Race Report: Fairhill Classic 2004
The Fairhill Classic is well hosted local race with endless twists and turns of singletrack, 22 miles of twisting and turning for the Sport Class and 26 miles of twists and turns for the Experts and the Pros. I have raced this venue several times before and was always shocked at the high speed and high numbers of the racers, this year was no different. In years prior I was beyond frustrated by the singletrack catapillar (otherwise known to some as the conga line,) it can be so hard to get any speed and even harder to pass. Last year my brother Marc had the wisdom to race the Expert Class to avoid being stuck racing the course in a long line of bicycles at other racer's pace. This year things are different...both Marc and I are opting to race Expert at most races and the hosts of the Fairhill Classic have added a Clydesdale Class.
Getting to the race had the usual set of variables to overcome. Getting my wife to sign my permission slip was harder than usual as this weekend was a weekend with a family gathering for our younger son Grant's baptism. Ontop of that my truck's plates are not up to date. And finally there was a motorcycle tour to commemorate the deaths of 9-11 and to honor all who respond to 911 calls. TRAFFIC WAS A BITCH! I sat in my big blue truck without AC, without radio, surrounded by motorcycles checking my watch every two seconds fearing that I was going to miss this race all together. There were moments where I debated with turning around and going home. There were sections of road that were wall to wall motorcycles, all on their side stands with leather clad dentists and rednecks stretching their legs.
Eventually I arrived and registered with 10 minutes to suit up, warm up, and line up. With the newly added Clydesdale Class I lined up with 6 other XL Sized racers. There were dark skies and an occasional flash of lightning. We awaited the race start and rain patiently. As I made pleasant exchanges with my fellow Clydesdale racers a familiar face and form pushed his way through the crowd to line up for the start. It was friend, rival, former NCVC mountainbiker Bill Davis. Before he could get past the line of women behind our class I was calling out to the officials for a scale. Bill was looking lean...well, not lean...but leaner than he has been in years past and this is not just an illusion created by the absence of his mustache. As I continued to jokingly call to the officials to get Bill on the scale, Bill declared his official Clydesdale Status crying out that he weighs 205 pounds. Lucky for him he did not say 203....as this race is calling the Clydesdale cutoff at 205. It was all friendly ribbing, just trying to keep the rivalry healthy. In no time at all we were lined up side by side the last 2 of 7 racers in our oversized class. We killed time by filling in each other how life was going....work, kids, and cycling; all bases were covered. It was good to see him. I had heard he was lean and fast and I wanted to see if I still had the edge over him.
When finally the gun went off Bill and I pushed ahead of the pack and raced for the singletrack. Knowing that this course was slightly more lengthy most Clydesdale events I slowed my pace once we were leading the pack. We entered the singletrack and played a little cat and mouse. We traded the lead back and forth a few times, keeping the pace fast. It is always my wish to build some distance from the other racers at the start of the race to provide some space when I die at the end of the race. Bill eventually resigned himself the position as my shadow. We rode fast and hard, as fast as the tight winding single track would allow. The 29 inch wheels have their advantage, but not on this course. I was fearing my head clearing low lying branches and was unable to get any speed or flow in the endless winding, twisting, and turning. At certain points in the race I tried to break away from Bill, but his heavy breathing was always right behind me. I would gain some ground and then get stuck behind a racer from one of the classes that set off before us. Never once was I able to use another racer as a blocker to create some distance between us. As I waited patiently to make a safe and courteous pass Bill was able to reel me in. As I made each pass before I could thank the racer for allowing me to pass I could hear Bill requesting that the racer leave room for one more racer from a different class. The cat and mouse game continued. I felt as if I was controling the pace. Trying to save my legs for future breakaways and what appeared to be an eventual sprint finish.
Not far into the race both of us were feeling the heat and humidity of the day. The rain was sparse, never enough to cool us off, but cool enough to moisten up the roots and rocks to effect the traction on the turns and off camber. I rode slow and cautious over certain sections, Bill fell once, but was not gone from my rear wheel for long. Each of us grew anxious for the end of the course. The game of cat and mouse had become more like a road race or even a pursuit race on the track. Bill was accepting the fact that he could beat me on a short sprint to the finish. I tried to save my legs for this moment. After the first water stop we each started to try and make a move. Bill came up along side of me on some double track, we made eye contact and I tried to pull ahead....seeing that I could not lose him I dropped the pace back to a rational level of exertion. Neither of us were familiar with the course. We asked racers that we passed if they knew how far it was to the finish. Then as we passed spectators at various sections we were mislead into thinking that the end was around the corner. All in all there must have been 3 or four false sprint finishes. The expending of this energy had not only effected my body, but had also started to blur my mind. My calves were starting to cramp and my head was getting cloudy. We each tried to gather in some oxygen for the next break away effort. We picked up the pace as the spectators told us the end was near, neither went for a full sprint as we had already made that mistake too many times before. Then when we crested a small climb we exited the woods and the Finishline was 30 yards ahead. Before my mind could grasp what my body should do I felt an unnecessary elbow to the ribs. It was short stocky Bill Davis thrusting his thick tattooed arms into my personal space. Before I could figure out the reality of the situation Bill was a bike length ahead of me and crossed the finishline before me. The finishline split for the Sport and Expert racers, I went to the right of the queues and Bill went between the two lines. He crashed hard into the plastic ribbons and wooden stakes. It was still unclear in my oxygen deprived brain if I was at the finish or if we had crossed the finish seconds earlier. Anyway it happened Bill had won the race. All the while I thought that I had controlled the race and I had controlled the pace....I was wrong. It was Bill that controlled the race. He accepted my pace knowing all the while he would have enough gas in the tank to take me at the finish. It was a humbling experience. I had been SCHOOLED! There was no great pleasure in the efforts of the day. It was all for not. Bill Davis rival and friend had finished on top....sure someone had to come in second, but I was hopping it would be Bill and not me.
Bill and I rode back to the parking lot together. I washed my bike and showered clean under the hose. I gulped water down my throat as fast as the water pressure could send it feeling my throat expand to take down the great volume of water. In seconds I had several gallons of water in my camel like belly. Once clean I loaded up the truck and went to meet up with Bill. Bill gave me a handshake and I gave him a hug. There was no time for exchanging tales of the trail, I had a wife and family at home waiting for me. Inlaws....brother-in-law and four nephews were at my house, in town for my younger son's baptism. The rain held out until I got back onto Interstate 95 South. Bill offered to grab my second place grab bag for an exchange later this week downtown.
When I arrived home there was no glory of the day to share with anyone. No one could understand the pain and frustration of getting second. I felt empty. It had been a two man race and I had come in last place. Falsely thinking that I had controlled the race was such a humbling experience. I have so much to learn about actual racing. This race was more than likely more similar to an actual competitive mountianbike race than my usual CLYDESDALE CLASS experiences. Sure had there been a few climbs I could have had an advantage on Bill, guess that is a race for a different course on a different day, but a few technical rock gardens would have favored Bill and his skills.
In the bigger picture...the SM100 in this weekend. If I were not preregistered I would not race it. My lack of long miles showed this weekend past. The short post work rides may be good enough training for the short courses of Lodi, Wakefield, and even Snowshoe....but when the race becomes and endurance race I showed that I lack base miles. Wish me luck for this weekend.
if you look closely you will see that Bill Davis is right in my shadow
there he is BILL DAVIS...rival and friend....playing me like NINTENDO!
The final RESULTS have yet to be posted. I am curious to see how we did against the leading CLYDESDALES in this series as well as how we did against the fast guys on the 22 mile course. No real way to compare my times to the EXPERTS, but the SPORT guys at this event tend to be pretty SPEEDY so I doubt that we finished in the top five of the SPORTS especially with the occassional acceptance of the conga line catapillar to allow my legs and lungs to recharge.