The day was setting up to be perfect. The temp was cool, the rain hardened the trail, the body felt great, and I was on the right bike (SISU full suspension).
I had a preferred start and lined up in the middle left side. As the O2S typically does it started at a red line pace as everyone jockey for position. My plan was to sit in the top 30 going into Lucy Hill as I knew Lucy Hill like the back of my hand. It worked as planned and I positioned myself perfectly and picked off 1 rider at a time on the ascent. Although the acid was pumping I felt good at the top and put the hammer down to establish myself with the top group. The pace was surprisingly slower for the next 3 or so miles which left a good time to recover. That is until the power line of North Lake popped into the picture. It really put gaps between most riders and established little groups here and there. I danced on the pedals through each up and down and found myself with a good group of guys going into Misery Hill. Misery Hill kicked every rider off the bike and I ran as much as the legs allowed me to without cramping. It was enough to stay with the group of 8 and this move would pay off as this group worked very well together and lengthen the gap to any rider trying to catch us from behind.
As I expected, the attacks were launched on 510 and I told myself to answer any attack no matter what it took, and I did. The constant attacks by the other riders took any thought out of my mind of attacking which was OK because I let the other guys wear themselves out. We rolled into the dirt together and small attacks by the good downhillers were attempted but were matched by me and the other followers. Knowing that they (the downhillers) really couldn't get away on the down hill I let him set the tempo into the Noque trail. The group stayed tight through the Noque Trail and we entered the last aid station. My support team supplied me with my last water bottle and yelled out our position, which happened to be 11th-18th place. I now knew I was with some tough riders and this was going to be a battle for the last 5 miles.
In attempt to prepare myself for a battle I knew fueling on the two track road was my best option. That best option turned into disaster and the near perfect day was not so perfect anymore. I lost concentration for about 3 second, thinking about refueling, before I knew it my front wheel was rubbing the rider in front of me. This caused me to jam the wheel left and it sent me flying over the bars followed by a knobby tire imprint from the rider behind me. I cause myself to crash and took someone else down with me. Surprisingly we were back on our feet quickly and I attempted to remount only to find out that my crash caused the rear derailleur to break into two. I don't know if it was my initial fall or the rider hitting me from behind that caused it but the feeling was indescribable. "Anything but this, a flat? a dropped chain? a soar body part? any thing but a broken component." It's about the only thing that could have stopped me from finishing. In one last competitive effort I started to run towards the last check point thinking that I might be lucky enough to swap for a bike. I quickly realized I was a lot farther from the aid station than I thought. I watched rider after rider pass me by and my realization of finishing disappeared with each passing rider. After about a 10 minute run I surrendered. I made a tough phone call to my wife with a spectators cell phone to come back and pick me up. Never having to surrender to a race before it was one of the toughest decisions I've made in along time.
Although the near perfect day ended not so perfect it was a great learning experience. I was able to compete with some of the better riders in the Midwest and learned a ton about racing and myself.
That day would not have been possible without all the support I received. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all that helped me.
My wife and my parents for their moral and loving support, they're the best fans a racer can have. My family for encouragement mile after mile. Jared Koski for my first bottle exchange. Tim Palomaki for his chiropractic and my second bottle exchange. My SISU Cycles team. Matt Palomaki for an awesome SISU bike. Finally but not least Dan Dehlin for all his nutritional advice and for hooking me on Hammer Nutrition.