This past weekend I traveled to Nebo, NC for the first race in the Blueridge Monster Cross Series. With 50 miles of gravel, a 17+ mile climb right out of the gate and sponsors like Industry Nine and Fourty Four Bikes, this would not be one to pass up.
Going into this race, I had some uncertainty about where I stood fitness wise. I had not raced since Hillybilly and had no idea what to expect. Looking around at the start line I noticed that I was in good company. With the likes of Sam Evans, David Wood, Brian Rogers and many others who I didn't recognize, I knew that this was going to be a fast ride.
With a long climb and some steep pitches less than a mile into the race, it didn't take long for the field to break up. Sam took the lead while taking two with him. I fell back into the next group of four which included David and Brian. We worked our way up the climb trading places here and there but remaining tight until hitting some descents. With Brian leading the way, we managed to pull away from the others in our group and set out in hopes of chasing down the three out front. It was something else watching Brian rail the gravel on his CX bike. It was apparent that Brian had more skills on his drop bar bike than I did on my mountain bike.
Not long after dumping out on pavement, we caught a glimpse of the guy in third. Unfortunately he caught a glimpse of us and took off. We kept our pace constant knowing that eventually we would gain some time on the solo rider. It took a while but we eventually caught Philip Short who had fallen off of the lead group. This all happened around the second and final aid station. I had planned to refill a bottle here but apparently Brian and Philip had not. As I stopped, they continued on. I was able to fill half a bottle before I decided it was time to go. Lucky for me as it turns out, the next section of the course was rough, overgrown (even though it had been mowed) and downhill. Being on my Specialized Carve with 1.8 Renegades, I knew that this may be my only chance to catch, pass and put a gap on these guys.
The downhill was very rough and my back along with my hands let me know. Here I was getting beat up on my mountain bike and the two guys I was trying to chase down were on CX bikes. I couldn't believe how fast and smooth they were. I managed to squeeze by both of them before the course turned into doubletrack. I knew that this section would be critical so I decided to attack. I quickly learned that it was useless to attack as Philip wasn't going anywhere. Shortly before exiting the doubletrack, we came upon the second place rider who was tending to a flat.
Philip and I knew that Sam was way out front and our chances of catching him were slim. We decided to work together in order to increase the gap we had on Brian and maybe close the gap on Sam. As we took turns taking pulls, Philip mentioned that there was a rider 200 yards back. Sure enough Brian was putting together an incredible solo effort. We continued to work and Brian continued to close the gap on us. As we encountered a slight downhill and flat, we drilled it. This was enough to increase our lead on Brian and start focusing on how this was going to finish out.
With twinges in my quads and hamstrings on both legs, I had been hurting for a while. Philip seemed to be managing and in my mind was stronger at this point. As we made the left turn which was our indicator of 1 mile left to the finish, I gave it all I had and didn't look back. I expected to see Philip come flying by me at any second but that never happened. As I turned into the Southmountain community I had a look over my shoulder and saw Philip 100 yards back. He must have been hurting more than he led on. As the finish line came into sight, so did Sam Evans. He was standing under the canopy sipping water with a bored look on his face. He had shown us all how it's supposed to be done by finishing about 12 minutes prior.