With the championship in the line, I needed nothing else than a victory at the final round of the NUE Series in order to claim the overall title. To cut to the chase, I ended up on the 3rd highest step for the day and I was very satisfied with it. Jeremiah crushed the competition and his hard effort earned him a well deserved NUE title.
I feared the rain but it was the fog that was a problem in the morning. We started with a good tempo on the first and longest climb of the day. It was the kind of pace that is just right to get the legs really warm without risking to blow them up right away. For Ben Melt Swanepoel however, it was not fast enough and he was solo at the front. At the top, our group was fairly large. Then, we went down the foggy and super steep dirt road. I did not have any death wishes so I rode fast but still feeling in full control. I reached 50 MPH but still I left a gap to the rest of the group; gap that I closed on the single and double track trails at the bottom of the mountain.
Jeremiah Bishop and Sam Koerber were making the pace and I was satisfied to follow. By aid #2, the group exploded. Sam and I were riding together a little further back was Jeremiah. Obviously, Sam was feeling strong and it was evident that we were closing up to Ben. It took several miles of the mountainous terrain before Jeremiah joined us. By aid #3, all four of us were together: Ben, Jeremiah, Sam and I.
The trails have improved so much over the last 3 years; it was great fun to ride them at record speed. At that time I was no longer racing against 3 persons. I was riding my bike with 3 friends sharing a great time.
By the start of the second lap, the fatigue had settled in but there was something else. I was running on empty. By mile 60, I was no longer riding I was crawling. I was alone in the woods and the trails which were so fun when my legs were spinning with ease were now a long barrier separating me from the finish line. A long stop, by aid #5 gave me the opportunity to load up with Hammer gel and gummy bears.
My slow moving speeds gave me plenty of time to try to guess who will be the first racer to bridge back to me. By aid #6, I did not have to guess anymore. Evan Plews arrived at the aid as I was leaving it. Evan was riding the trails at an incredible speed. I could not have ride at that speed on my own; strange on how to have a “rabbit” in front of you makes you faster.
In my mind, I was satisfied with a 5th place finish. Despite my legs feeling awful, I could climb faster than Evan. It was a long shot but I thought I could use one of the last climbs to attack. 10 miles to the finish, the volunteers told us that 3rd place racer was just 30s, Evan resumed with his fast riding on the single track.
With 3 miles to go, the 3rd place racer (Sam) was just in front of us and the timing could not have been any better for me. We were climbing a paved road such that drafting was irrelevant and there was plenty of room to pass.
My goal was to use the last climb to give yet another big push but this time for 3rd place instead of the 4th one. I was counting on my memory of last year to plan my attack; however the final 100 yards had changed. With the confusion I started to ride in the wrong direction when Sam was full speed towards the finish banner. I turned around and thru all I had left up the recently cut soggy field for the last 30 yards. It was super close but I manage to cross the line ahead of Sam.
That was an exciting end to close the NUE Series. I finished 2nd overall and I cannot thank enough Team CF and my family for the support. Autumn is just around the corner and I hope to see you on the trails…
My Fool’s Gold ride is on strava.com