I volunteered as a course marshal at the USCS PC50 on Saturday. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed watching the race unfold from a few different spots on course, and especially enjoyed seeing everyone ride hard through difficult terrain. As someone who is normally racing, the different perspective was motivating and inspirational.
A few observations:
There are a lot of different bikes being ridden. I saw old bikes. I saw new bikes. I saw one bike that is not available to the public yet (29er Scalpel). I saw steel singlespeeds and full-suspension carbon 29ers. I saw an 8-inch travel fork and elk-horn bar-ends. Some racers used narrow tires, others, big wide, and knobby. Some used hydration packs, and others had bottles mounted in odd places on their bikes. I saw handlebars that were wide, narrow, flat, raised, and swept. In other words: The right bike (or tire, etc) for your race is the bike you have. Or more specifically, the bike you are most comfortable riding.
Fast or slow, everyone was racing. It was no surprise that the first 30 or so riders to pass the various places I stood were racing furiously. They were focused and determined. But so were the last 30. One of the best moments of the day for me was when a rider pulled in for a feed about 32 miles into the race. He was well over an hour behind the race leaders. But he didn’t care, he wasn’t racing them. He was racing himself, and maybe the others in his age group. He was in such a hurry that instead of dropping his electrolyte pills into his jersey pocket, he dropped them all over the ground. We quickly gathered them up, got them packed away in his pocket, and sent him on his way. He left with a whoop and holler, “It’s time to haul ass!”
Bike racers are good people. I’ve said that before. But it’s worth saying again. Despite the pain and the stress of racing, the vast majority of the field took a moment to say thanks as they sped by. I appreciated that, but honestly, I enjoyed being out there. I’m the one that should be saying “thanks”. I finished the day feeling motivated and happy. Ready for my own race this week. Racers were constantly encouraging each other throughout the day. I watched one rider wait a few minutes for his friend to catch up so they could ride together. I saw others give pep-talks to struggling racers up long climbs. I never heard any angry or negative words exchanged. Not even when some of the course markings were sabotaged.
Marking an endurance course is challenging. I’ve helped mark courses in the past. It’s hard work. The crew at MTB Race Productions did a great job marking the PC50 course. But just minutes before the lead racers came through an intersection about 6 miles into the race (and elsewhere), someone pulled flags and rerouted the race into no-mans land. Who does that? The racers were able to get back on course fairly quickly, but there was some definite frustration among them. I was the first volunteer they encountered after that spot, and so I heard from a lot of riders. Nobody (that I saw) was irate. Nobody was angry. I know how vexing it can be to go off route in a race. It’s terrible. But (see above) bike racers are good folks, and so they took it all in stride.
Somebody is a jackass. I really can’t understand why someone would sabotage a bike race. Whoever pulled those flags was quite deliberate. They got up early, and spent a few hours monkey-wrenching the course. Why? It won’t make the bike racers go away. It won’t stop races from happening on “your” trails. It just pisses people off. And what kind of people make it a point to anonymously and aimlessly anger others? In the end, the effort was fruitless (see above, again) because mountain bike racers are slow to anger, and the race promoters were quick to remedy the situation.
I need to smile more. I once said that “if you’re smiling, you’re not racing”. I’ve since learned that that is as brain-dead as saying “if you’re not first, you’re last.” There were a lot of smiles out on course on Saturday. Even among those focused and determined at the pointy end of the field. Despite the difficult miles, people were having a lot of fun. And that’s the entire point right?
I don’t know what will happend this week at the Crusher. I feel well-prepared. My legs are willing. The bike is ready. I’m anxiously awaiting the start, trying to stay focused on things at work, home, and elswhere. But the Crusher is lingering just beneath the surface. Whatever happens, I’ll be smiling. Or trying to anyway…
One more thing: The folks at MTB Race Productions are putting on a great series. The PC50 was race 3 of 4. Come on out and line up at the series finale on August 20th.