SERC/US Cup #5 Ducktown Tanasi Challenge

It was storming all day leading up to the Ducktown SERC race, so Dave and I decided to scrap our pre-ride and camping plans and leave bright and early Sunday morning.  Rather, I guess it wasn’t so “bright” when we left because the race started at 9:30AM!  Anyway it was nice to take a rare day off from everything and just relax, cook dinner (and breakfast) and sleep in my own bed.

The race was held at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, site of the 1996 Olympics (also part of the Cohutta 100 course). The area is gorgeous; I’ve driven by several times on business trips, but never had a chance to ride the trails.  Until now.

1996 Olympic whitewater center

I was so used to riding in ~85 weather (and the forecast called for a break in the storms) that I didn’t even think to bring a jacket.  It wasn’t actually cold (near 60 degrees), it just felt cold, especially after being in Texas.  If I had still lived in Wisconsin I would have probably brought out the bathing suit!  Fortunately I actually prefer “cold” weather and the temperature was perfect for me.  I was very comfortable after an excellent warm up on the trainer with my road bike.  It started to rain lightly as we lined up at the start.

photo: Gone Riding

There were no call ups but fortunately I got a good starting position (the starting line was actually very narrow and it was a bit of a struggle to find positions).  I had a good idea of the 11-mile course profile and figured I would learn on the first lap.  It was my first race on my new bike, the Rocky Element 70 MSL.  I knew the 5″ travel was awesome in Pisgah but had no idea how it would feel in a cross country race, especially coming from riding a hardtail.

bling bling! the photo is fuzzy but check out that Industry Nine hub!

The course began up a 6.5 mile climb.  I had a good start and managed to hold my ground as some girls tried to ride me into a wall lining the route.  Immediately 4 of us were off the front and I settled into a pace I knew I could sustain.  I tried something different in this race: PATIENCE.

I have found training with heart rate (in addition to power) has helped tremendously, but I am still learning how to race with it.  I only have a road PowerTap but often use the wireless Cervo unit as a heart rate monitor on the trails.  I looked forward to the climbing and kept my computer in my pocket so I could get the data later; for the time being I did not worry about numbers and just rode my race.

hanging on the train and opening the gap (photo: MTBMike.com)

It was lightly raining at the start and I’m happy to say that my awesome new Adidas Evil Eye Halfrim Pro glasses never fogged up once.  In fact, their anti-fog lenses were the best I’ve ever used!  My bike felt really responsive and I never felt like I was losing power through the suspension, even when I got out out the saddle on steep sections.

Kim got a bit of a gap when both of her teammates bobbled on a technical section in front of me.  I jumped off my bike in cross mode and ran around them.  We stayed within seconds of each other for the most part for the rest of the lap.  I’m not sure how critical tactics would have been on that course but I got no help whatsoever from the teammates, though they weren’t really working together either.

After the long climb, the course rolled for a bit, then descended on a super sketchy gravel road for a while and finally onto the technical Thunder Rock Express descent.  This is where my bike really shined and I could actually physically see its advantages over the hardtails.  I had caught Anina on the gravel and descended that section behind her, as it was a bad place to pass.  She’s a very excellent rider all around and her wheel was a good one to follow.

When we hit the long road section I was hurting and wanting nothing more than to sit up and rest.  But of course that’s how everyone felt and I kept pushing hard.  I dropped Anina and started making up time on her teammate, who I could see ahead in the distance.  The tight turn onto the road came up suddenly and was not marked well at all.  I was coming at full speed and blew right past it, onto the highway.  Not cool.  The course was essentially on the highway as well, but on a narrow path protected by a double fence.  I had no way to cross the fence without turning back onto oncoming traffic (in my opinion more dangerous than continuing on), so onto the debris and rumble strips I went.  I later learned than lots of people did the same thing.

photo: MTBMike.com

Fortunately there were no cars and the fence ended.  I was able to slide back onto the road section just in time before the parking lot, where Dave had my feed.  The exchange worked perfectly, except that he was standing without his crutches and I accidentally knocked him over!  Adding insult to injury..poor Dave!

The descent offered a great recovery and my legs really opened up on the road.  I felt very strong on the second lap and had SO much fun on my bike!  I used the fork lockout and Pro Pedal frequently; they were easy and effective to switch on and off.  The course kind of reminded me of a mix of the Rhinelander and Mt. Morris WORS courses with a southeast flair; I loved it!  The Maxxis Ikon tires and Industry Nine wheels were perfect.

Approaching the very top of the climb I passed a man who yelled out, “I hope you can descend!”  Oh man, no worries, I have the perfect bike for that!  I never saw him again.  At the bottom I nearly missed the road turn again, but slowed to an almost stop in order to make it.

I rolled into third place, which I was happy with.  After a few disappointing races my legs (and mind) are finally coming around and it’s a good feeling for sure.  These races are great training opportunities with fun courses and good competition, but my goals are elsewhere.

adding some variety to the podium (photo: MTBMike.com)

The Recofit sleeves featured above have been awesome in aiding recovery.  Stay tuned for full reviews of the incredible products I’m lucky to ride with this season!  Thanks to Momentum Racing, Pro Bikes, Speed Cycling and Dave for the support!

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