In my write-up of the Tuesday night Solitude race, I mentioned that I think the Solitude race is the most challenging of all of the ICUP races, but that for some crazy reason, it is one of my favorites. After racing the ICUP version this Saturday, I still stand by both points. This was the toughest race I've ever done. Granted, I've never done any endurance races, so my perspective is pretty limited. The beating this course dishes out just never stops. The climbs are brutal, and have some technical spots that require some serious focus and determination to clean. The descents are fast, twisty, rocky, rooty, loose, and rutted. This is the type of course where a moment of inattentiveness can end a race early (sorry Chad).
The race started at what seemed like a fast but reasonable pace up the paved road. I tried to push the pace, but not so much that I'd blow up early. The usual suspects started pulling away up front and I settled into a spot somewhere in the middle of the pack at around 9th place. At the beginning of the descent, I passed Ryan (I think that's his name), who was remounting after a crash. We descended together, but he was able to drop me on the lap 2 climb. Laps 2-3 were somewhat of a blur. Pain is about all I remember. Pain and playing leapfrog with Brad. Oh yeah, and a lot of granny gear. After blowing up a few times on Tuesday, I decided to shamelessly use the granny on Saturday's longer race, and I think it helped me to ride a consistent race. Even seeing Brad pushing his big gear while I spun in the granny was not enough to make me feel bad for using such a puny gear. At the top of the 3rd lap, I caught 1 guy in my class right before the single-track, and that provided some needed motivation. I almost caught another guy, and I tried to follow him on the downhill, but he was able to motor through those initial rollers a little better than me. I tried catching him on the climb up lap 4, but was surprised that I couldn't real him in. It turns out that he crashed out somewhere on the descent on lap 3.
On the final singletrack climb on lap 4, I was hurting, but had enough in the tank that I planned on finishing strong. On one of the first steep loose sections, I caught a lapper. I announced my presence, and maybe made him a little nervous because he spun out and fell in the middle of the trail. I was close enough by then that I had no choice but to clip out and put a foot down. As soon as my foot touched, my right calf and left quad both started to seize up. I clipped back in and started pedaling in hopes that I'd work the cramps out. I had to go easy for a little while, but was eventually able to start pushing again. Turning left at the half-lap turnoff was a reeeallly good feeling, because that last climb on the full lap that I got to skip is just brutal.
I descended to the finish line with the "just don't crash" mentality, and fortunately I didn't. I rolled into the finish hoping for top 10, and to my surprise I finished in 6th. I think this course took its toll, because there were quite a few more starters than finishers. I know of at least 3 DNFs, and there may have been more. I consider this my best finish so far (even if it came thanks to a few crashes, mechanicals and noted absences), so I guess it's just more reason to love Solitude.