Race Report - Freewheel Frolic (MN MTB Series #1)

5:53 AM

The Minnesota mountain biking season officially began on Sunday with the first race in the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series.  The Freewheel Frolic used to be held at Salem Hills, a nice and smooth beginner course, but last year’s mud-fest conditions and rather expensive trail repair that resulted means no more races at Salem.  So rather than easing our way into the series with a low-key, non-technical course, we were hit in the face with massive climbs and screaming descents. 

As I waited behind the men’s waves at the start, I tried to screw up my courage for a hole-shot attempt.  Before I arrived I was all ready to jump out of the gate and aggressively fight for first position; however, it was difficult to ignore the lingering memories of Afton from last year, where a much less skilled version of myself pretty much walked every technical section (and trust me, there are lots) and rode the brakes down every hill.  I looked around at the other women, some who finished the Afton race 15 minutes ahead of me (I told you, there was lots of walking), and my confidence flagged.

So when the whistle blew I didn’t exactly get the crushing start I wanted, but rather held back and jumped on the back of the starting group.  Within two minutes I realized this was stupid, and began to pass women just as we caught the tail end of the men’s 45+/Clydesdale wave.  At Afton the hole-shot is meaningless anyway, because the course soon heads up Shady Lane –straight up a downhill ski run – and the real climbing begins.  Climbing is one of my strengths, though I would have preferred to crush this climb later in the season after I got a few more hill workouts in me.  Since the course is wide here, I didn’t have any difficulty jumping out of the track and spinning past people as we went up, up, up, making up much of the ground I lost in the start.

And then I was definitely back, and into the race (probably should have this attitude at the start, but hey, I’ll take a good race attitude that arises 10 minutes in over one that never gets there).  I got on a great wheel (another woman, naturally) and we easily picked off more of the 45+/Clydesdales over the technical uphill sections (roots, roots and more roots).  As I looked ahead on the trail I wondered if the woman riding a turn or two ahead of us was the leader.  This question was quickly answered when the woman I was working with called out to one of the cheering spectators, “Dad!  Is mom in first place?”

Mom?!  Ok, that was a bit of a blow, but I took advantage at a tricky rock garden to pass daughter and head off after mom.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that mom was a climber, and any time the trail ticked up I fell behind.  The last part of the loop involves some serious descending, and I was able to make up a lot of ground as I let go of the brakes and put complete trust in my new Terralogic fork.  Going into the feed zone I had her in my sights, about 10 yards up the trail.

Unfortunately, this was as close as I got.  Like I said, she was a serious climber, and she was able to bank more time going up than I could pull back going down.  Even with a ripping, out of control final descent, where I earned a rousing cheer from an unplanned but still fairly well executed jump, I finished about 25 seconds behind her in second place.  Still, I was pretty damn happy when I saw my time was 22 (!) minutes faster than last year!  Amazing what a year on the bike will do to your skills!

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