Every year I hear friends rave about the VT50 and every year there has been some reason for me not to do it. Finally the stars aligned and I was sitting at my computer hitting refresh the Sunday before Memorial Day waiting to sign up.
4 months later and the event was finally upon us. Neal had done some last minute hotel stalking and got us a room right at the venue (with somewhat unorthodox sleeping arrangements). Benidorm Bikes was kind enough to let me out of work a couple hours early too so I could pick up my race packet during the mandatory check-in window.
We stopped at our favorite Vermont sandwich shop, checked into the hotel, the race, enjoyed a fine bedroom dining experience, watched obese people on TV eating truly frightening concoctions, and were in bed by 8:00 PM. Which was good since a 3:30 AM alarm was looming in the not to distant future.
3:45 AM breakfast and coffee
5:00 AM we were out strapping numbers on the bikes
After the 5:30 AM mandatory meeting and last minute bathroom stop, we made our way over to the line. The Singlespeeders were going off in the first group with the 27-34 expert men. The field was an unknown quantity for me; I only knew the abilities of a couple of riders.
The theoretical whistle blows (I think they just said "go") and we are off, racing downhill in the dark. Most riders had lights , but a few braved the course hoping to enjoy the illumination of others. I must say things were very civil and no one was riding dodgy.
I imagine the scenery was really nice for the first 8 or so miles but we all were limited to the short glow cast before us.
When the sun finally rose, I looked down to my computer only to see a blank screen.
Never having raced the course, and without metrics, I guess I'm riding blind I thought.
Because of the dark start, I really didn't know who was in front of me and who was behind.
I pushed on at an endurance pace, getting caught by the occasional geared rider along the way. As far as I could tell my fluid/fuel intake was right on schedule and was feeling somewhat in no-man's land amongst my field.
I chose to race with a rigid fork. I like rigid forks. I like how the geometry of the bike doesn't change as they can not compress. I like how you can pick razor sharp lines with them and how light they make the front end lofting over obstacles.
It was a bad choice*.
Some of the braking bump on the descents were murder. My elbows were and are jacked. I know even with a suspension fork I'm not the fastest descender but it would have made it a bit more enjoyable.
I decided to refill my bottles at a rest stop I was guessing was about mid way. Unfortunately the rest stop volunteers decided to take a group photo as I was pulling in so I was on my own. My back had been killing me to this point so as well as unloading my drink mix from my jersey pocket, I decided to leave a spare tube at the rest stop too. Turns out I was less in no-man's land than I thought as Tim Ahearn pulled into to fill his bottles as I was. I had to pee, but decided it would be prudent to hold it and try to get away from him.
Which I thought I did.
He was out of sight. I got nervous as I thought he was coming up on me but it turned out to be a geared teammate of his.
Until it was him!
He was right on top of me. My first thought was at least I can go pee now (but not until he passes me); I wasn't quite ready to give up.
Then we caught another singlespeeder with a flat. Then another with a broken chain. I was starting to feel pretty good, my back stopped hurting and being Tim's rabbit was enough for my to raise the pace to more of that of a XC race.
I caught road pro extraordinaire Ben Wolfe who had earlier suffered a near race ending mechanical (he had started 5 minutes behind me, passed me had to replace his derailleur hanger after sheering it off, and passed me again). He was in let's just survive and get to the end of this mode and made and excellent riding companion to the finish.
Which we did.
I was 4th singlespeeder with a time of 4:48:44, he was top of his age group.
Vermont50 is great event. Well organized and marked. The volunteers are just fantastic. The course is breathtaking (even without being anaerobic!). If I ever do it again I would make two changes; I'd use a suspension fork, and I ride harder from the get-go. I really felt great the last 12 or so miles and feel I could have rode harder, which is not to say either of these would have changed the outcome of the race (No one was catching Will Crissman!!!), just made it more and enjoyable, with a higher level of personal satisfaction.
*I don't know if the first half of the course is more brutal than the second or if it was just how I was feeling, but the rigid was fine for the last third to quarter of the race, my arms are pretty beat today though.