What an insane weekend.
I was on the road by 6am to beat the traffic to the Boston Rebellion & Barn Burners Races in Walpole, MA. I was ready to ride the moment the course opened for the day.
As I cruised through the first pokey rock garden, my chain drops. I put it back on and continue riding. As soon as I start coasting the chain drops again. Upon closer inspection I can see that the chain is jumping off the cassette because the free hub won’t spin. Not good.
I hop off and run the bike back to the parking lot. The Cannondale demo mechanic kindly checks it out and recommends I get it to a shop STAT. I fight off the urge to panic as I leave my bike with complete strangers at the nearest bike shop.
I drive back to the course and borrow a demo bike to preview the course. It’s surprisingly flat. There are a few long steady inclines with no protection from the sun – one under a stretch of power lines, another along a grassy field and a third on a gravel road.
The beginning of the course has a few raw rock gardens with a variety of rocks spread apart and sticking up out of the ground. Then the trail is tight and twisty with roots, but very few rocks. At the very end of the course are the two most challenging features – a steep, loose, rooty climb that hangs a left and continues up at a steep angle followed by a dry stream crossing whose best line is a narrow diagonal across roots and 2 precarious looking rocks. As this is a natural line and not a built feature, the rocks on either side are wheel grabbers and will easily cause riders to endo.
A few hours later the shop calls. “One of the pawls broke off and was jammed into the hub. We had to use a chisel to dislodge the loose pawl. Your axle is scored a little but we filed down the grabby bits and have it running. It should last you tomorrow, but it needs to be replaced as soon as possible.” Great news! Then they say, “Oh, by the way, the rotor was misaligned and the wheel wouldn’t spin, so we adjusted your brakes.”
The brake comment seems odd, but I’m elated that the wheel is rideable. “Thanks guys!”
On the drive back to the course I debate saving the wheel for the race or heading out for a lap to see if it will hold up. I’d rather know sooner than later if this is going to blow up on me. Another lap it is.
I’m riding at a good clip, working out all the panic and stress from the day, when I come upon a rider for Giant. It’s Mike Romanowski! So nice to see a familiar face. My shifting starts to feel wanky as we ride along and I explain what happened with the hub. Amazingly, he happens to have that exact free hub in his trunk… and he’s willing to let me use it… and he knows how to install it! What LUCK!
Back at his car, he disassembles the wheel and quickly discovers that the axle wasn’t tightened down fully. Ah – so that’s why the rotor was mis-aligned at the shop. He swaps out the part, reassembles the bike and adjusts the brakes back to their original position. The bike feels brand new! Awesome.
Time to unwind and rest up for Saturday’s Race!
Saturday – Boston Rebellion Pro XCT
I arrive at the race venue around 11am to watch the men’s amateur short track and cheer on Nick & Mike. It’s hot today, and the short track is baked in the scorching sun.
1:45 is staging for the Women’s Pro XCT. I’m beyond thrilled to be here doing this race. I can’t wait to see what these seemingly super human women are like – are they really all that different from the girls I usually race against?
The support many of these gals have is amazing. A sprinter van full of spare bikes and parts, tents for shade, trainers for warming up & recovering, dedicated mechanics. It’s incredible.
The announcer calls staging and I roll over. It’s a ghost town. I’m grinning from ear to ear. I still can’t get over the fact that I’m even here, actually doing this. When I realize that first call means there is still 15mins before the race starts I pull off into the shade.
Finally they are starting the calls ups.
One of the top riders has forgotten her gloves. Another top rider asks her what glove size she is and then asks the announcers if she has time to run back to her tent quickly. He says yes, so she dashes off and grabs and extra set. Oh, I love that. Even at this level, the women are helping each other out.
The whistle blows and we are off. The long field and gravel road stretches the group out. I’m sitting around 6th. We turn into the first single track and am stuck behind a girl who seems to be hitting the rocks with full frontal force, instead of ridding over the tops. The lead pack is pulling away. Crap.
The next set of single track has a wide, gnarly rock garden. I bust to her right and accelerate. It’s not a pretty line or an elegant move, I slip and slide off the rocks, but it’s just a bit faster than her and I’m around her and off.
Oh no. It will seal. It will seal. I’m glad I thought to have a few extra ounces of Stan’s added to that tire the previous day. It’s seems to be holding on the straightaways, but bleeding out air whenever I corner. A few minutes later, I take a sharp left and the tire rolls off the rim.
I pull to the side and fumble with my CO2 to refill it. It reseals, but loses too much air in the process to be ridable.
Girls pass by one after the other.
I empty another CO2 canister into it and set the wheel so the Stans fluid puddles on the sidewall tear. A few shakes and spins later and it seems to be holding…
I continue on. It holds for a while, but I can hear it leaking when I corner. By the last mile of the course the rocks are banging the rim. I run all the rocks and roots, riding only when it’s straight and smooth.
The well-meaning fans offer sympathy, thinking that the course is what’s doing me in. Their eyes say “pity”. It’s painful to see and hard to ignore. While I run through the heckle pit, I hear, “This section is really tough,” and “It’s a hard course”.
Another spectator asks, “What’s wrong?” eyeing my bike as I jog across the empty creek bed. “A flat.” I say. He replies suspiciously with “It doesn’t LOOK flat.” I’m already insanely disappointed this happened. I’m already angry at how this weekend has played out so far and this comment boils under my skin. I fight the desire to release my emotions on him and keep my fury in check. “I’ve dumped all my CO2 into this wheel but it won’t hold. Trying to save the rim at this point.”
I ride the straight gravel road back to the feed zone and call out for neutral support. Someone puts a CO2 into the wheel, hands me a spare and I take off. By the time I’m turning into the first single track I’ve lost enough air to start bottoming out again.
It’s just not coming together today. I ride back and report my DNF.
I take a few minutes to unwind, trying to reel in my disappointment. The thing to do now is focus on tomorrow. Patching sounds like a bad idea, so I start calling around to local bike shops. All sold out. Everywhere. Ugh. I settle on a continental 2.0 from one of the vendors at the race and the fellows at the Shimano support tent pop it onto the rim. I spend the rest of the day rolling around to help it seal while watching the Men’s race.
Sunday – Kenda Cup Barn Burner & Pro STXC (Short Track)
I arrive at the course feeling both hopeful and skeptical.
The tire looks good, so I shake off the emotional drag from the last 2 days and focus on having a great race. Everything goes smoothly. I’m patient today, making safe passes instead of impatient ones. It’s a longer course than yesterday. The open stretches in the sun are brutal. Many sections of the course remind me of trails in NJ. The back side of the course is a lot like 6 mile, super twisty with punchy climbs, only much rootier. The last 1km is the tech, and I’m pleased to make the tricky climb every lap. I focus on keeping a steady pace through the turns. Legs feel good, lungs feel good. I know I’m having a good day when I pass a few Cat 1 girls on lap 2. The majority of the laps are uneventful. Just constant pedaling, reminding myself to stay loose and ride light. I trade places with 4th place a few times. On the last lap, she passes me on an open stretch. I seal my fate when I dab in the last rock garden frantically trying to gain ground on her.
5th place! I’ve been trying to break into the top five the entire series, so I’m thrilled with the result.
I try to cool off and stay loose. The Pro STXC short track staging starts shortly after the finish of the XC race. I don’t have high expectations going into this, but I’m excited to line up with this intimate group of strong riders.
The girls blast out of the gate. I’m at the back of the pack. One girl breaks a chain. I stay steady on the gas. The crowd is lively, cheering and shouting all along the course. The short rock garden becomes smoother with each lap while the gravel incline becomes more painful. I make a pass and press on. Before long the race is over and I sail through the finish in 4th. Nice!
I hang out for the final podium announcements, photos and customary champagne spraying. The atmosphere is buzzing. Repeatedly, I hear racers saying that this course and terrain are unlike the other Pro XCT races. I sincerely hope the series continues to use this venue for it’s location and uniqueness. It feels incredible to be able t o experience a race of this caliber, with such an intimate feel – it’s a rare opportunity, and one I won’t soon forget.