As the annual Shannock Valley mountain bike race drew closer, I was getting happier and happier that I had decided to enter. I had just had a good race (Tour de Susquehanna) and was surprised what kind of shape I was in from the six weeks of training I had done this year. At the beginning of May I didn’t think I’d be racing at all!

That excitement began to fade, though, as I awoke to pouring rain and thunderstorms the morning of the race. I really didn’t know what would happen, considering that the course had never had more than a small puddle in my past experience. But at the worst, I knew they?d still have my free t-shirt!

I hit some more storms on the way to the race, but once I got there, the skies cleared and the weather looked just fine. The course was going to be fun though – some places were a bit swampy!

I was able to get dressed and start warming up more than an hour before the start, which was great, because I hadn’t been off-road all summer! I was also enjoying my sleeveless jersey, which I had packed assuming the customary 95 degree heat, but it worked great in the rain too!

Anyway, I was in pretty good shape, motivated, and had a good bike. See, in past years, there was always something about my bike that wasn’t right. But this year everything was in great condition, plus I had tubeless tires and the fork had a lockout – very nice for the many dirt road climbs!

As the clock neared 11:00, I got to the start/finish nice and early to claim a front row spot. I had never started up front and always had to pass lots of people on the first paved climb, so I figured I better get up front from the start this year.

We had a nice start and everything went well leading up to the steep climb. I was always towards the front of the group, and within 10 seconds of climbing Shane Gouldthread and I were neck and neck.

I was content letting him lead the way and that he did. He led himself up the trail and created a little gap between us, exactly what I didn’t want to happen! There were a few guys close behind me so I tried to pick up the pace a little and stay away, maybe getting up front in the process.

Well I stayed away for a while, until I finished a downhill section and found Shane looking at two trail markers pointing in different directions… We looked around, checked some singletrack, but eventually started up a dirt road along with five or six others who had joined us.

Unfortunately Shane was at the front of this group and I was at the back, allowing Shane to slowly pull away. At the next singletrack section, I wanted to pass some riders, but my bike was feeling a little off. It was getting harder to pedal and I suspected a flat tire, but didn’t know how that would have happened.

The culprit turned out to be a jammed front disc. This is the only mechanical I can recall from any time I raced there – so much for the bike helping me out!

I pulled the lever a few times but it didn’t help, so I reluctantly pulled off the trail and began to inspect everything. There were no visible problems other than the fact that the wheel wouldn’t budge, so I just pulled the lever, pulled the cable, took the wheel off, whatever I could do. Finally, after at least 10 racers had passed me, the wheel spun freely! I don’t know how I fixed it, but it worked, so I took off!

Luckily the pit stop gave me some rest, because I had some serious gaps to close! I took off about as fast as I could and reeled in racer after racer. Once we hit a double-track climb, I passed a bunch more and figured I was getting closer to the front. Hitting another open section, I was surprised to see a group of four or five riders up ahead!

Still feeling the adrenalin rush, I attacked and passed each of those guys. There were still a few racers ahead of me, so I made a move when the trail opened up. I was setting up for a left turn, just ready to catch the Mt Nittany Wheelworks guy in front of me, and that’s when I saw a right turn arrow out of the corner of my eye!

I immediately swung right and headed up the hill through some pines, fortunately staying on the right trail. I turned up the pace again to make sure these guys couldn’t stay with me, and luckily it worked. After that attack I was on my own, no one else in sight. Which was fine because I started to crack on a long false flat leading to a short, steep climb…

But once I made it to the last big hill, I knew I was home free. I got a rush of energy and big-ringed it up the rest of the hills and rocketed down to the finish.

It was really funny on the final descent, because I was cruising down it and made a left turn at just the right spot, and almost thought I made a wrong turn. Then it hit me that I had made a mental note to “stay left on the last downhill” during my warmup. Thing is, at the next opening, I made a right! I got back on the trail though and made it back to the pavement and then the finish line.

I was puzzled because before I saw Shane, I saw another racer by the name of Alex Cox. You mean I took third? Yes I did. But I’ll be back…

It didn’t matter, though, once the door prizes started. After four years of standing and watching, I won a water bottle this year! I’m always running out of water bottles, so this was a pleasant surprise – thanks Trailz End!

And I’ll leave it at that, two pages is enough for a 55 minute race!

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