There’s a count-down timer on the Mongolia Bike Challenge homepage. It kind of scares me. Why? Well, the first stage is 120 km with 2,900-meters (~ 9,500 feet) of climbing. The second stage is 126 km with 2,240-meters (~ 7,350 feet) of climbing. The fourth consecutive day of riding will cover 175 km with 2,540-meters (~ 8,330 feet) of climbing. That pattern roughly repeats itself for seven days; I’m crossing my fingers in hopes that a Strava mountain bike challenge coincides with the first seven days of September.
Being that I had no idea what it’s like to ride more than 53 km on my 29’er, I registered for the Tahoe Trail 100K. Here’s how my first taste of endurance mountain biking played out:
I rolled down to the start 10-minutes before the gun time and got as close as possible to the front. Being that there were 500 participants, I didn’t get very close and ended up in the middle. With my less than ideal positioning, I just followed and/or wove around people when the opportunity presented itself. After a mile or so, we turned onto Northstar’s trails and it was on. Sort of.
Even on the fire-roads, there wasn’t much room for passing. The pack was one great big mass trying to funnel onto narrower and narrower trails. We eventually reached single-track and rode on single file; it’s always exciting to ride unfamiliar single track; in a race; in a nearly blinding cloud of dust. That trail spit us out on a gradually declining fire-road and the pace shot up! I know the triathlete/roadie in me still prevails, because I almost felt compelled to pointed out trail debris for the riders behind. Of course there’s going to be trail debris (rocks, twigs, gravel, etc.)! We’re mountain biking!
While there were plenty of riders ahead, the packs were beginning to thin. With the early morning sun low in the sky and the dust cloud growing thicker with each passing rider, a rather awesome sight unfolded; the sun’s rays shone through the trees and dust and created a stark contrast of bands between light and dark. I was a little tense, given the lack of visibility, but that very moment felt epic! It felt as if we were an infantry of cyclist-soldiers making our way through a forest to battle. Since our chains were still adequately lubed, the only sounds to be heard were the breaking of twigs and occasional slippage of tires. Otherwise, it was utterly silent. If only I had a GoPro to capture that moment…
Once again, we hit a fire-road and the pace jumped! As I had figured, anytime the trails kicked upwards, I made rapid progress on anyone nearby . No section of the course was that technical, but there were some sharp turns. Had there not been any congestion around the said sharp turns, I never would have had reason to unclip. However, there was congestion. On the first lap anyways.
At the halfway point, I jumped off to refill my bottles (there was no bottle exchange), lube my chain, and stuff my face.
As the above photo suggests, I didn’t waste much time at the aid station(s); the less people on the trail meant the faster I could ride!
The same trails that were shrouded in a dusty haze on the first lap were now quiet, calm, and ideal for leg thrashing. With that, I made much better progress, being that I didn’t have to feather the brakes constantly. With my increase in speed, came an increase in stupidity – I’m the first to admit that I’m not the most technically sound mountain biker. I came in hot on some corners/didn’t get the right line and/or was not in the right gear. Not before long, I came upon a group on a single-track section. There was no where to pass, so I went with the flow. Though, when the trail kicked up, I got my chance to get around and did just that.
As the ride progressed, I kept up with stuffing my face, and felt strong throughout. Approaching the last big climb, my drivetrain was bone dry due to the dust, so I had to dismount to re-lube my chain one last time – noisy chains are not pleasant. I powered my way up the climb one last time and rode back with urgency.
With less than two miles to go, my confidence was beaming and I felt good. I probably wasn’t 100% focused in the moment, because I went down in a twisty section on a sharp right-hand turn. The crash was minor and I was up immediately. That just goes to show that mountain biking requires far more focus than road cycling. It’s as if everything on the trails wants to- and can bring you down. Furthermore, in my experience anyways, you don’t eat on a set timed schedule, but rather, as the trail allows.
Anyways, more twistiness awaited, but I was far more prepared this time around and navigated it with ease. Then, before I knew, there was the line, a medal was placed around my neck, and I was done.
I crossed the line in 5:09: 58 and finished 51st Overall (9th in 20 – 29). Had I had better positioning from the start, it’s reasonable to assume I could have finished at least 10 to 15-minutes sooner. Regardless, I’m happy with how the day played out. It was a great training day for Mongolia, I didn’t have any fit issues on the bike, my nutrition went according to plan, and I had a lot of fun!
Qualifying for Leadville wasn’t a priority this time around. Though, in due time, I’ll most definitely take on that legendary course. Who knows, maybe I’ll try for the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike and Run double – if that exists. After all, the two events are a week apart.