Ute Valley Pro XCT: Colorado Springs
This is where the meat went bad. In retrospect, judging from the blood, maybe it was just a little undercooked. In any case, it didn’t go down well.
I did this race on a whim. I happened to have the Saturday of the event off of work; away from the beer temple, which is normally where bad judgments are made. Fortunately, these bad judgments just lead to more beer drinking, not pain. This race was part of the Pro Tour, which only consists of 5 events all summer, and the only stop in Colorado. It was a chance to see the top U.S. pros in the sport compete at the highest level, and race the same course as them. I barely made it down to Ute Valley Park in time to pre-ride the course, about an hour before my race would start. Apparently, in my quest to become a pro, I still haven’t figured out how to use an alarm clock, or just disregard it. In actuality it might take just as much discipline to ignore the annoying morning rooster than to get up at 5am, and I shall convince myself of the former. The course was a 4.5 mile loop, consisting of everything from tight twisting singletrack, sandy sections, loose rocky sections, technical slickrock climbs, fast descents through rock fields, and one very technical descent that drops about 30ft down rock faces. This was definitely a course I could’ve spent a whole day pre-riding, not only because there are so many lines to choose from, and finding the fastest is not easy, but also because it is extremely fun! Welcome back to REAL mountain bike racing! This course trumped all others I had been to previously.
The race began in an odd fashion. The Pro Tour is run by USA Cycling, whom also supports the up-and-coming juniors in the sport. This meant that they are given precedent and start at the front of the hundreds of other Cat1 riders. Organizers also decided to start the singlespeed field with the 40-49 age group Cat1 riders. This was very odd, as we are usually started directly behind the pros. So for the first time I was downwind of about a hundred stinky sweating bike-fiends. It wasn’t the smell that bothered me so much as the standing around for so long in an old-guy stew. Each group was started in 30-second waves. Our wave, like the rest, started with fury. In a race this short, 4 laps of the 4.5 mile course, it is basically a sprint the entire way. As we made our way up the first climb, about ½-mile long, I realized I would have some competition. I was back in third for about ¼-mile before heading up front. The exertion made me feel like I was going to lose my lunch, pushing with all my effort and lung capacity. At the top of the climb came an extremely fast descent, which made its way through a blind rock section. Right before this section, as I feathered my brakes, I was passed by a singlespeeder who not only didn’t touch his brakes, but proceeded to air out the entire section altogether. He knew something I didn’t, or just had bigger balls; maybe both. Shortly thereafter came the nasty descent down 4 or 5 rock faces. As I, along with just about everyone else, slowed down and picked our lines carefully, the same singlespeeder took a different route, passing about 6 riders where there was no line, not slowing down as he Geronimo-ed down and off the rocks. It was an impressive display. I wasn’t worried about his crazed antics, as I knew I could catch him on the climbs and flats. Sure enough I caught him, but I was too swept up by a fast singlespeeder. This was all before hitting a long stretch of climb of roots, rocks, and steep and technical slickrock. Upon hitting this section, I saw about 30 riders ahead, all struggling to make their way to the top; mostly the juniors. And this created a big problem for me and the rest. I made it up without putting a foot down, but with about half the speed as I would’ve liked. At that point I and the singlespeeder ahead made sure to get around a lot of the traffic. We pushed on through the first lap, and he gained a little gap on me as I struggled to pass riders in bad spots, where he seemed to know where to push and get ahead and where he could tone it back a bit. But going into the second lap we had some clear air and now we could really push. I was feeling good in 2nd place and confident that I could catch the leader. Then, about a third of the way through the 2nd lap, my contact decided to migrate away from my eyeball, and jump for freedom. Luckily, in a heroic snatch, my eyelid caught it and hung on. I decided, remembering how fast and dangerous some of the descents were, that I had to stop and try to put it back in. As I stood on the side of the trail, dry dusty contact in my mouth, trying frantically to put it back in my bloodshot eye, I was passed by many-a-steaming mountain biker. Finally I got back on the bike, but my mind and moral were not back in it yet. I was discouraged, knowing in a race this fast that it would be difficult for me to regain some of the spots I had lost. But I kept pushing on, and eventually got back to full form, passing riders and feeling that I was making some good progress. Then came the third lap, and ugliness ensued. I had just passed about 10 riders on the nasty uphill slickrock slog, and began one of the fast and sketchy, pick-your-best-line, descents. I was going along at 20-some mph, flying through rock fields, launching off of boulders and such. Then came a set of stair-step boulders, about 1ft drop each. I launched off of the first but somehow caught my front wheel at an odd angle on the second, which catapulted me through the air, leaving bike behind. I got up quickly, noticing that nothing was broken besides my bloody shattered sunglass (not a good sign), and began, very slowly, moving again. There was pain all over, but surprisingly none of it was too terrible, considering I had just taken the hardest spill in my mountain biking career. After this incident I totally conceded. I felt extremely shaken up, and couldn’t care less about racing anymore. I finished the last lap-and-a-half at a snail’s pace.
|Sketchyness. A lot steeper and hairier than it looks.|
This was my ugliest race yet. This was the most fun and most real race yet. Such is the duality of mountain biking. Sometimes you don’t have the best day RACING, but the RIDING can be incredible. Sometimes everything goes wrong, but it can still be fun. I realized the next day that I had split my helmet almost in two, and had suffered a minor concussion. But still, what a fun race venue.
Later on we watched the real spectacle, the Pro Men race. They were spectacular to watch, a real eye-opener for me. They attacked the sketchy descents and boulder sections without remorse. They didn’t even think to touch their brakes. They picked the smartest and fastest lines, and barreled over everything in sight. It was clear that they knew the course well, but more than that it really showed their expertise in bike-handling and ability. There is something special about the top-level mountain bikers, in that the highest level roadie couldn’t hang on a course like this. It is an awesome mix of power, endurance, speed, skill, ability, and BALLS!