The registration for the first-ever mountain bike race to be held on Mill Mountain was located at the City of Roanoke Recreation offices on Reserve Ave., right next to the site where the recently leveled Victory Stadium stood. I had spoken to race director Ron Glowczynski a few days prior to the event and he said registration was light, but he expected a few more to register the morning of. A few more? You could imagine my suprise when I saw cars backed-up all the way out of the parking lot and down Reserve Ave.! This will be the biggest race ever in the history of mountain bike racing! People really were looking forward to this event! Wow!
Problem was, all these folks lined up in their cars didn't want to race, they wanted bricks. Yep, that's right. The City of Roanoke was giving away souvenir bricks from the former staduim that is now a big pile of rubble. Cars as far as the eye could see. It was nuts. I heard that some people waited over two hours - for bricks. My problem with this is that these bricks look, feel, smell, are like every other brick you've ever seen. There is nothing unique about them except they are from Victory Stadium. But you can't tell they're from Victory Stadium! I have a pile of bricks in my back yard. These people could have taken those and not had to wait in line.
About 30 total racers made their way through the masonry-seeking masses to register for the 3 miles of uphill punishment. It was quite a unique event; an uphill individual time trial against the clock on alleyways, roads and sweet singletrack trails. I've never in my short 4 years of racing done a time individual trail on my mountain bike. I've done a hill climb - Roanoke County hosts the Poor Mountain Hill Climb each October - but it is a massed start event. Going off alone against the clock has a special feel to it. It's you against the mountain. The race of truth.
Racers started on a semi-paved alleyway that kicked steeply from the very start. This was a race where you needed to be warmed up well because the steepest sections came first. As the alleyway shot straight up the mountain it turned to gravel, making traction more challenging as you climbed. Once the alley was behind you, a half mile section of pavement led you into one of the coolest trails on the mountain. The Momument trail is a steady climb with a good hard-packed surface. There are some loose rocks to pick through on the way, but overall it's not very technical. The fun really begins with a short and fast rolling downhill to complete Monument. This section gave you 30 seconds to catch your breath. The course continues on a new trail that weaves it's way closer to the top of the mountain. A tight, momentum stealing right-hand uphill switchback on this trail was the center of most conversations at the end of the day. Many said they got off and jogged through it. Some rode it but thought it would have been faster to run. I rode it, with a dab, losing a few precious seconds. The finale' was a grassy section that seemed to grab my tires like velcro. I could see the finish line. I could hear the onlookers cheering. I just couldn't pedal any faster. Finally, 20 minutes and 50 seconds later, my time trail was over. Good eneough for first in the singlespeed class and 5th over-all.
Sunday brought on the 2nd historic mountain biking race of the weekend: The Carvins Cove Cross Country Race. Never before had the trails at the Cove seen race action. About 60 riders showed up to test themselves against the climbs, downhills, rocks and roots that this mountain biker's playground has to offer. A neutral mass start led all riders down a couple miles of pavement and onto a gravel road for another mile or so. A pack of about 8 of us rolled into the first uphill section of singletrack and stayed together to the top of the first climb. I was trying my best to make it through the first couple of miles of singletrack without spending too much energy. I rode conservatively and set my sights on some trails later in the race where I could make up some time if needed. These are my home trails, so I know where I can hammer and where I have to keep my wits about me.
What I didn't want was to blow myself up on what came next: the long climb to the Hemlock Tunnel trail. About 3 1/2 miles up on a gravel road. This could be the place on my singlespeed that I could hurt myself if I trashed my legs. I stayed in the saddle and found a comfortable, steady pace. I started passing people. People that I knew climbed well. I kept gaining on the racers I could see up ahead. I passed a couple more. Wow! What was going on? I didn't expect this to go this well! Then I was back up with the Experts. I only had to do 15 miles to finish the Singlespeed course, so I stayed on the gas the closer I got to the top. My only guess as to why I was catching the Expert guys was that they were conserving a bit of energy for the longer course they had to complete.
Cool. The climb was over and I did well. Now I could ride the downhill without letting it all hang out and risk crashing. I got into the first loose, rocky switchbacks and passed an Expert rider. Downhilling was going well too! The further down the trail, the worse my riding got. My front end felt awful. I looked at my bar-mounted lock out and it was in the "active" position, so my fork should have been soaking up all these bumbs that were killing my forearms. I kept moving down the trail, then was passed by Kenny from Bikes Unlimited and Charles from Cardinal Bicycle. I knew I wasn't decending well anymore. What's happening? I looked down at the right leg of my Reba and she was't unlocked all of the way. There's the problem! So I reached down and gave the lockout mechanism a few twists, then ran the bar-mounted remote lockout through a couple cycles to make sure it was working again. Back in business. A few minutes later, I was at the end of the Hemlock Tunnel and onto the trail known as Comet. This time the fork worked a bit better. After reaching the bottom of the valley and riding along a stream for a bit, the trail turns straight up for about 100 yards. This was the only place a hopped of the Rig and jogged. I've ridden this a ton of times, but I wanted to keep my strength for hammering across the rolling trails ahead and another trip up the steepest part of that gravel road where I passed some folks a little while ago.
When I reached the Comet, I rode through the three miles of rollers and only saw one other racer. We traded places a few times until we reached the fire road climb a second time. There I could see what was in front of me; a couple racers and that was it. Once again I stayed in the saddle and got into a groove. The music was blasting courtesy of my MP3 player and my legs where singing right along. I reached the final trail and tried to pick up the pace just a tad more. This last section is a brand new trail that's about 90% complete. I know it pretty well since I ride it alot. It's not an easy trail. It has no long climbs or downhill sections. You need to keep hammering all the way through ot or risk losing precious momentum. I was all by myself the entire 3 miles.
I reached the finish and looked around for other riders. I knew I was first in the Singlespeed class; there were only two of us in SS. I didn;t see anyone else. "Am I it?" I asked the folks at the finish. They gave me a "what are you doing here so soon?" look. Then I knew I made it ahead of everyone else. Cool. I got the overall for the 15 mile course.
I finally felt strong at the right time - at a race! These were a couple of cool races, both making history. Mountain bike racing in the Roanoke Valley will never be the same again!