How do you take a really tough race and make it ruthless? Add rain, and lots of it!
Chris Peariso got the hole shot and led us into the initial singletrack with me right on his wheel and Christian Tanguy just behind me. Happy to be rolling the slippery conditions ahead of the masses, I encouraged him to keep the pace up.
All went well until one of those camouflage trail marker signs jumped out of Chris’ blindspot and hit him square in the shoulder and chest. It looked like a 150 lb. receiver getting broadsided by a linebacker—body twirling away from the sign, arms and legs fully extended and flailing. I was in awe of the moment, but my attention was yanked back to the present as I dove to the right to avoid running over Chris’ head. We backed off and luckily Chris was fine and jumped back into the train inside Top 10.
I was very focused on my line through the stream crossing where I dinged my rim and flatted last year—so focused that I picked the wrong half of the fork in the trail. Sam hot on my heels went with me. Christian however chose the correct direction, in silence. I know my comprehension of his native French is horrible, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt, because I’m sure I didn’t hear a sportsmanlike, “WRONG TURN!!” in English 😉 Lucky for Sam and me, you couldn’t go very far before dead-ending into a staircase. We looped around and chased back to the leaders.
Out of the singletrack and onto the first fire road, it was Christian, Sam, and me later joined by Wes and Chris who pushed hard to bridge up. The pace was urgent, not unruly for the next hour with everyone taking some turns at the front.
About 3 hours in, the pace got decidedly more heated, and Christian and I slowly opened up time on Sam and Wes with Chris falling further back. I eventually got away from Christian climbing and descending on the rollers, but my time alone was fleeting. Miscalculated nutrition equals leg cramps, lost power, and relegation to the pain cave.
Going into the lower Pinotti trail network, Christian caught me and then quietly rolled away. At that point, Sam and I were both in a not-so-happy place and slugged up the climb to Aid 5. Sam stopped longer there, and I never saw him again.
Time checks showed Christian’s lead climbing steadily over the next couple hours. The intermittent rain was taking its toll with some sections saturated, muddy, and always cold. Returning from my unwanted low calorie diet brought back some of the fun in the punishment for me. I was chipping into Christian’s lead, the rain had let up for awhile, and I knew the suffering would not last much longer.
The final singletrack section over Thunder Mountain reminded me of the old days back in rural Florida with my wife. I’ve seen monster trucks get stuck in mud bogs that weren’t as deep or greasy as some of the stuff that stood between us and home.
At that point, I didn’t care much since the conditions were surely the same for everyone, but about 30 miles out my rear brake with resin pads had gone belly up. Descending 25-degree pitches covered in deep slimy mud with just one brake takes some of the fun out of a man’s “Get Dirty Time.” I was running scared, afraid that slow-poking through all the turns and down all the hills meant getting caught from behind. Two years in a row running scared down Thunder Mountain. I guess that’s my thing.
Thanks to Sarakristen Photography for the images.