Thank goodness that's over. Actually, I can't really say that the 5 Points 25 was all bad. It was, for the most part, a pretty fun day. The race didn't go at all how I planned. How, you ask? Well, sit back children and I'll spin you the tale of my day.
My alarm went off at 4:30am. I pressed the snooze until 5 then rolled out of bed and got dressed. I lumbered downstairs and got all my gear loaded up. I grabbed my cherry Pop Tarts to eat on the road on the way out the door. The drive to Lookout Moutain, GA was uneventful. I ate my breakfast and was sipping on my Infinit Pre Load mix. I planned to get there a bit early but arrived a little earlier than I was originally thinking leaving me around 2 hours until race time. I wondered up and got my packet, got my number plate affixed to the bike, set my tire pressures and checked my fork and shock pressure. By now it was 1:45 until race time.... so I just sat in my truck and listened to podcasts until time to get ready.
The race started at the entrance to Lula Lake Land Trust, which is up a big gravel hill from the parking and finish area. I made my way slowly up the hill chatting with my buddy Glenn who I met racing XTERRA this year. He was doing the 50 miler. We chatted a little while more then it was time for the 50's to start. I wished him luck and then a few minutes later, they were off and it was time for the 25's to line up. I took my spot at the front of the line, we got our instructions and then it was go time. The race has about 5 miles of pavement to start before hitting the woods and the pack always splits. I wanted to be in the top 5-6 going into the woods so there was less chance of getting held up trying to pass. On the road, there are a couple of pretty good little climbs. At the first one, the pack split when the first attack came. I went with him as did 2 others. We got to the top of the climb and had about 200m on the rest of the pack. I tried to get the group organized into a rotating pace line but that was futile. We hit the next climb and our little breakaway blew up. There was one guy off the front and then me. The other two guys dropped back. I kept pushing but metered my effort and let the pack catch me. I slotted in around 4th place in the line in front of one of my breakaway buddies who let me in. We stayed in a line until we hit the woods after overtaking the one lone leader.
Making the turn into the woods, I passed for 3rd. The two guys ahead of me were riding really strong and I decided to let them go so as not to blow myself up early. There was a lot of riding... and climbing yet to go. I gapped the rest of the pack on the next climb. It was a rocky technical bastard of a climb that just kept going. It had some switchbacks but they were all rideable. I just kept my steady pace and focused on even power. By the top I had a sizeable lead on the guy(s) behind me. The decent was rocky and rough but not really technical. It was now around 8 miles into the race. I started to feel the rear end of the bike get a little loose. I knew it was going down. I stopped.
I was hoping it was just a thorn or something so I flipped the bike over and tried to find something. There was nothing. I couldn't hear any air leaking so I figured it had come out and the sealant had now done it's job. My CO2 inflator was rolled inside my tube so it took me extra time to get it out. Once I had it out and inflated the tire I heard a hiss. Not good. I finally found the issue. There was a small hairline crack in my wheel. My heart sank. I decided to put the tube in and see how far I could make it. By the time I got the tubless valve stem out and the tube in and the bike back together I had lost around 15 minutes (ish) and I guessed around 15-20 positions. I debated calling it a day and just toodling to the aid station and sagging it back in. Once I was back riding, though, I found some motivation. The rim seemed to be holding up fine and I was riding really well so I decided to push on.
Knowing I was now VERY behind I rode like a man possessed. I was picking off people rapidly. I overtook whenever I could on the trail and everyone was kind enough to let me by. I would thank each of them and wish them luck on the day. After passing the first aid station the course made it's way back into Lula Lake Trails. There are some technical climbs and a large creek crossing. The RD warned that the creek was high and we'd had to walk it. He wasn't kidding. I dismounted before the creek and waded in. The water covered my knees. The rocks were slippery. I was using a cyclocross carry keeping my ride out of the water but I nearly fell several times. I kept it upright and made it through before remounting and then climbing up a hill past aid 2 to the road. This is where things started to go a bit south. The road is a net downhill here leading to a monster of a climb up a power cut. For those of you who have ridden Haw Ridge in Knoxville... think Hill of Truth only longer. The climb is roughly a mile with a little respite in the middle before kicking one last time. My legs were on the verge of cramping the whole time and I had to be careful how I moderated my power. I became grumpy.
The RD said before the race that our climb up the power line would be rewarded with some great new singletrack and he was right. The next section was a fast little downhill number with a couple of bermed corners and great flow. Then, however, things got a lot more technical. The trail wound along up and over some pretty gnarly rock outcroppings. I wouldn't have minded them so much if I could use my legs to their full potential but I had to ride very gingerly for fear of cramping. My grumpy came back. A guy on a singlespeed came up behind me. I offered to let him pass. At first he declined but then after pulling him along for a bit he offered to return the favor. I obliged. He said he knew the trail and called the lines to me. It was welcome help for sure. I cleaned most of the obstacles, only dabbing once or twice even with my crampy quads. We hit the last climb and I had nothing. I thanked singlespeed guy and watched him ride away. There was no one else behind me close so I cranked as best I could up the hill back to the road.
A quick stretch of pavement led back to the entrance to the land trust where the race started. I made the left turn and it was back down the hill to the finish line. I crossed the line with a final clock time of just over 2:30. By my Garmin (which auto pauses) my time without the flat was 2:15:50. I rode straight to the car and put my bike up. I didn't really even want to look at results. I knew I rode with everything I had but was just extremely disappointed. Eventually I worked up the gumption to check the timing. I finished the day in 7th overall but managed a 2nd place in the male open category. As disappointed as I still am about what could have been I'm quite proud of that ride. It was a tough day made even more so by the mechanical. In the end though, it was a great boost mentally to know that I put in a solid day even with the issues and I'm thankful to be able to ride at such a level that even last year probably wasn't possible. For that, I have to thank my coach, Scott. I also have to send a HUGE thanks to Dr. Kevin Sprouse of Podium Sports Medicine for helping get me through illness last week so I could be well enough to ride today. And, as always, thanks go to my team and sponsors and especially to my wife and family. You guys mean the world to me!