Redemption, or how Abilene Buck Trails Got Their Balls Back

After my displeasure with the route decision for the course last year, I had all but written off making the trip up to Abilene this year. After hearing they had added some technical sections back to the route, I decided to make the trip up.

Assuming some of the good techy stuff had indeed been added back to the course, making it less of a hammerfest and more of a balanced trail, I figured I would have a decent shot at a strong finish. Abilene is typically a lighter raced venue so with the lower numbers, and a course that favored my style, I knew I could have a good result with a smooth ride. Who knows, maybe a top 5 would be in the cards?

I drove up to my Dad’s on Friday which is just an hour or so away. On Saturday I drove over to the venue to check out the course, planning to pay particular attention to the trail on any extended southerly facing sections. Forecasts were calling for 20+mph winds out of the south at race time and I wanted to start planning any possible effort savings with possible drafting sections.

As I started my pre-ride, one thing was very apparent. The trail was very, very loose. The dry, loose soil lead to some sketchy corners that would put handling skills to the test. Additionally, the route now included a good portion of nice technical sections in both rocky climbs and descents. During the pre-ride, I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear with how enjoyable the course was. Buck Creek Trails got their groove back, yay!

I finished up my pre-ride and rejoined my family at a local eatery. Being in west Texas means one thing is going to be on the menu for all meals. Beef, and lots of it. I did my best to temper the burgers and steaks during my stay and tried to supplement with plenty of potatoes in lieu of other carb sources.

Race time was to be 8am on Sunday morning. With my Dad’s place being an hour away, that meant I needed to be up and out the door no later than 6am. Not that it really matters as my typical race night routine was in full effect meaning there was no need for an alarm clock. I was up, wide eyed at 4:30am.

I rolled out of bed and began my routine, with the pre-race adrenaline already starting to trickle in.

I arrived at the venue well before daylight. I felt like I was the first one through the gate. It was still pitch black out and it was pretty quiet other than the wind whiping the tents of the campers nearby. Even at 6:30 in the morning, the wind was already making its presence known.

I had plenty of time to prep and ride the start loop a few times to warm up. We lined up at the start line right on time and with a short countdown, we were off!

Granata and Weckworth leading it out

Granata and Weckworth leading it out

The start heads out with the wind at our backs, but will shortly make a hard turn into the wind for a bit before we dip into the single track where the barely budding mesquite trees provide a little respite from the wind. I have no plans of being the lead out person here and with speeds in the upper 20’s, I’m definitely going to find a good wheel to draft off of before we get into the twisty bits.

Granta really charges off of the line and by the time we get to the single track, he’s already way ahead of the pack. With no sign of J. Cantu at the race, it means Granata’s only real competition today will be Clayton. I’m happy to hold back for now, planning to repeat my rabbit chasing as I had in Comfort two weeks prior. I hit the single track in 5th place, behind Chris Weckwerth.

I’m a little ancy at this point as I see the lead riders starting to pull away. I would like to have a shot at 3rd place today and the new face currently in that slot is an unknown to me. I want to at least give him a run for his money.

We are weaving through the tight single track and there’s not really any clean spots to pass without a big effort. I’m still very much hedging my bets for now.

Drafting in the open areas

Drafting in the open areas

Any time the trail turns towards the south and into the wind, I suck up to Chris’s wheel and do my best to draft and conserve energy. It’s pretty obvious this is working as I’m able to freewheel quite bit while I see Chris really having to put power to he pedals. In the open areas, the 20mph winds coupled with cruising at 15+ means there is quite a bit of wind resistance.

Waterfall Climb is a nice rocky technical climb

Waterfall Climb is a nice rocky technical climb

On the Waterfall Climb, the lead to the next group is recovered. There’s now 5 of us riding together, with Clayton and the new face just in front of Chris. However not long after the climb, they start pulling away again. I’m wanting to keep them in sight, and keep us in the mix if possible.

Finally, after 15 minutes, I come around Chris and tell him to grab my wheel. My intention is to give us a pull to try to make up a little time on the next guys up.

Coming around Chris

Coming around Chris

I pedal onward with Chris and Travis right behind. We’re cruising pretty well and finally come to the ‘Wimp Hill’ climb. This short climb is right into the wind and has a steep end point to it. The good thing here is that you can see quite a ways up. I even spot Granata up ahead, but not as far ahead as I thought he would be.

Wimp Hill Climb

Wimp Hill Climb

I estimate that Clayton and Mack (new guy) are roughly 20 seconds ahead. Fortunately, after the top of the leg furnace Wimp Climb, you have a fun little downhill that terminates with a small tabletop gap jump with a ladder bridge. I came really close to clearing it this time around and one of these days I’ll make it the whole way, ha!

Almost cleared it!

Almost cleared it!

I just work on pedaling smooth and working hard. I want to close the gap if possible and just keep riding well. I enjoy the Bobsled downhill, and catch some air at the little jump at the bottom. On the 2nd lap, I catch too much air here and nearly wind up flying off the course airborne…

At this point, the route takes you through several rocky technical sections. That’s good for me, right? Usually, I would say yes, but today I haven’t been on my A game. The perfect ‘flow’ just isn’t there. Eventually, I wash out in one of the loose corners, but am able to jump up and run and remount to avoid losing a position.

Buck Creek Trails

Cactus, it’s what’s for dinner (and breakfast and lunch and snack)

At any rate, I’m still leading out, with Weckwerth and Davies holding my wheel. I haven’t caught sight of Mack in a while and I start to worry that he may be getting out of reach. I motor on, suffering as much as I risk at this point in the race and enjoy the ride.

As we are approaching some of the bigger boulder crawling, I miss my intended line, lose my front wheel and down I go. It wasn’t an overly hard crash, but I bang my forearm on some rocks. My arm was just now getting healed up from my spill at Comfort! Additionally, my bars get knocked off center and I’m in a narrow part of the trail. Chris and Travis come around and I pedal forward a bit to find a safe spot to straighten my bar.

Buck Creek Trails

Down I go, AGAIN!

I’m a bit dejected and not working with urgency. I suppose I was a bit rattled. I pull over and fix my bars, and now suspecting I’m a bit behind Chris and Travis, begin my work to make up the time.

Buck Creek Trails

Love the boulder section

As I am nearing the end of the lap, I see Chris and Travis and spot time them to be about 45 seconds ahead. That’s going to take a lot of effort to make up. I finish up the lap and grab a water bottle through the feed zone. I’m again opting to wear my camelback so I take the bottle and gush it over my head, neck and back, and finish off with a big swig of water.

I start the second lap by downing a Honey Stinger and reminding myself to stay focused. “The Lull” was not allowed to make an appearance and I wanted to make sure I kept my head in the race. I worked on smooth pedaling and trying to ride efficiently. There’s another 10 miles to go.

I spot time Chris in a double back portion of the trail and they are now about 30 seconds up. I’ve made up some time, but still have quite a bit to go.

As I near the Waterfall Climb for the 2nd time, Gary Hanna, the points leader of the 45-49 age group is on my wheel. He takes the pass on the climb. I know he is making better time than me so I decide to try to use him as a bit of motivation to catch up with Chris and Travis. I decide that I’m going to ride his wheel as long as I can to use him to get me up the trail a bit.

Buck Creek Trails

Riding Gary’s Wheel

Gary is on a hardtail and he flys up the little climbs. I’m lighting up matches left and right trying to keep up, but I’m bound and determined to pace him until I catch up with Travis and Chris.

We’re eating up the single track, drifting through the loose corners, running at maximum output. Finally, thankfully and mercifully, I catch sight of my prey. We have caught up to them and I am gassed. I let Gary go as he gets around Chris and Travis and I sit in, looking to just hang on while I recover a bit.

I suspect that 3rd place is now out of reach so I decide that now the race is between the 3 of us for 4th place. I’m sitting in sixth and gassed with less than half the lap to go.

I start planning out how this needs to go. There are not a ton of passing opportunities and the sprint finish is out of the question as the sprint distance is barely 30 yards. Whoever makes it out to the finish run first is likely to be the winner so I have to get around before we get to that point.

I struggle to hang on to recover. I’ve burned several matches making up that time. I was worried they would gas it here and get away before I could get recovered, but they didn’t and that works out well for me.

Buck Creek Trails

Struggling to hang on

I manage to hang on and start feeling my legs and lungs recover a bit. I’m holding the wheel strong now and there is about 3 miles left. The time to make a move is coming up soon.

Travis makes his move first. Chris slows a tad on a short climb and Travis gets around and stands on his pedals. I can’t hesitate so I jump around Chris as well and hold onto Travis.

Camera mount is loose at this point, but here's me coming around Chris again

Camera mount is loose at this point, but here’s me coming around Chris again

I am a little worried that either of them has been sand bagging a bit to build up for the final push. Travis continues to push the pedals but I hang on. I look back and see that Chris has dropped off. I guess he wasn’t sandbagging as we have now put a decent gap in..

A glimpse of Travis's wheel through the boulders

A glimpse of Travis’s wheel through the boulders

We are about 1.5 miles to go. I’m feeling good and feel that I have plenty to give when the time comes. The trail is tight and twisty but I know a passing opportunity is coming up before too long. I sit in on Travis’s wheel and ready myself for the final push. 1 mile of all out, about 4 minutes at these speeds. I’m feeling good and confident I can do it.

In my eyes, 4th place is mine for the taking, I just need to not screw it up.

As I keep looking for the passing lane, suddenly an unexpected opportunity arises and I jump. Legs are primed and I’m ready go to. I punch my card and get to work. When I go, I go hard. I come around Travis and shout, “The race is on!” I am assuming that Travis has gas in the tank, just like me and this was going to result in an exciting finish.

Coming around Travis

Coming around Travis

It doesn’t take long for that assumption to prove false. On my hard jump, Travis does not respond and I leave him behind. I want to make sure it sticks so I don’t let up and keep the pedal on the floor.

Up ahead I see Gary Hanna again, the 45-49 point leader. He’s holding his left leg and I figure he’s cramping up. Sure enough as I get to him, he says he’s cramping. I don’t dawdle and ask for a pass. I get around, tell him to grab my wheel if he’s able and motor on. We’re very close to the finish at this point and into the final twisty parts Travis is nowhere to be seen. This one is in the bag.

I cross the finish in 4th place! Come to find out I was only 20 seconds out of 3rd and perhaps I might have made a run for that under different circumstances. A satisfying finish to a hard fought race.

4th Place Finish!

4th Place Finish!

Throughout the last half of the 2nd lap, my camera mount had come loose. I had forgotten to install the piece of inner tube under the mount that I usually do and did not tighten the clamp all the way. As such, the camera ended up pointing at the ground towards the end of the race. It’ll make for an interesting race vid at least =)

Camera mount was f'd...

Camera mount was f’d…

So with 3 races to go in the series, I am sitting in 4th place overall. Which is kinda silly but is a testament to the lack of consistency in the racers in our group. With a strong finish, I can end up in the top 5 overall, which is higher than I was ever ranked in Cat3. Funny stuff!

Race Video

Some outtakes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWOWeYXfGos

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 160 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 8:00AM
Nutrition: 2 serving oatmeal, 1 water bottle with Nuun before race, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, ~2 water bottle during race via Camelback, 1 stinger halfway through
Weather: Perfect, 70’s and overcast
Dress: Short sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey, bibs
RPE: Felt good, spent some time burning matches bridging gaps, sat in a bit too much on recover, pushed hard at the end
CTL: 59.7
TSB: -1.7 (rising)

Strava:

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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