Everything changes. Usually things like trail systems change slowly. Not so for the trails at Falling Creek Park in Bedford, VA - host of VA Derailer Series Race #4. Last year, each 4.25 mile lap was about 50/50 singletrack trail/doubletrack through open fields. This year, each lap was still about 4.25 miles, but about 90% was on some fairly technical, newly-cut trail.
This year's race took on a totally different character from last year's edition.
Let's do a lap together, shall we? From the starting gun , racers do a quick 1/2 mile prolog around an open field of trimmed down grasstrack about 12 feet wide. A few hundred yards of climbing before reaching the first singletrack section spreads everyone out. I hit the gas on the climb in order to stay right behind the other Singlespeeders, and to stay in front of the tail-end of the Expert group so as not to get caught-up in the technical sections.
Now the fun begins - Switchback number one is a tight right hander that everyone gets through pretty well. Across the ridge we go into a downhill, left-hand switchback that a few folks in front of me bobble on. A few hundred feet below comes the first surprise: a greasy left turn uphill into a section with slick roots. "I should have hammered in the grass section to get out in front." I'm muttering to myself as folks in front of me are getting off their bikes to run up this section. Next comes a super-slick steep grunt that slows everyone down again. I just have to be patient. This tricky section continues across the hillside and down a fun little chute between two trees, then into a field for a couple yards before the next section of singletrack.
Now comes a few fun turns, then two more slick uphill sections. A bobble in the group in front of me that includes Expert Women's winner Erin Garvin, and Singlespeeder Quinn Hershberger allows me my first opportunity to pass.
The top of the climb puts us into what I was calling the "Pine Quarter" - about a quarter into a lap, and almost all pine trees. Very cool and Ewok village-like. Alot more fun too, since it's more wide open and a chance to let 'er rip a bit. I get on the gas to put some distance between Quinn and myself. He and I were tied for 2nd place in series points in the Singlespeed class going into this race.
After the Pine Quarter comes "The Log". Fun stuff. About three feet high and set up perfectly in the middle of a grassy section of trail. I built up some momentum and charged at it head-on. A lift of the front wheel and a hop and off we go! I skimmed the top, corrected just a tad, kept the shiney side up and hit the ground on the other side without scrubbing off any speed. Laps two, three and four would be progressively less graceful as I fatigued more and more.
Back into another fast pine tree shaded section, then a left into the U-turn. This section was neat - Hop a log to get started, then another log about every thirty feet until you reach a right-hand turn that sent you back from where you came. Oh yeah, logs about every thirty feet in this direction too. I'm glad I run tubeless tires - no pinch flats here!
A left into a grassy open section, then another left into more freshly cut trail complete with briars grabbing your arms at every turn.
Into a field once again before entering the last big singletrack section. Along a stream for 1/4 mile, left turn half-way up onto the ridge, then back the same way you came, only 100 feet higher up on the hill side. Some fun on the newly constructed, whoop-de-doo singletrack, then a tight right hander sends you climbing all the way to the ridge top and back in the other direction. Soon after negotiating some tricky roots, rocks and dips, your back in the open field again and just about finished with you lap. A climb back to the starting line parralel to the climb we did to begin the race and the lap is complete. Now do it three more times.
I was able to catch Robbie Bruce and slip into 2nd place on my second lap. I didn't see him again for about a half an hour until he caught and passed me again to reclaim 2nd position. He put about 100 yards on me near the beginning of the fourth lap, and I was having trouble closing in on him. I'd hit the gas and bring the gap down to a 100 feet or so, then he'd pull away. This happened a few times until finally I dumped into an open section and saw him right in front of me. I hit the gas to catch him expecting him to take off when he saw me, but he didn't. As I got closer to him I could hear some horrible noises coming from his bike. "What's up?" I asked, thinking maybe he threw his chain or something. But, a simple mechanical problem this was not. He had totally broken his frame in two! The down tube was severed and hanging down enough to rub against the front tire. "I'm pretty sure you're gonna beat me now", he said in disgust. "I'm sorry Robbie." I couldn't think of what else to say. He was stronger than I was in this race, but my bike was stronger than his.
I finished strong and feeling good after four laps on this fun course. 2nd place again to Michael Coco who was was just flying, as usual. Robbie, broken bike and all, was able to hold onto 3rd place. I moved into sole possesion of 2nd in the Singlespeed class series points with one race to go.
Up next, the finale' - The Poor Mountain Hill Climb, Sunday Oct.1.