Race Report // Rocky Hill Roundup

The Rocky Hill Roundup MTB race officially started off the 2015 Texas XC (Cross Country) MTB State Champion Series. The race is set in Rocky Hill Ranch, on the eastern outskirts of Texas Hill Country of Smithville, TX. If you’ve ever driven/ridden between Houston and Austin on Highway 71, you’ve gone through Smithville!

This winter I “cat-ed up” (upgraded racing categories) from Cat 3 (where beginners start) to Cat 2, with only one mountain bike race actually under my belt. While disciplines such as road or cyclocross racing typically require you to finish a certain amount of races or place well enough in X number of races to cat up, MTB XC is different with no requirement, allowing racers to move up when they feel is appropriate.

The real reason I moved from Cat 3 to Cat 2 was to cat up in cyclocross to Cat 4 (using some category equivalence trickery) because there was a race I wanted to do the same day as a wedding I was attending. That allowed me to race at an earlier time slot and still make it to the wedding hahaha. But being in Cat 2 MTB XC also means longer races, usually twice as long as the Cat 3 races. This just means more riding and racing to make the costs and travel a little more worth it!

The race started in 3 minute waves by category and age group (Cat 2, 19-29). I was at the front of the wave, having pre-registered online. After the hole shot, I was in about 8th place (out of 18). A gap started to form between me and the train of guys ahead. Finally someone behind me was yelling “CMON! CLOSE THAT GAP!”

I tried. But I was already gassed from an adrenaline-pumped race start, so I let them pass knowing full well I wouldn’t be able to hold my position and effort for over 1.5 hours! This course has everything: fast straight downhills, flat fire roads,  twisty turny sections, piney woods, roots, shallow water crossings, big (by Houstonian standards) steep climbs, giant whoop-de-doos that could send someone to the ER. I got passed many times by the top guys in waves that started after me. Sometimes I’d tried to hang on to them for a little to keep my pace up.

Long story short, I finished 13/19 on a bike I had never ridden before. The course is hella fun by itself, so I was happy with the day! One of my goals for racing this year in MTB and CX is to start getting top 50% placing consistently, so I still have a bit to go!

My next race will be the Hill Country MTB Challenge in Comfort, TX (near San Antonio) during mid-March. POSSIBLY the Austin Rattler 100k to try and qualify for Leadville MTB 100 (??!!?!?!!!). Then finishing with the GHORBA Big Ring Challenge in May, where I placed 8th in the Cat 3 19-29 group last year!

Rad Ride Report // GHORBA Big Ring Challenge 2014

GHORBA BRG Selfie
At the front and ready to race, but first…let me take a selfie!

Last month I entered my very first bike race, which is kinda crazy because I just bought my first mountain bike (Trek Stache 8) 2 months prior to the race!

While I’ve ridden road bikes for 4 years now, I’ve never had an honest desire to do any sort of road racing. Don’t get me wrong, I love road racing–but as a spectator. But what keeps me from doing it is that it’s intimidating. Weak, I know, but there are still some seriously strong riders in the lowest category, “Cat 5”. But it’s not just the speed factor I fear, but it’s the personality of the sport–it has an elitist aura about it. That is just my humble opinion, and I know not every road racer is a stuck up elitist jerk (some of our racers are goofy and friendly as hell, yet punishing on the bike). Also, the fear of catching someone’s back wheel doesn’t help either. Cat 5 is full of beginners, and plenty of those beginners aren’t the best at holding their lines. At high speeds, I’ll pass on the road rash!

BRG TrailBut anyway, back to mountain biking!

What drew me to want to enter a MTB race was the appealing culture and the fact that I know would have fun riding the trails no matter where I place. The atmosphere is laid back and is like a festival. Everyone wants to have fun riding (and riding fast for some). I’m typically not good at meeting and chatting up strangers, but I befriended the guy who placed after me and his family. They offered me beer, Gatorade, and his momma even whipped me up a potato salad sandwich as we watched other racers ride through the giant sand pit at the end!

The race took place at Double Lake Recreation Area (Coldspring, TX), which is on the edge of Sam Houston National Forest, and next to Lake Livingston. It’s a solid 1.5-hour drive from where I live. I was fortunate to have the chance to pre-ride the race course with my buddy Brian a couple weeks before the race. Double Lake is known to be a fast course, with its lack of technical features. It’s where roadies go to be mountain bikers (hey that’s me!). The trails are flowy and pretty smooth for the most part. The park is heavily shaded by piney trees. It was a warm day, but thankfully it wasn’t true Texas summer yet.

BRG Brian
Brian shreddin’ the trails!

I raced in the “Cat 3” group, which is the category beginners start in. Cat 3 racers only had to ride one loop totaling about 11.5 miles, whereas the Pro/1/2 cats raced two loops. There are multiple race starts within each Cat based on age group. The 19-29 group had about 30 riders that raced. Because I was one of the first people to register online, I got to start at the front of the group! Below you can see a sweet shot my friend Nathan (whom I met at the Cypress trails) caught of me leading the opening driveway sprint before entering the woods!

I didn’t stay in first long. I was 3rd entering the woods and held that spot for the first couple miles. Race pace was intense and definitely something my body wasn’t used to. I was sucking air a mile in, and the dust getting kicked up in the air wasn’t helping! Finally after 3 miles, there’s an open jeep road where I had planned to hydrate, but it was bumpier than I thought! I lost time as 2-3 guys passed me up while I held the bottle against the handlebar. Half a mile later was a longer, smoother jeep road. It was a quarter-mile long “climb”, I knew not to gas myself too much on this segment.

Race shot
Professional photographer friends rejoice…I paid for this photo!
I even got a ribbon and a shoutout for Venture Expeditions!
I even got a ribbon and a shoutout for Venture Expeditions!

Probably the weakest part of my riding is my handling in corners. At mile 7.5 and 8.5 of my pre-ride, I had slid out on the piles of pine leaves or sand. That sat in the back of my mind the entire time, but I’d rather lose time on the corners than lose time recovering from a crash!

At times there was no one visibly ahead or behind me. I let up in those moments and probably lost 1-2 spots because of it. I now know that mental aspect of racing, that I gotta keep pushing. Eventually one guy passed me up wearing a plain t-shirt and checkered canvas slip on shoes–I was thinking to myself “oh jeez this guy is going to beat me lol”. And he did.

Throughout the course I could’ve legitimately wrecked 2-3 times, but miraculously recovered each time. In the end, I came in 8th place in the Cat 3, 19-29 group! I was really happy with the top 10 placing, which was one of my goals heading in.

I definitely intend to enter more mountain bike races in the future! For the summer, Texas MTB races are on hold because of the heat, and they resume in the fall.

At the end of June I’m hoping to travel somewhere in Texas with my good buddy Eric, who just picked up a sweet Kona Explosif! Look out for another Rad Ride Report then!