2014 Mellow Johnny’s Classic Race Report

Photo by Ingot Imaging.

Photo by Ingot Imaging.

Mellow Johnny’s Classic is the Austin area’s biggest mountain biking event. Being the first race in the US Pro XCT Cup, all of the national big dogs come out to cut their teeth on our local trails.

It’s a great event and it is a lot of fun to experience all of the festivities with all of the national teams and sponsors in attendance.

This race falls at the end of week 7 of my training plan and hence I am starting to peak in my training plan leading up to my primary A race in two weeks at Pace Bend.

I can definitely feel the peak coming on and I’m feeling fast and fit on the bike. It is a fun feeling to have and I hope I can hold onto this for 2-4 weeks before it begins tapering some. I need to ride well at Pace Bend and Comfort before the balance shifts further from technical riding that I am strong at.

At any rate, pro races on Saturday were a lot of fun to watch. During the men’s race, I ran around the course collecting video footage, planning to put something together for my YouTube channel. This might not have been a smart plan as I ended up doing quite a bit of hiking a jogging around, not exactly kicking my feet up the day before my race.

Race Day

Our staging time was at 8:45am, so I was up and out the door in time to get to the venue by 7am. I arrived in plenty of time and made sure to get prepped in plenty of time. The weather was still pretty nice, around 68 degrees and overcast. The forecast was that temps were going to be falling and a chance of rain, but I believed the front was not going to blow through until after we finished.

At the staging, we were called up and I was on the 2nd line. As we moved up to the start line, a gap opened and I rolled up to the first row. This suited me fine and played to my start strategy.

In a sign of things to come, as we were lined up at the start, awaiting the start whistle, a shockingly cold wind blew in from the north. In a near instant, you could tell the temps dropped 5-10 degrees. Before the end of the race, temps would be in the 30’s and it would be lightly raining.

Blasting off the start

Blasting off the start

With the changes to the start loop, there was the chance for some bottlenecks in the beginning and I wanted to make sure I avoided any chance at something like that. There was also a grind of an uphill climb right off the bat which I had decided I wanted to really rocket up rather than potentially getting caught in among the field and having to grind up it.

When the whistle blew, I was off like a rocket, perfectly geared and smooth pedaling. I clipped in perfectly and pulled into the lead. I pedaled hard around the building and through the ‘car port’, up the first little burst of a hill and pedaled hard up the pipeline climb.

Once around the turn, I gave a couple of strong pedal strokes and blasted down the first descent, catching some air on the final little bump and then heading into the first little bit of single track. My starting strategy had worked perfectly and I was still out front through the initial single track.

At this point, there was some more climbing and some double track before the proper single track started. I eased off a bit at this point to ensure I didn’t blow up.

As expected, several guys came around me on the next climbs. I was expecting that and was fine with it. My plan at this point was to get up the hill, stick with the lead group and try to hold wheels. My goal for this race was a top 10 finish so at this point I was about where I wanted to be and just wanted to hold and fight for position.

As we cruised through the first section of single track, I was feeling good. Legs and lungs felt good and I was looking forward to a strong race. When we popped out for the first short descent, I opted for the alternate line, just for kicks. It is a little faster, but given the distance between the guy in front of me, it meant I could not get around him safely without completely cutting him off.

Alternate line!

Alternate line!

It was uneventful leading up to the biggest effort climb of the loop. Previously Strava had been present and issued a Strava KOM Challenge for this hill. It is mostly doubletrack, but it is loose and fairly steep. Fortunately it is a fairly short effort at around 2 minutes. I suffered up it, giving up a couple of positions I had made up in the singletrack, but I was fully expecting that.

Fighting and suffering up The Hill

Fighting and suffering up The Hill

I made a quick pass at the top and powered onward to a flowy and technical descent that leads to the creek crossing. I was held up a bit by those less comfy on the technical downhill, but I took the opportunity to try to get some recovery in.

As expected, the creek crossing and the immediate technical climb and switchback was jammed up so no chance at clearing it. I dismounted near the top with everyone else and we ran our bikes to the next pedal opportunity.

A great technical challenge section, clearing this climb and the next segment of trail without dabbing is a nice accomplishment

A great technical challenge section, clearing this climb and the next segment of trail without dabbing is a nice accomplishment

We navigated the next bit of tricky technical area without incident. Sadly, it was this point that I knew that nearly all of the rest of the lap wasn’t going to play to my strengths. The rest of the lap is much less technical, with a fair bit of climbing. I could also tell that temps had to have dropped below 50. While I wasn’t cold, the cold air was constricting my bronchial tubes and my lungs were barking at me. When it is really cold, I suffer a bit from EIA (excercise induced asthma) and I could tell that it was having a bit of an impact that was only going to get worse as time went on.

I tried to settle into ‘diesel mode’, which is just constant, motor on output, interspersed with the more intensity required efforts on step ups and punchy climbs. The longish gradual climb wore on me and worked to deplete my energy.

Grinding my way up the loose, false flats

Grinding my way up the loose, false flats

It was in this section where I came upon some poor guy who was carrying the limp corpse of his broken bike. As I was riding to him I kinda wondered why the guy was carrying instead of pushing his bike. When I got closer, I could see that his bike was broken in two. The head tube and down tube had broken.

Broken frame!

Broken frame!

Finally the longer slog was over, and now it was back into some fun little descents, the water crossing, and then finally back to the finish/lap line. My legs were feeling tired and every higher intensity effort resulted in major burning in the legs. This did not bode very well as I still had another lap to go!

I managed to make it right to the lap marker before the first of the older grouped came around. This was much better than Rocky Hill as I felt I was constantly getting passed by the older group, early on in that race. On the flip side, I had been passing back markers of the earlier group for quite a while.

The rain was also starting to become a factor. Rocks were getting slippery and a crash was becoming a very real possibility.

Another little hiccup here was that the water hand ups were not very obvious and I went right through the feed zone without getting a new water bottle. I was going to need more water as I had already gone through my one small bottle already.

"Yeah, this is gonna suck" - Heading up the pipeline climb the 2nd time

“Yeah, this is gonna suck” – Heading up the pipeline climb the 2nd time

Lap 2 was to be more of the same. The bonus of the 2nd lap is that the field is more spread out and I have no excuses for being held up on the downhills. Well, being jammed up is no excuse. However, being fatigued and tired did come into play and I felt too tired to be able to go full bore.

Second time up The Hill was very painful. My legs were burning like fire and it felt as if someone had thrust searing hot daggers into my thighs. As I reached the top, in pain and sucking wind, I managed a water hand up from my buddy Todd, thankful that he happened to be there and able to help.

Feeling tired, I make a mental note to myself, asking if I should back off to recover some so I could ride stronger, or just keep the pedal down. I noted how sloppy I was riding, in not holding it in turns and generally just not riding well.

That, coupled with wet, slippery rocks and roots, came to a head soon thereafter. There is a particular rock/root combo, that provides a couple of lines. The most direct cuts the root at less of an angle, and is the usual way I handle this obstacle. When dry, this is no problem, but wet, this poses a very real problem. I realize too late that I should take the safer approach, and feel helpless when my tire hits the root and is directed off course, dumping me on my side. I bang my hip, shoulder and knee a bit, giving a bit of a blood offering to the trail gods.

It takes me a bit to regain composure, and in the process I lose two more positions. As I head towards the creek crossing, one of the older group leaders catches up and asks for a pass. There’s nowhere to give a good pass here so I ask him to hold on a sec, hit the gas and clear the climb only to look back and see that he has bobbled it. He gets the pass a little further down the trail once he catches back up.

The two that passed me are a couple of guys who raced at Rocky Hill that I had finished ahead of. I wanted to catch them again if at all possible. I pushed as hard as I could, but finding that my fatigued legs just were not responding. It was taking more effort than I had to push when I needed to, and that sucked!

I caught a glimpse of Kirby in a part of the trail that doubles back on itself and I yelled words of encouragement to him to catch me. Something along the lines of him being a little bitch or something…

I guess those words of wisdom worked as he caught me on an upcoming punchy technical climb.

I tried to latch on but I knew it was a losing proposition. I rode with him for a little bit and then bid him farewell. I mistakenly thought he was in 3rd or 4th around me, but he was actually in 7th and would finish in 7th.

Hanging onto the pink as long as I can

Hanging onto the pink as long as I can

Kirby pedaled on and I continued struggling. On the brutal false flats, Chris W. caught up with me. A short distance further on a punchy climb, my legs give out and he gets around.

Chris W. comes around

Chris W. comes around

I grab his wheel and we ride together for a bit. He is now the 3rd that I had beaten at Rocky Hill that was ahead of me. I was bound and determined to claw some of those positions back if at all possible. I hang with Chris and finally on one of the painful steep step ups, I take an inside line and make a pass.

Chris is a strong and consistent rider and he’s always going to be a strong competitor.

I’m still hoping to catch a couple more folks in my group so keep pushing. I finally close the gap on Travis D. and get around him on a climb. He grabs my wheel and sticks to me. I don’t want to open myself up to a draft/sprint so I ease off a bit and let him back around. At this point, my plan is to hold his wheel and then attempt to out draft/sprint him to the finish. All I need to do is ride smooth and clear the few remaining step ups.

Unfortunately my exhausted legs didn’t cooperate and I stalled out on a step that Travis cleared. He got some space on me and by the time we hit the sprint area, he was too far for me to catch. I pedaled hard to the finish, resigned to my fate.

One of the final step ups that I usually clear with ease, stalled out and lost my chance

One of the final step ups that I usually clear with ease, stalled out and lost my chance

I cross the finish in 12th place. Better than I had in Rocky Hill, but top 10 still eluded me. Perhaps Pace Bend in 2 weeks!

12th Place Finish

12th Place Finish

By the end of the race, the temps had dropped to 38 degrees and we were wet with rain and sweat. It didn’t take long before chills started creeping in so I headed for the truck and some warm, dry clothes.

At the end of the day, I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. My legs were very fatigued at the end and were not responding. Gotta keep the training up!

Another thing of interest was that I FELT like I was pegged out the entire race, but upon reviewing my Garmin data, my heart rate was well below threshold for most of the race. In particular in the 2nd lap, even with my legs very fatigued, my HR was way below threshold. I don’t know if the cold was the culprit, or the prior days hiking and running around the trails had taken more of a toll than I anticipated, but in any event, I believe I should have been able to push harder.

Race Videos
Youtube – 2014 Mellow Johnny’s Classic Mountain Bike Race
Vimeo – Vimeo – 2014 Mellow Johnny’s Classic Mountain Bike Race

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 162 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 9:00AM
Nutrition: 2 serving oatmeal, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, 1.5 water bottle during race, 1 stinger halfway through
Weather: Sudden drop in temps, on line at 70, finished below 40 and rainy
Dress: Short sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey, bibs. With the drop in temps, was cold at the end
RPE: Felt strong and at maximum effort throughout
CTL: 60.3
TSB: -11.8 (rising)


About TC

Long time mountain biker, recent mountain bike racer. Borderline unhealthy obsession with mountain biking, constantly drawn to hit the dirt and share my experiences.

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