Maybe I cursed myself, but I knew going into my fourth Ironcross race in Pennsylvania that this wasn’t my year. My training stunk and the head cold was locked in. Still one hopes that maybe it will all come together like it did for my Tripower teammate Crazy who raced to 8th place despite a cold of his own.
This was the warmest Ironcross on record with temps in the low 50s at the start and heading into the 70s later in the day. It was also the largest: Seemed like a huge crowd at the start. I started conservatively – at least that’s what I told myself – instead of going hard and trying to latch on to the fast guys ahead of and passing me. In truth, I knew my body couldn’t handle the fast pace. I rode a lot with teammates Art and Zach during the first half of the race and went into the crawl-up with Sawyer, Chad and Art in front of me and Zach just behind. What a slog it was this year. The warmth definitely took its toll.
Art rode away from me on a climb a little after checkpoint 2. I just couldn’t turn over the pedals fast enough. Every time I tried a harder effort I quickly ran out of gas. On the next fast descent, I again had contact issues as one slipped out. I stopped and replaced it with a spare I carried as maybe 20 riders rolled past, including Sally’s brother Nick and Zach. Zach and I worked together a little on the road to checkpoint 3. Hitting the big climb out of it, Nick was just in front of me and Zach just behind. I rode well for a while, but again ran out of steam. Zach passed me and disappeared up the road behind Nick. I even had to walk some stretches that I’ve ridden in previous years.
But I started feeling better when I hit the valley singletrack after the fast fire-road descent. I quickly pulled back about 10 riders who passed me on the climb and had more in my sights when an ungodly sound came out of my rear wheel and the bike stopped dead in its tracks. I looked down and a stick about the size and diameter of a police billy club was jammed in my rear derailleur, which in turn was bent into the spokes. About 12 miles from the finish my bike was kaput. I tried bending it back, but no luck. Zach, who’d crashed on the descent (I didn’t even see him), passed again. I started walking along the trail with it when a rider stopped and suggested converting it to a single-speed. I had no idea how to, but he went to work. The kindness of strangers!
Meanwhile, Chad, Harlan and Jerry came by. The guy spent about 10-15 minute messing with my chain, but couldn’t get the conversion to work. The chain was too slack. I really appreciated his help, but urged him to get on with his ride. I walked the bike along the trails and coasted some downhills, but it was mostly trail and not much of it went down. Carol then Mike then Liz came by. Liz offered to send a car to pick me up, but I told her I was determined to finish.
Finally I got out to the road and was able to scream the downhill, hitting 42mph despite not being able to pedal. I’d coast the uphills and pedal a little until the slack chain popped off again. In this way I worked the final few rollers back to the start/finish. I had to walk the bike onto the field. Some guys yelled at me to run and I grinned and shuffled a bit. The announcer called me out, so I jogged the last few meters as my teammates howled for me. Bless them.
I think I must have hiked about 7 or 8 miles with the bike. As hard as it was I really can’t wait for next year’s IC7. But next year, I hopefully won’t be sick and I’ll be in shape for it. I think that’s what I said last year…
It was great to see so many teammates up there this year and everyone finished; some, including Bill, Kevin, Tim and young Mark, finished well under 5 hours. I can’t really say how I might have finished without the broken derailleur. I certainly wasn’t going to achieve my goal of going under 5 hours given my conditioning. I was spending a lot of time with Zach, who at 14 became the youngest Ironcross finisher ever in 5:35, so maybe it would have been around then. He was riding strong. Very impressive.