The Big Ring Rumpus is a dirt circuit race thinly veiled as a mountain bike race. It is in it's second year of existence and is part of the EFTA sanctioned MTB race series. Cathy and I both did the race last year and had a good time despite some crazy weather and Cathy wanted to do it this year so we figured that we'd give it another go this season.
The alternatives were to road race on Saturday in Maine, which I was all for but Cathy wanted no part of citing the fact that the women don't actually race save the last 50 meters. The men's 35+ masters field had a very small draw at the race as well so I wasn't all in. The 1/2/3 race was almost all young and really strong guys and I wasn't sure I really wanted to go that route either. There was a alternative MTB race on Sunday, Domnarski Farm which is part of the USA Cycling sanctioned Root 66 series and is promoted by a really good guy, Matt, whose family also owns the place. As much as I wanted to support him and the series, the extra hour drive for a course that was, from past experience, a little on the wet and muddy side wasn't super appealing either.
So, the Rumpus it was. The course is not terribly interesting as it is basically a 4 mile mix of old railroad bed and access road double-track with a small section of cyclocross style taped course at the lap/finish. In that diverse mix of terrain there were a couple of small rises, a number of sections that had a few rocks and maybe a half dozen semi interesting high speed corners. What the course lacked in detail it made up for in speed. It's always funny how going crazy fast can make something that is pretty mundane, really interesting and challenging. Taking some of those corners at or near 20mph was indeed, interesting.
We lucked out in terms of weather and got sunny blue skies with temperatures in the mid to upper 70's. Given the lack of sun and warm weather that we have had thus far this season, it seemed down right hot out. Still much better than the crazy showers that we got last year. Pre-registration for the event in the Men's Elite field, which I stupidly chose to enter once again, was thin and of those registered, a total of 5 of us, I self ranked myself cleanly at the bottom end. Good to be optimistic with oneself up front. At the start line it became evident that there were at least a few others that decided to join in on the fun. That's always a good thing.
I'd tried to take some downtime and get some legitimate recovery for my weary self so was actually feeling pretty good. In truth, my pessimism was actually thinly veiled, not trying to be overly confident, optimism. I knew the guys that I was racing and had raced against them all in the past. This crew included JB, Dylan, Brian W. and Andrew Freye as well as a few unknowns. The main guys all crush me in cyclocross and I've had mixed results in MTB but I was in hopes that this may play out more like a road race and I could suck wheel and hang, maybe. Time would tell.
From the go the pace was high, and continued to bump for the first lap or so with everyone except me taking digs. We then stabilized a bit and folks started to get antsy. Then the attacks started. Freye was putting in some digs and generally not playing well with others; basically racing it like an MTB race. However, given the nature of this race, I could tell others were taking exception to this. All the time I was trying to conserve and let the infighting go on and hopefully soften the competition. Late in the 3rd lap we'd just finished some digs and I took a stab at breaking things up by launching really hard. Unfortunately, they let me go and nobody wanted any part of the action. This felt awkwardly familiar, very similar to so many road races. As soon as I realized that I was solo I made the decision to sit up and recover as much as possible for the coming freight train and likely counter attack.
Luckily the catch was near the taped cyclocross style finish area so it wasn't that bad. I did get gapped a bit through the feed as did Freye and I had to bust it to get back on. Through the start area on the long slightly uphill railroad bed section Freye had been gapped a bit but despite a hard pace by the lead, he managed to get back on. Everyone took turns pulling and I could tell that an earnest attack was in the wind. Sure enough it came at the worst of times, when I was on the back and a split opened between Freye, myself and the rest of the group, being driven really, really hard by Dylan. This kept up for a really, really long time and despite trying our hardest, we couldn't get back. We dangled for a lap falling further and further back until they were gone. Within another lap, after he and I working well together, I was solo as he'd had enough. In the process I did manage to gain a large train of 50+ racers who sat on my wheel after I caught and passed through them. Not entirely comfortable with impacting the outcome of their race I went hard, for as long as I could, which turned out to be the remainder of the race. This shelled all but Bob B. from my draft, netting him his category win. I just couldn't get rid of him but didn't feel comfortable working with him either so just TT'd it in for the rest of the race.
In the end I finished up in 4th place, a little more than 2 minutes back of the leaders who I believe stayed together working as a group until near the end. I'm disappointed in myself for launching a stupid attack and then for letting myself get popped off the back. That said, I felt pretty darn good all day and went steady and hard the entire time. I didn't give up and I didn't slouch. Had the lead splintered more I think I may have had a chance but those guys all know how to race a race like this one so it was not to be. The numbers went something like this, just about 32 miles in 1:37:19 with an average speed of 19.5mph. That would have been the 4th fastest time of the day if pro-rated to match the other races slightly fewer laps. Not as good as last year in terms of a result but almost 6 minutes faster on the same course, albeit with slightly better conditions. Not bad and I can live with it.
Cathy had a great race as well and won her category, again this year. She has been doing truly super in the dirt. Once I get all of the 411 worked out on the 29er platform I foresee a new bike in her future. She is tall enough that a 29er may make sense for her as well, as long as we can get by the weight penalty issue, particularly in the wheels.
2011 Specialized Epic Expert Carbon 29er, in it's final configuration performed flawlessly. The good folks at the Cycle Loft got her back up and running after a premature bottom bracket failure during the previous race. Configuration changes to the bike included a new (to me) set of 2011 Easton Haven 29er alloy wheels, some super lightweight and inexpensive rotors and a matching set of 1.95" Specialized Renegade minimal tread tires. Some suspension tweaks and the bike just worked great. The bike was absolutely railing the corners and pedaled great on the flats both seated and standing. They really god the Brain Fade system worked out nicely. I'm looking very forward to lots more quality time on it in the near future.