Every January, Charlie Storm of Storm Endurance puts on a training race at Governer's Creek in Sanford, NC. The race starts with a paved uphill sprint before dashing into 6 miles of singletrack, 30 miles of very flat dirt and paved roads and finishing with the same 6 mile single track loop.
I participated in this race last year on the singlespeed, was fourth out of the woods and hung with the lead group until we were overtaken by guys who switched to cross bikes for the road portion. I then proceeded to get dropped, missed a turn and ended up adding about six extra miles to the ride.
This year I was tempted to race gears to have a better chance of not getting dropped on the road. A couple days prior to the race, I decided that it would be better training if I raced the singlespeed. My goal was to get out on the road with the lead group and not get dropped. If I could do that then there would be no way for me to get lost.
It was quite cold the day of the race. Upon pre-riding about 50 feet of the singletrack, I turned around and was glad to be on the singlespeed. I would not want to put my geared bike through the torture that was about to ensue. There appeared to be snow, ice, water and mud on what would usually be nice hard pack singletrack. This was going to get sloppy.
I lined up in the front row next to Bob Moss, a fast local singlespeed rider who does well crushing huge gears. As we approached the singletrack Bob was able to duck in front of me in around the 6th position. I had planned on getting into the singletrack first with the hope of dropping him prior to the road section. For now I just had to sit back and wait for a mistake. The singletrack was so sloppy and slick that the number one priority became staying upright. My thoughts quickly turned from staying with the lead group to just not getting injured.
It wasn't long until I saw the bobble that I was waiting for and I was able to slip past Bob. Once I had him behind me, I was able to reconnect with the lead group while putting a gap on Bob and the rest of the field. As the six of us in the lead group popped out onto the pavement, I glanced back and was happy to have no one in sight. I had a good group to work with consisting of Charlie Storm, Byron Rice, Wes Richards and a couple other guys who were unknown to me. If I could hang on with them until we hit the woods again, I might have a good chance to take the overall.
Well... that didn't work out. Within 5 miles, I was spinning all alone. This course is extremely flat and it is a huge disadvantage to find yourself on it alone. On a particularly long straight away, I notice a pair a ways back. Every time I turned around they were getting closer. Once they finally caught up, I was very surprised to find a geared guy with Bob Moss right on his wheel. As Bob and I chatted, we must have picked up the pace because the geared rider that was with him fell off immediately. Bob and I spent a few miles together and before I knew it he also dropped off. I waited a few minutes before looking over my shoulder but when I did, there was no one in sight. I took this as a sign to run and so I got the hamster wheel a crankin'.
I knew that Bob was running a harder gear than I was and when we were together I noticed him standing on any kind of incline. I used this to my advantage as I was trying to build as big of a gap as I could on him. Everywhere where I figured he would be standing, I sat and ground it out. I knew that this approach would get me the precious seconds that I was looking for. There were long sections of gravel road that were covered in ice all the way across. It was quite unsettling to be tucking on icy downhills while not being able to see much out of my mud splattered lenses. Half of the time I didn't know if I was on ice or dirt.
On the final road section prior to the singletrack, a look over my shoulder confirmed that there was no immediate threat. Instead of trying to make up time on the lead group, I decided to shut it down in the sloppy singletrack and ride cautiously. If Bob were going to catch me, he would have to be moving pretty good while keeping it upright. I just didn't see it happening. As I approached the finish, I caught a glimpse of a rider on another section of singletrack in the woods. No.. it couldn't be! It sure was.. Bob had made up a lot of ground and was an unknown distance behind me. I went into full on race mode and finished up strong not knowing if Bob was right behind me or if was he just on a parallel section of trail a ways back. As it turns out, Bob had been flying. He finished up only two minutes behind me.
I was the first singlespeed across the line with a time of 2:52. Byron took the overall win with a time of 2:45 and I ended up 6th overall.
I had a blast riding in such nasty conditions but I sure am glad that I left the gears at home. When I got home, the bike got stripped, drained, cleaned and re-lubed. For good measure and because with I9's it's simple, I pulled apart my rear hub to have a look. As expected everything was perfectly clean and dry in there. I am very please with all of my equipment for surviving a torture test like that.