I guess I expected to show up in Little Rock, AR to see tents, team vans, and huge fields similar to my experience at The Joe Martin Stage Race. Instead it was pretty much just a better run local mtb race. There were about 6 pros there which was about 1/2 of the P/S/E field size. Still getting back in the swing of things on the mountain bike this season I opted for the 30-39 race.
The race started out on the road. It was flat for about 200 yards and then up a short but stiff climb and the single-track started at the top. I sat on a wheel to the top of the climb and then attacked and got the hole shot. Me and one other guy rode away from the group (about 15 riders?) on the first section of trail which didn't have any major climbing. I was red-lined as usual not quite used to the expert starts, I don't really warm up until about an hour in. I had heard the first climb was tough but really had no idea. I went into it at 125% and made it up the first section ok. By the middle of the climb I was getting my swerve on trying to focus on the trail and realizing that 95* in the woods is damn hot! Thats when the local Richard Machycek came by me. Too bad I couldn't have pre-rode the course the day before instead of working, driving 6 hrs and sleeping in a tent. That's the way the ball bounces for a wannabe G. So I finish the climb and see two other riders closing on me and am in full on recovery mode. I knew if I pushed it I would end up in a deep dark K-hole so I backed off and let them pass. Then one more.
For the next half a lap I focused on recovering and settling into a nice pace and learning the course. My second lap through I started to feel good and caught a couple of the 19-29 experts, shelled in short order by the pros. I was feeling optimistic that 26 miles was just long enough that people might not be ready for the heat and length and stuck to the secret mix and crammed some electrolytes into my system. By lap three I was flying. I had found my rhythm and knew the course well enough to maintain some momentum. I started to see a rider ahead who saw me as well and began to steadily close. It was a 19-29 rider who had a teammate in my field, who he told me was just ahead. On the next climb I caught sight of him and put it down. I didn't really have anything to lose as I was in 5th place at this point, out of the moolah. I caught him and was surprised when I looked over my shoulder at the top of the climb and he was not there. I put it into the big ring and focused though the next two big downhills and bottoms section.
On the last section of the course with about 3 miles to go I caught sight of another rider. At this point I figured there was no way he would slow down but at the crest of the last big hill I caught him, reached the short section of double track at the top, threw it into the big ring and dropped him after a short chase. I was pretty surprised at the power I had so late in the race and stoked to have moved up into a podium spot on the last lap!
The last mile of the course is pretty rocky with no big hills just some short power climbs so I concentrated on riding clean and protecting my sidewalls. I was pretty jazzed about my finish when I saw another rider. I closed on him coming into the last 150 meters of double-track. He gave me "the look" and dumped some gears. I put it down and came across the line about a bike length ahead. He had a double-digit pro # which sucked because I didn't move up into 2cd place but was pretty cool that I just waxed some pro in a sprint!
All in all it was a great race. Super challenging course, ok turnout and well run. The 12 hrs of driving and not having anyone to split gas with sucks though. Better than racing on the road though!