The Big Ring Rumpus

Word came across the NE Cyclocross mailing list a couple of weeks ago that this weekend’s EFTA MTB race, the Big Ring Rumpus, offered a flat, non-technical course well suited to cross bikes. In fact, the organizers went so far as to add a cross-bike category, as well as allowing cross bikes in the MTB races. Well, I suppose cross bikes are always allowed in MTB races, they’re just hardly ever the right tool for the job. The cross-bike category didn’t mesh with my schedule, but the month-long hole in my road racing made me desperate for some hot laps. With a little trepidation, I signed up for the Novice race at 9am. While I’m not exactly a hot-shot bike racer, I’m not new to it, but I’d never done an MTB race.
I have an MTB now, so I packed it up along with the cross bike. Bike prep consisted mainly of throwing the tubie wheelset on the Redline and making sure they still held air. I split for Auburn with the thermometer reading 72 degrees, but watched the temp drop steadily on the drive, making me regret not packing more than a pair of bibs and a short-sleeve jersey. OK, I had a skinsuit, too, but…seriously? Skinsuit in a novice MTB race? That might be poor form.
Rain began to fall soon after I parked, but the course wasn’t all that wet on my pre-ride. As advertised, it was four miles of pan-flat fire roads with the occasional rock or root. The MTB stayed in the van and I decided to keep the file treads on, running about 30psi, despite the developing rain. I got two laps in, enough to get a feel for where the few dangerous holes and corners were. Then I stood around in the rain for almost half an hour waiting for the pre-race brief. I guess when you’re not closing roads or paying cops, starting on time becomes a little less important.
Muddy rumpus!
I was almost shivering by the time we made the start, with a a half-mile dash down a straight fire road to the first turn, a loose right-hander into a slightly rutted gravel wash. I made it to the corner with company, went wide into the gravel, and slowed way down trying to make it back onto the line. That let a gap open to a couple of guys on MTBs, plus a couple of cross-bike drivers ahead of them. By the end of the first lap I had made it around the MTBers, but the crossers still dangled in front of me. I could see the lead rider, who turned out to be Jim White, looking back quite a bit. I didn’t know his name until after the race, so I dubbed him Skinsuit Guy, since he did have the guts to roll to the start of a novice MTB race wearing a skinsuit. And now he was riding away from us, if a bit slowly. Hey, I thought, that’s probably the head of the race, if you can get up there you can WIN THIS THING!. Afterburner time!
Sometime on lap two I made it up to the 2nd crosser, who I learned later was Terry Cowman. I stayed on his wheel for a while, then moved around him on one of the flat, grassy sections. He stayed on my wheel, and we raced together around an increasingly greasy course. The rain persisted through the 2nd lap, with more mud holes appearing by the minute. I started to regret my tire choice, especially as I heard my front rim whang off rocks a couple of times. No flats, though – those cotton FMBs must be tougher than they look!
Terry and I stayed together until about halfway through the third lap, when I got sideways through a muddy right-hander and lost most of my speed trying to stay upright. He blasted off, and I suddenly discovered that pedaling hard makes me tired. Skinsuit Guy was already out of sight, so I cruised through the finish chicane and then got back in the big ring for the last lap. I dodged a few lapped riders while trying to catch up to Terry, but ended up finishing about a minute down from Jim, who was just a few seconds ahead of Terry. Turns out Terry is an old guy, though, so that put me in 2nd place in the Novice Veterans I Born On Tuesday With Dark Hair category. I think we were the only three to finish the race in under an hour, all on cross bikes. Higher gearing and skinnier tires definitely made the cross bike the proverbial gun at a knife fight.
So that was good, muddy fun but I think I can still say I’ve never done an MTB race, since I didn’t even bother pulling the MTB out of the car. It wasn’t really a cross race, either. Four mile lap? No barriers? No beer? I don’t know what to call that, but it’s not cyclocross, no matter what I was riding. Just fun. Bikes are fun, folks. Have you ridden yours today?