After checking the weather 100 times on Saturday, I decided to go to Grayling, regardless of weather, for the Hanson Hills CPS race. Fun Promotions had a great course laid out on what is one of my favorite lower Michigan trails. If you’re ever camping at Higgins Lake or travelling I-75, be sure to stop by for a couple laps; it’s only ten minutes from the expressway. The trail has plenty of climbing to start, but once you are in the hills, it is fast, flowing, and fun. Lean into the curves, stay off the brakes, and be sure to drop a couple bucks in the pipe for the trail!
Thanks to the Mohican 100 (three Michigan guys in the top five!)and the rainy conditions, the fields were a bit smaller than expected. I did a six mile warm-up with a few leg openers, and then lined up with 17 Expert 30-39 riders for the usual pre-race banter, teasing the race director about his sexy, knee-length “poncho,” and anything else to take the mind off the suffering to come. In past races, I’ve lined up anywhere, but on this day, I grabbed a front row spot, aiming for a top place going into the beginning hilly singletrack.
Dave Sweeney grabbed the hole shot and I did my best to hold his wheel. I’m not sure if it was the 26 miles on Saturday or the remnants of a cold, but I was struggling on the first lap. My mind went back to a ride ten years ago in the Hogbacks (Genessee County) when my buddy Erik and I gave Dave a tour. He was the first racer I knew, and the “tour” ended up being us hammering our brains out to keep up with Sweeney on his single speed. The memory was timely as that’s what the group of us ended up doing during this race.
Chasing the escaping leader, a group of us formed: Frascarosi, Thomas, Portenga, and myself. We tested each other on the first lap, but no one was strong enough to bridge the gap or break the others. I knew Thomas was strong; he blew by me at Yankee and handily won our age group, but the others were mystery men. We climbed the steep last hill of the 10.5 mile lap, blasted down the bumpy downhill (my downfall) to start the second lap. Anna gave me a cold bottle, I crushed a gel, and decided to try to bridge to Dave on the tough first hill section. The others hung tough and the only reward for my efforts was a couple glimpses of RBS yellow. I thought if I asked Dave to slow down, he might, but he only chuckled and steadily pulled away. After pulling the group for the entire second lap, they unceremoniously tried to drop me on the final hill. With a fresh bottle (thanks, Anna, best pit crew ever!) I grabbed the last wheel and did my best to recover for lap three.
Lap three was Thomas leading the charge up the hill, Frascarosi, yours truly, and Portenga, who either faded or crashed early in lap three and definitely crashed later in the lap. I expected Thomas to surge, but it was the Italian (?) on the Salsa that made the decisive move with five miles left in the race. Thomas and I were both fading and Portenga seemed to be slowly gaining after, I found out later, a crash that twisted his bars around. I caught two sticks in my derailleur that threw my shifting off, but took no time to stop. On the final kicker hill, I stood and returned the favor from lap two, dropping Thomas, but Portenga was right there. Quads locking, I sprinted a small two-track and dove for the final singletrack section in the money.
It was not to be. I slammed into my big ring for the chattery downhill finish, but lost my line and steered into the rough for just long enough to allow Portenga to cruise by, beating me to the line by a second. My bobble at the finish and loss of third place is disappointing; however, it was great fun testing and being tested by the good group of guys that formed for three laps.
Next up is the Lumberjack 100, June 19. I’m working with Matt to get a shock for the Hogsback so I can relax a bit more and just focus on turning the pedals for 100 miles of prime Michigan trail. This is my first LJ on my steel 29er, first with the Sisu kit, and with just a few more training rides to go, it's taking over my consciousness.