There are a lot of great reasons to sit in the car for 14 hours on a weekend trip to Wisconsin. The beautiful scenery and America’s largest mountain bike racing series are two of them. Julie and I made the long drive up to Wausau to do some racing on one of my all time favorite courses at Nine Mile Forest. There are so many different trails there that the course seems to be different every year, and they always seem to put together a great 50/50 mix of singletrack and forest road.
Close to 80 Pros and Cat 1’s toed the line for the start. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a ‘real pro’ even though my USAC license might say so. The only reason that I maintain a pro license is to get call ups for the WORS and Minnesota races. This time my license netted me a second row call up, which I happily accepted. When the Pro / Cat 1 fields are as large as they are here, a call up is pretty critical if you want to have a good race.
So Don said ‘Gooooooooooo’ and I managed a pretty decent start, sitting comfortably within the top 10 or 15 until we hit the first section of fast, flowy singletrack. We hit the second section of singletrack, I think it was the Ho Chi Minh trail, and gaps started to form all over the place, including between myself and the guy ahead of me. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the race for me. I pretty much had no game in the more technical sections of singletrack that day.
I lost touch with the lead group and settled into the second group. Throughout the first couple of laps, I’d get gapped off in the singletrack and then chase back on when we hit the forest roads.
About midway through the race, our small group consisted of myself, Darrin Braun, some dude in a Culver’s kit, Ben Koenig and a couple of others. We hit a pretty techie section of singletrack and like before, I got gapped off by Ben, Darrin and everybody else that was in front of me. By the time I hit the next forest road, Darrin and Ben were long gone enough that there was no catching back up. I ended up with the Culver’s guy, and sat on hoping to recover a little. WORS courses are always well marked to prevent wrong turns, however there were a few areas on the forest road sections where the course was taped off far enough away from a ‘Y’ in the trail, that one could potentially make a wrong turn. As I was following the Culver’s guy, we we’re flying down a forest road and quickly came up on one of the not so well marked ‘Y’s. He went right and quickly realized that he’d made a wrong turn. The only reason that I didn’t follow was because there was a sign ahead with a red arrow pointing us in the correct direction. After that I never saw him again and found myself in no mans land with nobody to work with on the forest roads.
So over the final lap and a half, I drilled it on the fire roads and tried to recover a little in the singletrack with the hope of keeping whoever was behind me from catching up, and maybe close the gap to the group ahead of me. Near the beginning of the last lap I could see a group of three nearing the top of the steepest climb on the course as I was approaching the bottom. I also happened to see Julie about halfway up, always a pleasant site for me during a race! As I passed her, we exchanged grins and urged each other on.
I tried like crazy to catch the guys ahead of me, but couldn’t get it done. I ended up in 9th, maybe my best result at Nine Mile, but a little short of what I was hoping for. The time gaps were close and I was pretty surprised to see that I was only about 4 ½ minutes behind the race winner, Brian Matter. He ended up winning in a three man sprint against Tristan and Mikey with a bike throw. Yes, it took a bike throw to win a mountain bike race. I bet it was a pretty exciting finish for the spectators.
When I had passed Julie, I could tell that she was having a great time. She finished 18th out of 22 in the women’s Elite race. She never really cares too much about where she finishes and is much more into just having a great time. We did this race two years ago and she was still pretty new to mountain biking. She had mentioned how difficult the Ho Chi Minh trail was for her back then. This year was a different story as she said that was among her most favorite parts of the course. Stuff like that’ll always bring a huge smile to my face. Those of you that have significant others that share your passion for the sport of mountain biking probably know what I’m talking about…
So in the end I was pretty happy with the result. Yeah, I stunk it up in the singletrack, but I had pretty decent legs on the fire roads and that was pretty much what kept me in the top ten. After the race, I did a 20 minute or so cool down ride on a forest road that parallels Nine Mile Forest. I rode along and took in the amazing scenery that the area has to offer and had a moment of appreciation and thankfulness for the great life that I’ve been blessed with.
Next up for us is the Nebraska State Mountain Biking Championship race at Ponca, another one of my favorite race courses. I always look forward to the fast, flowy singletrack goodness that Ponca State Park has to offer!
Thanks for reading,