printed in Performance Bike Shop
The best way to prepare for a race is to pre-ride the course. That’s exactly what I did about 10 days before the Vail Ultra 100, a 100-mile mountain bike race in the middle of the mountains in Colorado.
The course has beautiful views of huge mountains covered with different types of vegetation and shear rock faces. We travel on both forest service roads and double track BLM sheep grazing land. The course was dustier and rockier than most years’ due to the very dry summer.
For most of the pre-ride, I kept commenting to my riding friends that we needed rain on the course. Everything was so dry that you could not see the rider ahead of you on the descents through the dust. Sometimes we would crash just because the sand was so deep you couldn’t see the obstacles. I was sure that someone would break a body part during the race. We needed rain.
The day before the race was a day of travel, last minute preparation, and the mandatory racer’s meeting, where racer and crew were briefed about race changes and rules. After the racer’s meeting is the best time to get all of your race stuff prepared. My husband helped me fill all of my GU flasks and mix up my energy drinks in several extra Monsoon bladders. We put extra Lunar light tubes and Innovations CO2 cartridges in my two Monsoon packs so we could switch them at each of the time/feed stations.
After a short ride around the Vail down town area to make sure that everything on my bike was working correctly and a good dinner, it was lights out and I set the alarm for 4:00 AM.
Now, I knew it rained over night and that was what I wanted. I like racing in the rain and the course really needed it. At 6:30 AM we lined up on the start line. The promoters told us that parts of the course were changed due to the damage that would be caused by 500 racers on the BLM and National Forest Land. There were several parts of the course that would be impassable due to the type of mud and clay when it is wet. No problem, the bad conditions would still be in my favor; or so I thought.
The start of the race was great. For the first hour and a half, I stayed in the top 30-40 racers. Then we hit the mud, mud so thick if your bike stopped you could not walk through it. Racers were doing anything they could to continue forward. At one point, after a wheel locking endo into a foot of soft sticky mud, I pulled handful after handful of clay-like mud off of my frame and wheels to continue the race. For the remainder of the race I only had the use of about 3 gears.
In the last three hours of the race, all I could think of was getting to the finish. Quite a different race from last year. Last year I won the race, setting the women’s course record, and finished 39th overall. This year I was the third women and came through the finish line about 45 minutes after my last year’s winning time.
My bike and shifting problems were frustrating but muddy conditions are part of racing. My Performance clothing and Monsoon packs held up really well in these muddy and rainy conditions. My Elite Y-shorts ended up saving my bottom, literally. These shorts get more comfortable the more you wear them, even when they are caked with mud.
The moral of this story is most definitely: be very careful what you wish for.
Thanks for reading. Michelle Grainger