This past weekend at the Lumberjack 100 was a very special weekend. I always look forward to representing my home state on the national mountain bike stage and it’s awesome we have so many great races right here in Michigan. This year we made the trip up with the in-laws Dan and Sandy O’Dea and stayed in the uber comfortable motor home. You should see this thing, it looks like something team Sky would roll up in. This would be my 8th try at this race and each of them seemed just as painful as the last.
Things were going smooth all day Thursday, but on Friday during the pre-ride, I discovered I’d broken my XX1 crank and it didn’t look like it had many options. It’s not your typical drivetrain. You can’t just throw on any old crank. It requires the replacement of the whole drivetrain, wheels, etc. Good thing Bob from 616 Fabrications came to the rescue. He let me borrow his race bike. It was a little on the small side, but it would get the job done. Stressful, but crisis averted and hopefully the smaller size frame wouldn’t bother me.
I went through my typical pre-game ritual… up at 4am which Dan and Sandy thoroughly enjoyed I’m sure, but we made the 5:15am cutoff time for departure to the course and snagged a sweet parking spot.
This race always gets off to a quick start and this year was no exception. I made sure to stay right near the front because the bottleneck into the singletrack can get a little sketchy. A group of 5 quickly formed off the front during the first lap. It was Barry Wicks, Drew Edsall, Christian Tanguy, Kevin Carter, and me. The trail was pretty dry, and there were a ton of sticks popping up everywhere as we made our way through the Udell Hills trail system.
After we broke away the pace calmed down. Wicks was on a single a speed. So he would murder it up all the power climbs, but never really pushed the pace on the flats. Anytime one of us would try to push it on the flats, he managed to wind up that gear of his and hold on. As Scott Quiring used to call it, “the sticky booger tactic.” I have to give him credit though. I think he torqued that giant gear up just about every single climb. I was ok with that because I like to ride with a similar style.
After a lap of that, we dropped Kevin Carter and it was down to the 4 of us. Christian seemed happy sitting back, while Drew and I made sure not to give Wicks an inch. Later during the 2nd lap, Christian took a pretty hard pull all the way up to the fire tower. It was the first hard move of the race, but you could have thrown a blanket over the 4 of us. Nobody was going anywhere.
Heading into the 3rd lap, I started thinking about what I was going to do to try and get away. I decided I was going to try on the series of hills before the fire tower. I got a little gap by the top, but I didn’t have the confidence to make it stick. Too many times have I faltered on the last lap of this race, so I laid up and let it come back together. Wicks took over on the ensuing rollers and the cracks began to show. Drew fell off the pace, but Christian was still close.
I decided I had to do something on the last climb, or else I thought this might come down to a sprint. I took the lead off the final dirt rd and pushed the pace as hard as I could. The legs still felt solid. We made the sharp right hander up the final steep climb which was pretty loose at this point in the race and I punched it as hard as I could. I looked back and Wicks and Tanguy were still right with me. Dammit! This was going to be a sprint finish and I ain’t no sprinter!
We made our way towards the finish with me leading it out, Wicks in 2nd, and Tanguy sitting 3rd wheel. My plan was to keep the tempo high and just go for it out of the last turn into the finishing straight. Tanguy at 3rd wheel would be too far back, and Wicks on the single speed wouldn’t have the gear to get around me. It was the perfect plan. We hit the turn and I stood up and went for it. I came around the bend and I could see the finish line, I dug deep and drove the bike forward… now I’d love to tell you I crossed the finish line first in front of my all my family and close friends on the national stage right here in my home state, but those fairy tail endings rarely happen in bike racing. No my friends, somehow Wicks wound that gear of his up and got me on the line by ½ a wheel. I cursed him and banged my handlebar as we rolled on. I was so bummed. Oh so close.
I’ll end with this… "Sometimes you're flush and sometimes you're bust, and when you're up, it's never as good as it seems, and when you're down, you never think you'll be up again, but life goes on." After the past few weeks, I’m realizing that I am on the “up” side, even though it doesn’t seem as good as it should be. I’ve raced through long slumps just about ready to give up on getting that speed back that I had in my mid 20’s. Hell, I remember lying in a hospital bed wondering if I would ever be able to race again. 2 years ago, I would have been over the moon just to be within 5 minutes of Tanguy or Wicks after a 100 miler. But we always want more and we need to remind ourselves when we’re “up”. I might actually be riding the wave of the greatest fitness of my life right now. So am I bummed? Hell no I’m not. I feel re-born. I’m excited knowing it’s all still there… it always was there, I just had to dig it out. So here’s to reinventing ourselves and digging out the true potential that’s still in all of us.
Congrats to Barry Wicks on an unbelievable ride on the single speed, and to everyone who finished. Big thanks to Dan and Sandy O’Dea for the awesome hospitality and thanks to 616 Fabrications for saving the day. See you all at the next one and thanks for checking in.