The Dragons Tale
4th Apr 2012 Posted in: Blog , Race Reports 3
The Dragons Tale
A Hard Earned 2nd Place for Kevin Carter
So is it an A race, B race, or C race?  Do any other racers find
themselves obsessing over that question?  I don't think any of us
could call ourselves competitors if we didn't have the habit of
upgrading a race value in our hearts, and in our planning as a race
date approaches.  My heart is in the NUE series this year so anything
shorter then those takes second priority to training, and doesn't put
my ego in the ringer with a sub-par finish.   Even with the focus on
the long stuff, I couldn't help but slip in an easy day beforer
Dragon's Tale Sunday in the hopes of a top finish.

Years ago someone told me about the epic Dragon's Tale route and race
and ever since it has been on my radar.  I have done enough Shenandoah
Mountain Touring races to know it would be a quality event, and double
bonus, a great value.  Chris' reputation usually draws out a couple
really solid riders despite this being a newer, smaller event.   Ian
Spivak, Mike Tabasko, and Bayar Batchuluun from DC MTB were heading
down so I knew there would be some friendly faces.  Somehow I talked
my brother in law Eric Brooks into joining on this "Epic" adventure.
(side note: Watching Eric racing the SM100 in '08 is what inspired me
to get a bike and start mountain biking!)  Never one to back down from
a challenge, Brookzilla went in whole hog, guns blazing.  Lastly, we
were joined by the greatest support crew in endurance sports, my
pregnant sister Kathleen.

Before the race, rumors were flying (thanks Ian!) about all these
other fast riders who were going to be racing.  Brandon Draugellis,
Sam Koerber, Nick Waite.  If the pages long resumes of those guys
wasn't intimidating enough, word came in late that Jeremiah Bishop the
Olympic hopeful and Team Cannondale bone crusher was heading down to
school us all.  Rather then get nervous about the insane competition I
was actually excited.  Another chance to race with legends but at a
distance that better suits my training.  Weather was perfect, just a
touch below 60 degrees and all of the rumored riders minus Brandon
were on hand.  This race begins with a few miles of neutral start
behind the lead vehicle keeping the riders together on the main roads
but as soon as the route forks, chaos ensues.  It always entertains me
how crazy everyone goes at the beginning of these super long races.
I'm looking around watching guys try to move up and jockey for
position, all the while gauging the strain on my body, cross checking
on the power meter, shaking my head in disapproval.  With so many
hours to sort themselves out, why does everyone fry their legs for no
real gain :).  In the first few miles there are about 4 or 5 creek
crossings.  Shallow enough to ride but deep enough to practically
bring you to a dead stop.  I cruised at the front with Ian, JB, and a
few other fast looking dudes to avoid any trouble.  Jeremiah was not
shy about his willingness to set the pace so who was I to object.  We
struck up a conversation about his recent racing and how much we loved
our 29ers.  I teased Ian for flicking "imported mud" in my eye and he
(rightfully) called me a hypocrite.  Good times for sure but at the
first turn in the road, where the grade ticks up about 5 notches from
gradual to No F----- Joke, Jeremiah decided to show us why we are all
mere mortals on his wheel.  It was like a turn of the century cops and
robbers movie where the bad guys are throwing stuff out of the back of
a getaway car to foil the cops chasing them.  Only difference was JB
had ripped open a huge burlap bag of hammers and was throwing them
down in handfuls.  I was in awe.  The only thing blowing my mind more
then the intensity of his surges was the dull realization that staying
on his wheel was actually well within my zone.  In what seemed like no
time at all our huge pack was suddenly just 3.  JB drilling up the
hill, me churning behind him, and Ian on the tail.  I am a sit and
spinner, JB is an in-and-out of the saddle kind of guy so it took a
little extra effort to keep it smooth but never has a little suffering
felt so good.  I paused a moment to thank myself for doing the
predictable race planning upgrade with the extra rest day.  We flew up
that first hill and worked on building as much of a gap as we could.
Ian was riding great and stuck it out longer then I would have thought
any of us could have, but eventually let us slip away.  Once we
reached the rollers we swapped pulls for a bit with Jeremiah being the
primary lead.  His plan was to drill the hell out of the first hour
and then settle in.  Clearly a strategy to maximize his training
benefit for the short races.  I was all game as long as it didn't get
anaerobic for me.  But sadly, this race strategy was fit for just one.
After the first aid station at mile 20 the route turns to tight
singletrack and the grade kicks up yet a few more notches.  This
increase grade ended Kevin's happy chase JB party pretty quick.

So cruising up to the ridge the first time JB slowly trickled away
from me as I eased up the pressure to keep in aerobic.  I missed his
company even though I knew all along the farewell was imminent ;).
With the steep pitches and tight switch backs I had to spend more time
then I would have liked on my feet rather then on the pedals.  Rather
then get to bent out of shape about it, or try to force myself to ride
sections that didn't have a high success potential I just tried to
remind myself that I am a half decent runner so jogging couldn't be
that bad.  The first time the course hits the ridge we turn right and
ride the Dragon's Tale!  Its hard to imagine a ridge top with that
much variation in elevation without having seen the profile first.
Since we arrived in the dark I didn't have a good frame of reference
but it was like a giant roller coaster with some pretty steep pitches!
Racing in second I made it a game to try and figure out how much
farther up some of the steep pitches JB would ride before getting off
to run.  It was always later then me but at least finding footprints
eased my bruised ego.  The first ridge run is short before a descent
and fire road back to aid one/two and another trip back up the
singletrack to the ridge top.  For once I only made 2 big mistakes in
a race.  The first one was bringing a knife (1x10) to a gun fight
(southern Virginia mountain bike epic).  The second one was pouring
out 3/4th a bottle of water at the bottom of a hill because I had
drank so little up to that point.  Common, what an idiot!  I drink
more water then anyone I know and the day was just starting to warm
up.  After reaching the ridgetop the second time the course runs left,
to the north, and undulates for countless miles up and down the back
of the Dragon.  Pacing was tough because each roller was different.
Some were short and steep, some were long and steep, while others were
gradual---wait--- I take that back, none of them were gradual ;)  With
so many pedal breaks I found it challenging pacing out my efforts on
the steep pitches while also picking the right places to hop off and
run.  For the next hour I had a broken record playing in my head.  The
only thing on it were Ian's words before the race, "Yeah, there is
like only 1 place I couldn't ride last year and had to get off..."
Every time I had to hop off my bike I laughed at the memory.  While
most of my dismounts were due to high gearing there were also more
then a few benches that I don't think I would have attempted.

After about an hour and a half on the ridge I started to get nervous
about my broken rhythm over the undulations.  There were just no
places to put down solid pedaling.  Either the uphills were too steep
for me to ride, or the descents were technical enough that I knew
someone like Sam would be crushing my pace.  I suppose our buffer was
big enough, Sam didn't catch me till part way down the big descent.
He came into view as I stumbled to walk my bike over some tricky off
camber log drops and tripped.  I am sure I looked like a total idiot
in my unitard, sprawled horizontal over my bike, stuck on my hands
with my ass in the air, trying to get back on my feet.  After just 20
or 30 seconds trailing me I half deliberately overshot one of the
tight switchbacks to let him by.  My timing sucked and I went too deep
in the brush and by the time I got out, Sam was practically out of
sight. That guy absolutely crushes on the downhills.  My hats off to
him, an incredible talent.  Lucky for me there are 2 small climbs
after leaving the main ridge that allowed me to close up some of those
massive gaps Sam was opening on me whenever the trail pointed down.
By now the 60 rpm grinding was really devastating me but the long
miles have done their job and the body was still in the fight.  On the
descents I just tried to keep it smooth, let the gap grow a little and
just keep it safe.  No amount of life insurance is going to raise my
daughters and I was confident I only needed a few miles of pavement to
take back the position I really wanted to finish in.

This course finishes back in town which means after leaving the ridge
there is a bit of double track and then some gravel and pavement
before the finish.  The legs were dying for a chance to really dig
deep and thankfully the opportunity was there.  I did my best to drill
the rollers for the next mile or so and about as quickly as he
disappeared, Sam and second place came back into view.  I eased back
and slowed the closure rate so I would have a bit more gas in the tank
when we met.  Sam must have some good ears because I wasn't on his
wheel but a moment when he popped up and pulled the plug.  For a
moment there I thought we might roll to a stop in middle of the road,
some sort of track cycling stale mate.  I just smiled and said hello
and took over the lead position.  Attacking from behind was out so I
just waited about 10 seconds for the first uptick in the road to make
a move.  Attacking from the front is pretty stupid but under these
circumstances I was confident the strategy was solid.   As soon as the
pavement was less then level I leapt out of the saddle and hit it as
hard as I could.  Sam was ready but a gap steadily opened and I
drilled it till the legs spun out on the next downhill.  My timing
couldn't have been any better because about 100m from the bottom of
the hill was the finish turn.  I had attacked on the very last rise
before the finish.  That is cutting it  closer then I would like but
I'll take it!  Results just got posted, turns out JB got me by almost
3 minutes not 2.  I'll take that as well because the gap is less then
the 4 he put on me at the much shorter Danville XC.

Like any race I made plenty of mistakes and have lots to work on.  I
have no complaints though.  There have been many hard fought miles
this winter and the numbers give me the validation that the training
has been solid and the confidence I need looking ahead.  Can't wait
for more!


3 Responses

  1. ian says:

    nice job kev, yeah man, only 1 place where i remember hiking for a bit, thats what i meant to say, not just 1 place that i had to hike. btw, u need to share those power numbers!!

  2. Bayar says:

    Good write up HeavieKevie.

  3. […] on fire with a 1st at Bakers Dozen Solo Male, 3rd at Monster Cross, 2nd at the Lumberjack 100 and 2nd at the Dragons Tale (above) and also 2nd at the Cohutta 100 – both only behind National Champion Jeremiah […]

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