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On the Rocks, French Creek Style

by Paul Wojciak • May 08, 2021

After a 537 day long absence from bicycle racing, I got my mojo back during a fun and technical four-hour endurance event at French Creek State Park in Pennsylvania. It feels really good just to write those words. The venue has a reputation for wet, slimy rocks intermixed with super flowy buffed bliss. Saturday's event lived up to the reputation. An overnight storm brought in some rain but surprisingly, the ground sucked most of that up and the day dawned sunny and bright with race temps in the 50's.

Mid-Atlantic Super Series has been hosing most of their regular event calendar again in 2021. All stops include XC races and several of them include defined time or defined distance endurance races. My game plan was to test the equipment both bike and body in preparation for the five day Transylvania Epic mountain bike stage race in late May. The four-hour format of French Creek asks that you manage your effort, so you still have gas in the tank at the end and not burn all your matches early. My new Yeti SB115 rig had proven exceptional in training rides. How would it fare during a race? The bike is perfectly suited for endurance XC with longer travel and more forgiving suspension. With the help of Alan and the Bikeman crew, I was able to build out the frame into a 26.5-pound endurance racing dream machine.

The eight-mile course sported about 100 feet of climbing per mile. Not too much, and not too little. There are several technical downhills, and they are balanced by a mix of steady or punchy climbs. The endurance field had about 50 racers and 21 of them were in the men's 45+ group with me. The race started on a steady gravel climb and the front of the field was pushing it from the word go. Not really wanting any of that, I settled in about mid-way through the field. The trails immediately hit you with a water bar drop filled gully that turns into a long steady singletrack climb. The field was stretched out already. We entered the next downhill section this time a winding series of high speed switchbacks liberally filled with rocks and more rocks. The Yeti was eating things up, smoothing out what was a super chunky piece of trail.

About mid-lap the trail turns back up with some tricky climbs before heading into smooth single track that serpentines round hypnotically. You then are faced with the steepest, most technical climb of the lap. I walked this on the first couple laps before cleaning it on my third and fourth laps with only a small dab on lap five. (Incidentally, few were even trying to ride that hill. I found the 52-tooth ring on the SRAM XX1 cassette perfectly suited for the situation.) After the climb, you encounter rolling elevations and rock gardens followed by some of the fastest and fun downhills of the lap. You are delivered back to a little gravel, a single track chute and through the finish line. Lap one in the books! In my case, lap time of 47 minutes. After all was said and done, I turned five laps, totaling about four hours and seven minutes. All in all, good enough for fifth-place finish making me feel particularly good, especially knowing that the top three finishers all turned in six laps.

My participation in the French Creek MASS endurance event was all about rekindling the racing experience. Throughout the race I managed hydration and nutrition well. With air temps low and my not being 'on the rivet', so to speak, I never needed to stop for a refill or anything else. I ate two hammer bars and a couple shots of hammer gel during the course of the race and never really felt a bonk coming on. After spending the last six months preparing on the trainer and in the woods, I'm feeling pretty good about my readiness for the TS Epic in two weeks. More so, the several feelings one gets from bike racing are now fresh and familiar again, not a distant memory paired with a sense of longing intermingled with uncertainty. There are almost certainly races starting up again in your area. Get yourself out there. You know you want to.

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