This was a fitting close to the 2015 Ascent Cycling series. A return to Palmer Park and one of the more challenging courses we have faced. Changing things up in a good way! I decided to ride over to Palmer Park this time - it would only take a little longer then driving and I wouldn't need the extra time for a warm up. I climbed up to the race course and got on, heading the direction we normally race. Only we weren't going that direction! Awesome! Something different, which meant I needed to actually do a full lap pre-ride instead of standing around socializing before the start.
At the start and I was feeling the efforts of the past week. I wasn't as spunky getting off the line and wasn't able to follow the leading men into the singletrack. I could feel Liz hovering on my wheel as we passed the officials tent and dug a little deeper to get the hole shot. There weren't too many places to pass on the revised course and I didn't want it to be an issue. This was the hardest course we've raced on this year, with technical rocky climbs and tight, steep descents. There was no place to let up and let the bike flow - it was game on the entire time. Even the blacktop section wasn't easy, with a steep climb in the middle and one of the few places to pass. Line choice was important for all the climbs to ensure a clean run. I was mostly successful, but wasn't able to manage the steep climb up to the blacktop on any of my four laps. My first lap was kind of not focused. I was there to race, but not fully in race mode yet. If it hadn't been for Liz pushing me the entire time, I would have been easily distracted. But as we dropped down to the finish line on that first lap, I remembered that I was there to race. I might not be able to shake Liz on such a short race, but I could make her suffer if she wanted the win. The switch flipped. It was racing mode. No sitting and daydreaming about the clouds and trying to ride everything. Instead of shifting into an easier gear as I started the climb, I stood up and accelerated into the single track. A quick glance over my shoulder at the top of the rocky climb and I saw I'd gotten a small gap. Now to hold it. Despite the fact that it was a race, I still wanted to be smart and ride smooth lines. I was a little more cautious than normal because of the changes in the trail. There were places that I was giving up time, I knew it, but it wasn't worth the risk of crashing.
On the third lap, rain started moving in. With a sense of urgency - and not knowing how many more laps I would get to do, I pushed the pace hard on the climb. The rain was enough to slicken the rocks and turn the soft sand into clinging mud in spots. Time to be really careful! I almost made the climb up to the blacktop on the third lap, but stalled out. And once again, Liz was right behind me, starting the climb as I ran with my bike to dirt parking lot. Yet she never made the junction on the road. I always anticipated having to sprint into the singletrack descent off the black top, but never saw her on the road. There were only a few places where I could judge what the gap was and it never seemed to change much. Always a few second, just enough that she wasn't able to bridge up to me and follow my lines, but never stretching out far enough that I could relax much. My fourth lap was a little sloppy - I missed one of the rocks on the initial climb, allowing Liz to close down most of the gap. Walking (running) because of slip is so much slower the riding! She was only moments behind me as I ran up the steep hill. I didn't look back again as I sprinted away in the rain. With only a few minutes left in the race and most of it rocky descending, I had the advantage of 120 mm of suspension and a lovely dropper post. And I was descending on trails I knew like the back of my hand from 24 Hours in Colorado Springs so many years ago. Despite the changes from the weather and use, the major lines were still the same.
This was a fitting end the 2015 Ascent Cycling Series - a challenging course and some good competition. Andy and the Ascent Cycling team have worked hard so that we can play bikes this year, with some very rough conditions. Thanks to everyone who help make the racing possible - from the volunteers who stood out in the rain, keeping us safe to the officials keeping track of laps. One less thing to worry about! And the racers who stayed to heckle us despite the weather, the spectators scattered around the course with home-made (and awesome cowbells.) We have a family surrounding the weekday races - one that will be returning next year. Let's keep it going strong!