For three years now, the Cable Area Off-Road Classic has opened my racing season. I hit up CAORC because it’s fun terrain, the race is family-friendly and well-organized, because it’s a Saturday race (always important) and because I continue to be in love with North Central Wisconsin. This was the first year I signed up for the shorter 20-mile version of the race, so that I can keep my focus on short, intense efforts. Unfortunately, this meant I spent my whole race on two-track and gravel roads instead of the excellent CAMBA singletrack. There are worse things in life, I guess.
I had worked with the guys at The Bike Shop to get set up tubeless using the Caffelatex kit (which I was very pleased with), but the front tire wasn’t holding air. I don’t know if it was an older tire, an older rim, not enough sealant or some combination of all of those factors, but I knew it wouldn’t hold up for the race. I had been trying to decide whether this warranted a trip to one of the local shops while getting my bike set up at the KOA. But after I screwed something up on my rear brakes when I was trying to adjust them, I made a panicked emergency trip in to New Moon Bike and Ski. Chris got me back on the way with new pads and some of Stan’s sealant in the front tire (which sealed up just fine). They were wonderful to get me rolling again, even though I was “that guy”, coming in the night before a race with an urgent repair request.
So with both tires holding air and rear brakes that actually slowed me down, we headed up to Lakewoods for the start. I got a chance to talk with a fellow member of Team Twin Six, Aaron Sturgis. He struck up a conversation based on our mutual good taste in T6 hats (while waiting in line for the bathroom, of all places). I took my sweet time getting layered up and getting the bike ready and then lined up near the front. I wanted to try to get a better start than I have in the past. I had another Team T6 member who lined up in the first row and I made it my goal to tail him. That didn’t work so well. He is somewhat faster than me! I did pin it for the first couple of miles and settled in where I could still see the lead group, even though I didn’t have a hope of catching them. A few miles later we merged in with the 25-mile racers and I was really happy that, for the most part, I was hanging with them. There was about six of us working our way down a fire road before we got back on some two-track. At the first aid station, we split and I was basically alone for the rest of the race.
There is nothing harder in racing than to push yourself when you’re alone. If you have a “rabbit” to chase, you have a goal. If you’re the “rabbit”, you have fear to drive you. There was some guy in a red jersey quite a ways up, but not really a “rabbit”, because he would frequently ride out of my sight. I was handling the hills better than he was, but I would be spent by the time I was anywhere close and he would ride away again. I did eventually catch him when he had a bit of a mechanical issue on a hill, but he passed me back pretty quickly when my slippery Renegade spun out on a steep, wet and rocky climb. So along dirt roads, doubletrack and wide-open cross-country ski trails, I raced alone.
The great equalizer in Cable, for me, is the 2-ish miles of rail grade that leads to the finish. It’s almost completely flat and definitely dead straight. I saw that red jersey again and put a mental bull’s eye on it. Slowly, painfully, it came closer. I passed him and fully expected him to latch on to my rear wheel, but I guess my pace was a little too much for him. Then I saw a Stars and Stripes Discovery Channel jersey on a rider that seemed to be fading fast. I just kept up the tempo and passed him as well.
Emboldened by this, I made the turn onto the finishing straight and saw a grey jersey I tried to catch.I sprinted until my legs ached and then even a little more, but finished 6 seconds back. Had I known that rider was in my age group and that he snared the last spot on the podium, I might have pushed just a little harder. As it was, I came in 4th in my age bracket (out of 6), but would be 5th of 15 if you include the whole 30-39 bracket. Perhaps more importantly, I came in 14th overall. I was pretty happy with that, even if it was all doubletrack and gravel roads.
I was not very happy with the wall I hit around 50 minutes in, but that had a lot to do with not eating. I should know better than to stow all of my food underneath a wind jacket. The bike performed pretty well, and I know the Renegade was letting me fly along the gravel sections, especially towards the end. One thing I’m sure of is that I’m not buying Accelerade again. That, while not being harsh on my stomach, is not a beverage I care to keep using.
So I’ve found a place I’m competitive and survived the rain and mud. The more disappointing thing was riding with Cameron in the kid’s race, because he gave up halfway through. He had a bad start and didn’t even want to finish since he couldn’t possibly win. He was the youngest kid by far and the only one riding a singlespeed bike (even though it is a completely cool Marin with a suspension fork!). Apparently one of the lessons he still needs to learn is how to complete a hard task with his best effort. I should give him a little slack — he’s only 6.
Even if ‘cross is still the focus for next year, I’ll probably ride the longer race just to play on the CAMBA singletrack. But frankly, you gotta do this race if you’re ever in the area. Just pack riding clothes for any possible conditions (from 31 degrees and snow all the way to 70 and sun) and don’t tent camp. The Hayward KOA is a nice place and all, but breaking down a wet tent in 38 degrees is a horrible thing to do.
For what it’s worth, my Twin Six writeup is here, and my Garmin trace is below.