Written by Michael Green Saturday, 12 January 2019 00:00
Wow, this year went by quickly. I started the year with a number of goals and the remaining goal set exactly a year ago was up next - repeat as Michigan State Champion.
As the winner of this event in 2017, I had a level of confidence with repeating, yet, as typical, there were unknowns regarding others in the Masters category particularly two who had moved up into the age bracket, both friends and solid cyclists, one being a past MTB Pro and unbeaten in cyclocross events in 2018. I hadn’t raced in this age category all year with preference towards, singlespeed, racing with youngsters and Open, so really, who knows how the day would finish, plus, we all know how mechanicals, the weather and the course and impact results.
This was the same location as last year, Deerfield Park in the center of the state with elevation change, awesome loamy singletrack through the woods and plenty of sand along the shores of the Chippewa River. I’d ridden file treads last year, but significant snow and rain the week prior had pushed a last minute decision towards a mixed conditions tread with the hope that grip on the corners, a muddy climb, plus the sand would be perfect choice.
As I climbed off of the pre-race trainer ride, the flurries started. Thirty four degrees at the start, a brisk westerly wind picking up and changing the snow into rain - just wonderful! My travel and race choices over the past few weeks had scraped me enough USA Cycling points for a front row start. The whistle went and we were off. I felt that the realistic expectation was the the winner would come from either myself or the two new protagonists so the goal was to slot into the front three with the ultimate to be second wheel to split up the two friends. I got a good start on the road, a slight “S” bend and onto a rideable muddy climb with three wet and greasy logs to navigate. I was second wheel on the downhill and into the woods and within half a lap, it was just the three of us.
And that’s how it went for the first half of the race: I followed wheels, took my turns, let the other predict the pace and observed the competition. There were a few digs, surges and gamesmanship but I remember specifically telling myself “I feel really comfortable”. The plan was to let it go on the downhill with two to go, lead into the woods and beach and see what happens.
With about two and a half to go, on a sandy turn a bobble ahead of me forced the two of us off of our bikes. The lesson learned in my last race was to get off my bike more proactively and sooner. I was off quickly and running but the third wheel put in an attack and immediately gained 20 yards. I countered and was chasing hard. Suddenly the three of us who were previously glued to each other were split up and racing a different race. We went through the start with two to go and as I approached the muddy hill I’d closed the gap: now there was two of us. As we climbed the hill the wheel ahead slipped on one of the greasy logs. Like a flash I was off my bike and running - this had turned into my attack. I remounted on the top of the hill and let it go on the downhill, which initially was the plan, Into the loamy singletrack, onto the beach, a muddy/wet turn and onto a peninsula where I had the opportunity to look back at the gap - I was alone.
With one to go, it was all about managing the gap and making no mistakes. I had some friends around the course giving me gaps and I vividly recall nineteen seconds on the peninsula. I recall my senses being heightened for some reason: I was freezing cold from being soaking wet from the drizzle and the wind and my drivetrain and brakes on my Kona Super Jake being so noisy from the build up of sand. I crossed the finish line and had successfully completed major goal number two by and official 20 seconds. I felt I had raced an almost perfect race, been in the zone and let go a big sigh of relief. It was so cold, I grabbed my backpack and quickly zipped up my Verge ‘cross pants and jacket while waiting to shake hands the other competitors. What a day! Now what?
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