PRE-Race Report: The West Virginia Mountain Bike State Championships THE PROLOGUE

PRE-Race Report: The West Virginia Mountain Bike State Championships

as the weekend approached I knew I wanted to race
it was established that I was going to race
it was just not entirely clear where
I had my permission slip signed
but had yet to determine my trajectory

there were two events on my radar
The Fairhill Classic and The West Virginia Mountain Bike State Championships

I have raced Fairhill a number of times
in fact last year I raced there and had a very strong race in a competitive field and was interested in approaching the line for more of the same
but... then I was also drawn towards the notion of something unfamiliar
something completely different

this yearning for something different had me seriously considering a trip to Wild and Wonderful West Virginia for the state WVA championships

RACE REPORT from the 2009 Fairhill Classic

as the race weekend approached I played in my head my set of options
I spoke with my wife Lisa and we tried to figure out if this could be a family mountain adventure
but... the weekend was coming on fast and we had not established any firm plans
which had me abandon the plan for a family adventure and rework things into a "guys weekend" with my old friend Steve Hartell

just the boys
the boys without their wives
the boys without their kids
just the boys and their bikes
the boys.. their bikes... and a couple of beers

Steve has a cabin in West Virginia not far from Davis
to a matter of providence Steve had already planned on heading to WVA that weekend for this race
I checked with my wife Lisa and then by Thursday morning before the race weekend it was decided
I would be tagging along with Steve for this mountain bike ride-race weekend in West Virginia

in the weeks leading up to this event there had been some Clydesdale Competition at the Wednesday at Wakefield events with a guy from West Virginia
Scott Young of Blackwater Bikes had been nipping at my rear wheel hanging in my shadow
I had enjoyed our battles so much that I felt compelled to meet him on his home course so that we could test our match up on a more technical course

certainly the trails of Davis West Virginia are nothing like the less than technical buff turns through the woods at Wakefield Regional Park in Northern Virginia just outside the District of Columbia
I was not sure how I would fare in the mountains of West Virginia with all of its technical challenges and its potential for sustained climbs


it was decided... Steve and I would be headed out to West Virginia together on Friday
which would allow for a pre-ride of the race course on Saturday

then line up and race proper on Sunday
of course... with some quality hang time in between


we left out on Friday in the late afternoon
there was no real rush to get there

we got lucky and did not hit any significant traffic
the journey being the destination we enjoyed catching up as we made the 3 and a half hour drive from DC to the cabin in Dry Fork West Virginia

there was plenty of time for Steve and I to catch up as we each ate sunflower seeds and shot the shit
exchanging tales of parenthood
exchanging tales of life before parenthood

the drive happened without any drama
nothing essential was forgotten causing us to turn around

no bikes fell off the trunk mount bike rack
the stop along the way for pit beef was perfect
... although I did not order enough food which had us stopping at Arby's to fuel my Clydesdale form
we brought a cooler that had just enough beers for some down time under the West Virginia star filled sky

WOW! we do not see stars like that in Washington, DC

the sky was every changing
an open sky filled with more bright stars than one could count was rapidly hidden by fast moving clouds and then revealed again
only to be repeated over and over
it was awesome to watch... yet it gave me anxiety that it might rain

later that night it rained
I slept through it... but Steve told me it stormed with a large volume of rain

the morning came
it was a glorious kid free morning
as much as I love my kids
I also love my time away from kids

waking up to a kid free morning allowed me to turn my attention back to the pillow for what I considered to be vital charging of the batteries for the riding that was yet to happen

yes, it had rained the night prior

but the earth had soaked it all up
in the sky looked like it was going to rain some more
by the time Steve and I were both out of bed and finished a bowl of cereal and some coffee it looked like the sky was going to dump buckets of water upon us
we procrastinated trying to decide if we should pre-ride in the rain or do some yard work

we opted to wait out the rain and clean up the yard a bit
it did not rain again
there was not much work to be done

just a little beautification
we moved some stones to create stone wall borders around some of the wild flower gardens
then set up some of the timber to make ornate fencing at various points in the yard

it looked pretty nice when we were done

although it was just a start... we were proud of our efforts

by the time we had finished the landscaping the sky was clear and it was looking like we should make good use of our day and go pre-ride the course for the West Virginia Mountain Bike State Championships

we rolled into Davis and parked the car
we poked our heads into Blackwater Bikes to see if we could register for the race
no dice rock slice... registration would have to happen on race day
while in the shop Steve spoke with Blackwater Bikes' owner Roger about a replacement Cannondale frame that had arrived an
d a brake upgrade with a larger disc brake that he would be upgrading to when the new frame was built up

during this time an assortment of Davis locals passed through
including fellow Scott Young the Clydesdale competition from the last three races at Wakefield

when Scott showed up there was some anxiety
I was excited to see him... but I was reminded of the race and the notion of the battle that was certainly going to take place on the course the next day sent butterflies through my stomach

I feared the unknown
I feared the challenges of the course
I feared that the locals would have a distinct advantage over me with their knowledge of the course and its demands
as well as my lack of riding lately
and my lack of technical riding as a whole

Scott and I shot the shit and both of us share the excitement of the race to come

the sky was clear and the report was that the course was dry
the rain of the night prior was not so much that it would effect the race course

in fact... a little rain had worked well to make the course a little less of a dust bowl and perhaps a little more grippy

after some time at Blackwater Bikes we crossed the street to Hellbenders Burritos for some lunch
this tiny little restaurant was packed with weekend traffic
we scored a table and had a flavorful feast in front of us in no time

with food in our bellies and itching to ride we got into our gear and mounted our bikes to pre-ride the course
our timing could not have been any better

just as we were trying to get our shit together Matt Marcus rolled up dressed and ready to ride
Matt invited us to join him on his trip around the race course

we would be leaving out of Blackwater Bikes with one of the people who is responsible for designing the course, building the trails, and working as an advocate to keep these trails open
and legal to mountain biking

I was a tad nervous... Steve is a stronger more technical rider than myself... then to throw in Matt Marc
us... well... Matt is a step or two above Steve
I was a tad nervous that I would get schooled and hold up these two superior riders

but no... this was a pre-ride... a friendly ride... not a trip to school

Matt was curious to see if the course markings were good enough so he sent me out first

as we rode Matt gave me an explanation of the race
how things would start... what to expect...

some vital information about the fast start and the fight for what would be the "hole shot"
how things get strung out... and then... how it can become difficult to pass at some sections in the course

through various sections Matt took the lead and set the pace and displayed a good flowing
it was tough to try to follow his line while being concerned about all the rocks in front of me

there were all sorts of surprises
just when I tried to gain some momentum I would over cook a turn

just when I thought I was flowing through a turn I would have to respond to the challenges of some very technical rock gardens or an unexpected lone rock

Matt was in Blackwater Bikes tour guide mode
the pace was solid but Matt was not trying to break anyone
Matt was sharing the trails with us
at one point as we stopped in the shade for a quick fueling of water and a power gel I jok
ed that I would give Matt twenty bucks if he showed me the shortcut
Matt laughed and said he just did

it was true
I was riding behind one of the people who knows these trails the better than anyone else
Matt's line would be the best line

the trails here have a few good line options
unfortunately the trails also have a long list of bad line options
at some point... if you get off your line... you get off your bike
if you get off your bike... you may be walking
because it is tough to get the flow back after you stop your bike

Matt had designed our pre-ride such that we did the second lap first and then the first lap second
which proved to be a shrewd way to play it
we had the energy and intensity to attack what would be the more challenging part of the race
with fresh legs and sharp mind we hammered the the second lap of the course at an intensity below race pace

but intense just the same

clearing obstacles on a mountain bike often demands momentum

the course had a wide variety of terrain
the opening sections had been cut through open fields with intermittent rocks
then into the woods there were rock gardens on flat... rock gardens on slight slopes up... and rock gardens on slight grades down

there were lots of rocks
there were no places to rest or recover

at a crucial point I was off the bike
I had been excited to get to "the moon rocks"
there had been a lot of talk about "the moon rocks"
when they arrived I was not let down
but sadly... early in the moon rock section of the course I lost Matt's rear wheel
I flubbed it and dabbed

I was off the bike

there would be no re-starting from that point
I would have to walk it or start over

I knew I wanted to ride the moon rocks so I backed things up
I got off the bike and marched 20 yards back so I could try it again

although Matt was further ahead I felt as if I saw roughly the line he had taken
I went up a steep rock face to the right
pushing the pedals hard in the middle ring I muscled my way up
trying hard to keep a balance
trying hard not to skid out
trying hard to find the place to put my front wheel so that the bike would move forward

up that short steep section with a few audible grunts
then when things leveled off I tried to find the line where Matt had cut left
not sure if I found his line... but I was able to traverse the moon rocks from the right side line to the left side line

I worked hard to keep the bike moving and tried to etch this line along with all the other lines before me


I cleared a good percentage of it
felt good about my effort and my ability to find a line

legs... lungs... and heart were pumping
it was hot... I was soaked in sweat and really feeling it
and well... we were early in our ride
there was no place to recover
the course was all work

even the flowy singletrack demanded ultimate focus
there was no place on the course for day dreaming
this course was going to demand 100 percent from the body, the mind, and the spirit

I was feeling pretty good
I was understanding the advantage of the pre-ride
to approach this at race pace with race intensity with no idea where I was on the course could be re
al defeating
but being able to break the course down to sections was really going to be an asset on race day
then to be confident of a good line and its rideability would be valuable

confidence is key
I was feeling pretty confident

to be able to pre-ride the course was invaluable
to have Matt Marcus lead the ride... well... that would be a serious bonus
both fun and to my personal advantage

it was a good ride
the bike and body were performing as they should

the weather was hot and dry... which of course is better than rainy and wet
the course... well... I had nothing to compare it to
but I was told that the course was the best it has ever been

I could tell that the course was fast

there was new freshly cut trail... but that trail was already beaten down enough that it rode fast
the dryness... well... that is apparently also a little uncharacteristic of this area
this all had me feeling pretty good

we continued our ride
I was smiling through the hard work

at Hoo Doo rocks I rode what I could and resigned myself to walking
I felt that I would attempt the same thing in the race
ride as far as I could ride... do not expend too much extra energy trying to clear it
just get up it as fast as I could expending as little energy as I could

shortly after the Hoo Doo rocks as we exited a technical rock garden Steve went over the handlebars
his bike had not been behaving
his front brake was not operating as it should
this crash took his front brake out of the game entirely

Steve was forced to ride the rest of the day without a front brake
this... this I do not recommend... kids... do not try this at home

yet somehow Steve was able to flow it at our pre-ride pace

Matt continued to lead
at various points he explained various connectors or informed me about land ownership
Steve and Matt talked about the early blue berry season
while I focused on the rocks in front of my wheel

oh man... it felt good
the body hurt... but in a good way
there had been some crashes... but nothing catastrophic
over the handlebars once or twice
nothing so great as to steal my confidence
just enough to remind me to roll with it... to flow with it... to commit to it
but most of all to focus
this is a course that demands ultimate focus

it was cool having the "inside line"
my buddy Steve Hartell spends a fair amount of time in West Virginia and has become friends with a good number of the people in the area
which... well... had me approaching as little more than a stranger
sure... I knew who Matt Marcus was... I had seen him at races and I had met him through mutual friend Chris Scott
but honestly... I feel I got invited in on this ride because I had arrived with Steve

no matter how or why it happened... I was happy it did
getting to roll and hang with Matt Marcus was a pleasure
not only is he super talented on the bike but he is also a really mellow guy

after the ride we returned to Blackwater Bikes and I got to see more of the inside line
at the shop fellow Clydesdale Todd Romero was putting some finishing touches on some pint glasses that would act as awards to the top finishers
he was using a stencils and some chemical that etched the image into the glass
it was cool to see the pride in the process and the attention to detail that these folks were putting into the race

I got to meet and hang with some other locals who I would see the next day suited up
Jason Cyr had remembered me or at least the DCMTB jersey from DCCX
and I would line up right behind Rob Stull in the queue at the race start
both Jason and Todd would have strong races the following day

everyone was really cool... I felt totally at ease with the local crowd
no attitude no issues
in fact... people were cheering me on and lending emotional support
if for no other reason than to see me beat up on their friend Scott Young

after some time at Blackwater Bikes Steve and I pointed to The Mountain State Brew Pub for a few pints then picked up a pizza at Sirianni's to be enjoyed on the cabin deck as the sun set

it had been a good day... a near perfect day
the perfect day before the race proper

a few beers under another starry night then off to bed

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