Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Bike Racing Birthday in Minnesota

After a great couple of days visiting in Cleveland, South Bend and Chicago, I was pretty psyched up to race on my birthday in Minnesota at Afton Alps. With only 351 feet of vertical, I think someone had a sense of humor when they added Alps to the name of the ski area. Adding the the irony, the race was called the "Afton Avalanche" which conjured up images of...well, alps filled with snow, not 351 feet ski areas in June. But having gone to college in Minnesota and experienced some sound ass kickings on tough courses in the area, I knew better than to start getting uppity about the course. That and after a night torrential rain, it looked like a mudfest was possible.

Rolling up to the race not knowing anyone was a bit strange after having raced alongside so many friends in New England during the previous two weeks , but everyone was really friendly and it seemed like a good scene. After a good warm-up I lined up alongside the 14 other guys in my Sport 19-29 category. I came off the start in third position but quickly passed the two guys ahead of me before diving into the single track. Afton has done a great job with trail design and has some really nice, fast single track with tight corners and good flow as well as decently technical rocks sections (but no roots...which was OK by me). The trail alternated between uphill switchbacks on the ski slopes and tight, twisty single track in the woods. Dipping in and out of the woods, I slowly zig-zagged my way up the mountain.

After building up a pretty big lead in the first half of the first lap, I eased up the pace a little bit. As I finished the first lap, I looked back to see a guy in white closing in on me so I picked the pace up again. He was gaining time on the climbs and ended up catching up to me a third of the way through the first lap. I was suffering on the longest climb of the course when he caught me, so I considered appealing to his sense of charity to let me win since it was my birthday after all. Instead, I decided that I'd really make him work to pass me and I raised the pace going into the singletrack descent. I found that I was able to open a good gap on the twisty, greasy descents and switchbacks, which he slowly reeled in on the climbs. We yo-yo'ed back and forth like this for a while until we came to the final climb. I knew that if I was able to get to the top before him, I probably could outkick him on the long ski-slope descent into the finish. I crested the top of the hill with a 10 foot lead which I padded a bit more in the long, swooping descent to the finish.

Coming into the finish, I was all set to contest the sprint when at the last second I noticed a sign marking the finishing chute to the left. I tried to correct my path but ended up running directly into the sign and getting all tangled up in it. I ended up knocking the sign over and rolling over the line 1 second in front of the other guy--so much for my smooth raised-arm victory salute! All around though, it was about the best birthday present I was able to give myself. The next guy in our category finished 8 minutes behind I think racing in New England and the DC area is a bit faster...but hey, I'll take the birthday win nonetheless, especially since I haven't won a bike race in 10 years! Actually, the terrain of the Afton Alps course felt pretty similar to a the race courses around DC, though just with fewer riders.


Matt Donahue said...

Awesome work Loren! It's great to see that your training and riding in DC and New England are paying off. Great work-way to represent DCMTB!

Safe travels, we'll be looking to hear more.

Anna said...

Yay! Go big or go home! OH, and Happy Birthday!

You'll be missed, but I'm sure you'll find your niche out west.

...hmmm, it seems you're missing a certain blog in the right margin :)