There is a clear mental shift that happens when you are racing. You're on the start line and the gun/horn/whistle goes off. Your body jolts to action with such vigor, that your mind is almost convinced it is fleeing for its life. It is at this point, that pain, while real and acknowledged, becomes irrelevant. You push yourself beyond limits, go deeper, and exert yourself harder than you ever can normally. That is the essence of a XC mountain bike race, and that was my day at Fountainhead.
Fountainhead was an afterthought. I found out about it only a few days before the race and signed up. I had a free weekend and was riding the wave of the seasons fitness. Fortunately, I had recently done some V02 max work which helped put the cherry on top of my training for such a short race. Seeing as I hadn't done a race this short since March, I knew I'd need any help I could get.
Race day started like any other. I ate oatmeal, had a Muscle Milk shake for some last minute protein, and hit the road. While driving the 90 minutes down to Fountainhead in Northern Virginia, I sipped on a bottle of Infinit GoFar for some extra hydration and calories. I was prepped and ready.
I will say, I was a bit nervous. I had seen a few things online about the course and it looked very fast. This isn't inherently nerve inducing, as I typically enjoy a fast race, but given the type of course, I was unsure what to think. The terrain is rolling, like, BMX pump-track rolling. Additionally the surface was very dry and loose dirt, making turns a calculated activity: too fast and you wash out and crash, too slow and you lose time.
We started with a prologue and I opted to not go for the hole shot. Their were a few local guys racing and I thought following them through would be better for the first of three laps. That worked out well for the first 5 berms, and then they were gone. Andre Oja and Marco Demartin were shredding the course like the locals they were. The first climb came and I made my punch. I hit it as hard as I dared and managed to drag Marco back and grabbed his wheel right at the top, dropping the 4th place rider Chris Dobroth in the process. I was happy, both my goals for the climb had been accomplished.
My joy was immediately eclipsed as Marco hit the downhill hard, airing two table top jumps on the way down. I was dropped immediately. With Andre and Marcos knowledge of the course revealing itself, I knew it was a race for third.
The first lap droned on as I discovered just how many hairpin turns you can fit into a 6 mile loop: seemingly a thousand. I was starting to get used to the loose dirt when I heard Chris clawing his way back onto my wheel. Not good.
We re-entered the course for lap two and I took a split second to suck down some Infinit Speed before the roller coaster began again. The second time around was easier as I had seen it all now and (sort of) knew what to expect. I hit the climbs hard again to drop Chris and put some day light in between us. I was satisfied with the gap around 10-12 seconds as that was enough to basically be out of sight on this course (it was THAT windy).
Around that point in the second lap I realized my bike was perfect for this. I was unsure what the surface would be like so I ran Fast Trak tires which turned out to be great with the Specialized S-Works Epic. The course was so smooth you could have easily ripped through it on a BMX bike. However, I loved having the full suspension of the Epic. Because the course was so fast, I was taking turns and descents like a mad man, with no time to go around certain obstacles and rocks. The Epic transitions perfectly from fully locked out when I was hammering out of the saddle on the climbs to open and ripping through a root filled descent. It could not have been a better weapon.
I was still wary of Chris behind me, and with Marco out of sight, he was the only thing on my mind. I stood when I could and tried to continue learning the flow of the course. But then he came back. I had worked all of lap two to keep Chris away, but he pulled me right back in the last quarter of the lap. Fast. Too fast. Mentally, I was off the podium.
Going into lap three, it might as well have been the first lap. Chris was breathing on my back as we snaked our way through the first bermy section. I pulled it together and told myself I had not driven down here for a 4th place, I wanted to be on the podium. I stood up on a slight uphill and put in a few strong pushes, glanced back, and saw a small gap open. We immediately came up on a little root section that has a flattish section following. I attacked, and hammered.
I dropped as many watts as I dared and took a few risks on the turns for a few minutes trying to open the gap. It worked and I finally had some daylight. A few more rollers and a climb later, and I felt comfortable again. I maintained a steady pace and managed to open things up a bit more. Glancing back, I couldn't see Chris and was relieved. I put it on cruise control having not seen Marco in over an hour and just focused on not crashing. I came across the line just 52 seconds down on Marco.
All in all, it was a good day. My lack of knowledge of the course sealed my defeat, as it certainly wasn't for a lack of effort. My average heart rate was 180bpm for the 1:47:43 (ouch), which put me 1:46 behind Andre and 52 seconds behind Marco. It was a painful day, but a podium nonetheless!
Congratulations to Andre who took the overall win, to Marco for second, and Chris for his fast ride to take fourth. I bagged 3rd overall in the elite field with a 2nd in the under 35 class. What a fun race.