down, and we hit the barriers. No one falls and that’s good. Some more tight turns, we double back for a bit, and then a hard right hander with a log run-up. I’m up and remounted. A little down hill and I’m hitting the power. I catch about 4 guys and we all run together into the sand pit, which is deep and fresh, so the sand goes everywhere and you sink down in. “Can’t wait to do that 5 more times,” I tell myself. Another slight descent a turn or two, and the last obstacle before I finish lap one.
All told, I raced pretty good, Tire pressure was good, I slid a bit once on a bumpy corner, and I clipped enough of my foot on a barrier to know that I almost went down and that I shouldn’t do that again.
In the gaggle of people, I finish 7th. A hard effort for 7th place, but there ended up being 33 guys in my field alone. My start sucked, and that’s what I focused on day 2.
I’m up early again ad decide not to slam my hand in the door. My race is at 9:15 again, and as luck would have it, the hotel checkout time was noon. Plenty of time to race, come back for my stuff, grab a quick shower, and still make it back to see the fast cats.
Day 2 starts of the same way, but there are a ton of new faces at the start. Shit…fresh legs to race against. The whistle blows and I’m banging bars and screaming at people to pedal or get out of the way. I hit the first corner top 10. Now we’re racing. Shit was fast and I only got passed by one other guy the whole race. The selection was made in the first 100 feet of the race. Power, power, power, and by the start of the 3rd lap, there’s no one behind me. I pass a few more people, have a nice battle with the same guy that I did the day before, and he pips me at the line. He’s 5th, I’m 6th. Shhhhheit, 6th? I wonder over to the result board ( actively updated upon finishing! oh technology). While I’m waiting for the results to post up, I look at my garmin: Average speed 1 mph faster than the last race, time was 4 mins faster, and power was 10% higher. Once again, a hard ass race for…yep, 6th place. I high fived my new friend Wes and went to spin down, grab a water, and give myself a hard time.
The race and the venue were fantastic. It was very easy to get to and the vicinity was riddled with hotels. This ended up being a regional race, with people coming from the surrounding states, GA, FL, and NC. This is what made the field so strong, and honestly, it was a great test to get away from the “normal” people that you see at every local race. I’ll be back next year to give it hell again, and maybe with some good legs, be racing cat 3 or hell, maybe 2? Time will tell.
Bike dork stuff:
Vittoria XG Pro 33’s set up tubeless: 25 psi front / 28 psi rear. This was about the lower limit on psi that I’d go, due to some rolling and sketchy moments.
Some raced with bottles, I didn’t and I was fine. Pre-race bottle was Tailwind Green Tea Buzz. Post-race was Tailwind Mandarin Orange and some pedialyte.
No mechanical issues or mis-shifts, but I went through every bolt nightly and lubed accordingly. I raced in shorts and a jersey, and will invest in a skin suit soon.
Many thanks to Tailwind Nutrition for making the best endurance fuel on the planet.
Saturday brought the first organized mtb race at Cane Creek State Park in Star City, AR. It also brought a 70% chance of rain and as I loaded up my bike at 6am Saturday morning it was already pouring in Little Rock. Text’s from friends confirmed the worst, that it indeed did rain most of the night in Pine Bluff, but the promoter was saying that it only drizzled for a few minutes in Star City. The Jeep loaded, I headed south into more rain but held on to the hope that the course would remain semi-intact for the 10 AM start.
I geared up and hit the trail for a bit of a recon. The trail was in fantastic shape and it was apparent that it had only sprinkled a bit and maybe even made the trail better traction wise. When I pre-rode it the day before, there was a good amount of organic material on the trails that made the corners and such a little slick but the rain had firmed everything up remarkably. There was also a new section of trail that I was afraid was going to be absolutely grease but I was pleasantly surprised to find it in good shape as well. The trails at Cane Creek are a little bit of Springhill mixed with Hobbs, except there are absolutely zero rock gardens and more smooth straight-a-ways. The trail system here also includes a ton of bridges, which when wet would make things completely miserable. This race was going to be a big ring spinfest with the 8 mile loop capable of being covered in 30 minutes if the short, steep climbs didn’t catch anyone by surprise.
I returned to the pavilion and found out that there were almost 30 registered and ready to race. A great turn out for a first year, grass roots race that wasn’t being held under the iron fist of USA Cycling. Factor in the rain and the turnout was borderline remarkable. It was also great to see so many families in attendance and a good field of younger riders.
The Cat 3’s were off at 9 and I volunteered to be the course sweep. The decision was made not to start the 1/2’s until all the 3’s were back, which allowed the beginner racers all the time they needed to ride and not worry about the faster riders catching them. It worked out really well and I was able to take a full lap as a warm up. I settled in behind the younger of the Arkansas Mountain Biking Family and watched in amazement as these two kids were in complete control of themselves on the trail. The course was in really good shape and I realized that the 1/2 race was going to be fast! I hit the brakes hard on a couple of the wooden bridges and things seemed to be better than the hockey rink conditions I was expecting.
I got back to the finish/start line, grabbed a couple of gels and made my way to the starting line. I’d met another racer, Craig Roberson from Blood, Sweat, and Gears earlier in the day, and we chit-chatted a bit waiting for the rest of the riders to line up. He mentioned that he had a big off road triathlon next weekend and that he was going to ride smart…which is code for I’m going to test my legs and go mach one.
The course started with a half mile of paved road and then we hit the trail for two laps for the Cat 2’s and three laps for the Cat 1’s. Things were fast from the gun, with road speeds in the 20’s and trail speeds around 16. This was a big fitness check for everyone and we settled into the race with a bit of hesitation, as we were all unsure about those bridges. There were four of us in the lead group, three of us from CARVE and Craig from Blood, Sweat, and Gears I’d mentioned earlier. In one of the early corners Craig washed out his front tire and took a tumble. He jumped up quickly and was able to catch back on without too much effort. We hit a few more bridges and traction was not a problem, so the pace went up to about 17 mph. We started to get strung out a bit on the hills as one minute you were in a valley, crossing a bridge and the next you were climbing a short but rather steep grade. I came into a bridge way too hot and smacked the inside of my left knee…dumb Brent, dumb. Right after my mishap, Scott Penrod from CARVE slid his front tire out on a hard angled approach to another bridge and found that his front tire was actually wedged into the timbers. He was in the lead so we all pulled the emergency brake and came to an abrupt stop! Luckily he was able to free his wheel after a few seconds and we all had a laugh. Once again, the pace went right back to terminal velocity. Craig took a great line through a corner and went right to the front. A perfect move as this lead right up to another short, sharp climb. We all bunched up again and I ran right up into the guy in front of me. “SHHHHHEEEEIT!” I had to bail off while the rest rode away. I ran up the hill, jumped back on and proceeded to chase like hell.
Lap one went by in a little over 30 minutes. I felt good but the knee that I’d hit earlier was letting me know that it wasn’t happy. I continued to chase, holding the lead group just in sight entering the second lap. When I hit the tree’s I went to a huge gear and gave it all I had. There was a nice sweeping downhill and I was flying to get back on. I came across an intersection and the course marshall said the group was right around the corner. “Sweet!” I dug a little harder and then the one thing that I let slip out of my mind happened, it started pouring like hell! The trail held up for the most part but the bridges went to treacherous quickly, meaning that you really had to pay attention to your angle of approach or you were going to find yourself on the ground. I ended up second, a few minutes down on Craig from BSG. He rode a great race and definitely showed up to win! Scott Penrod ended up with the win in the Cat 1 field.
The rain eventually came to a stop right after the race, allowing us all to hang out and give a few high-fives. We had the award ceremony, some of us snagged some swag, and then headed out. It was great to be a part of the first mtb race at Cane Creek and I hold high hopes for it in the future as low and behold, the one and only Fred Phillips not only came to check it out but he also raced with the Cat 3’s. I think he liked what he saw and we’ll all have to stay tuned to see if the race gets a more official status next year. In the mean time, check out Cane Creek State Park, I think you’ll like it!
Overall results here.
More pics will be linked as soon as they’re posted.