I did a mountain bike race. But not just, A race, but, a STAGE RACE. So, 3 races. The VT3, to be exact. I jumped into this because Kerry said he and Emily were driving up to Vermont for it and that I should do it. Sort of like with the Kona Adventure Team trip, I felt like “yes” was the only answer. I think I agreed to this before the Kona trip came up, so I hadhno idea I was going in to this 3-day race with a weekend of huge mileage behind me. What I did know was that I was going into it without really much of a training block under my belt and no offroad riding. Again, more to come on that, but, certain elements of body care put me at what I thought to be 3 mountain bike rides (plus one on the bike packing trip), but honestly I am thinking 1 or 2 of those rides was my CX bike on the trails. And the year before I didn’t get out much, either, due to work and delegated training style, so my last good block on the mountain bike was summer of 2016.
SO OBVIOUSLY I WAS STOKED FOR A 3 DAY STAGE RACE ON VERMONT SINGLE TRACK!!!
A short intro about the race from the website: Inspired by the popularity of seminal events like the BC Bike Race and Trans Cascadia, the VT3 is a celebration of the singletrack presented by riders, for riders. Beginning on Friday, August 10 and concluding on Sunday, August 12, the VT3 will showcase three trail centers across northeastern Vermont.
Day 1: 5ish mile Time Trial in Hardwick
Day 2: 24 miles at Victory Hill (Two 12 mile loops of enduro trail)
Day 3: 20 miles at Craftsbury Outdoor Center (Two 10 mile loops of flowy trail)
I stayed at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center as a package offered by the race. So, they house you Friday and Saturday night and FEED YOU Friday night through Sunday afternoon. And this is not bulk-made cafeteria food, but, thoughtfully crafted food from local ingredients made for athletes and foodies alike. Good thing I am both.
Bike selection. You have to use the same bike for the whole race, and based on tips from Cathy Rowell and Mike Wissell who had both done the event before, I chose my dual suspension 29er over my favored 27.5” hard-tail. Most unfortunately was due to timing of my joining Kona and bike availability, I didn’t yet have my Hei Hei which would have been the obvious choice for the event. But because I had really enjoyed the HT over the past year or two, I had last used my dually for a wintery commute, and it really had never been serviced much to begin with (because I am a bad bike mommy). So in proper Becca style I was frantically reaching out for help the night before the race as I put a new chain on, recabled my shifter, and tried to find a combination of wheels, tires, and rotors that rolled straight and worked on the bike. My brakes were working, and I could roll and shift so my checklist was run through. But then after a preride on day 1 I realized that I had no brake pads, and I also learned (thanks to Don Seib) that I have Formula brand brake calipers on that bike, which would be hard to find pads for. I swapped my front and rear existing pads for the 1st stage to get better rear braking, and had to call a shop about 30 minutes away to pay over the phone for pads that they left outside for me to pick up after the race, when the shop was closed. Thanks, Chucks Bikes! So I got new brake pads before stage 2. In the minutes before Stage 2 started I also decided to put a pump on my rear shock, in which I let out all of the air and could not seem to reinflate. But, by the grace of kindness, a rad group of dudes from Long Island showed me the mysterious second chamber. And thus, I got some cush for my tush and was able to race!
The race itself.
5-mile time trial? MY JAM!!! I was totally going to win that stage. Because it is totally like, fire road, or something. Right? Nope. The trails of Hardwick were steep and technical. So steep that they required a short run up a fresh loamy climb right at the start of the loop. I wasn’t going to preride, but Kerry and Emily were going out so I took the opportunity to follow their wheels. But they had been riding mountain bikes together all summer and getting out of the car and flying down those hills and twisting around, even at their preride speed, saw me going off the back of the train. At one point I stared a hole and buried my front wheel in it. If you remember, I had no rear brake, only front, so braking downhill while hitting a hole resulted in me going over the bars. It was slow motion and a soft landing, but of course it was in front of two other racers. Lucky for me, one was John Mosher, who actually seems to be right about my pace for the race, and kindly did not run me over.
The race started two riders at once, and each set was separated by 30 seconds. I started with Bryna Blanchard who climbs like a rocket and isn’t too shabby as an overall mountain biker either. I told her before that she should take the to the single track first, but I didn’t need that invitation because she just blew my doors off on the first climb. So did the 2 riders who started 30 seconds after me because they both passed me. I clearly had some leg fatigue from the past week, in addition to a need for that fine-tuned training. But it wasn’t just the climbs where I was lacking. I had NO mojo for the first few miles of the TT. I was over-braking and just being sloppy. I didn’t crash, but I was slow. In addition, when there were flatter pedally sections, I sort of forgot I was racing and just rode them. It was for the best given how I was riding on the day. But by the time the last mile or 2 rolled around I had finally found some flow and comfort on the bike and started pushing the pace a little faster.
I rolled across the finish line pretty far back, but grinning ear to ear. This solidified the fact that I was not ready to race this event, but I was ready to let it teach me how to do this mountain bike thing.
Victory Hill is apparently a network of enduro trails, which meant that we rode 24 miles and had 3600” of climbing. Wow. The good news, is what goes up, must come down, and WEEEEEEEEEE!!!
This was a mass-start day, men and women all together. Ollie, one of the promotors, let us know that it went to single track pretty quickly but then soon opened up to a long stretch of fire road and grass, leaving plenty of time to pass. I started out pretty strong, and held my own through the single track and everyone was very patient. The long bit of passing zone was enough for things to settle out so there was really very little necessary passing once we hit the real trail sections of the stage.
During the climbs I again could tell that my legs were not fresh and still holding a lot of fatigue from the Kona Adventure, and during the early descents my lack of off-road riding was a bit obvious. I spent a lot of lap one yelling “SQUASHING” John, behind me, would expect my slow-downs as I worked to keep all wheels on the ground. Eventually, just like Day 1, I started to really get into the flow, and this stage was quite a bit longer so I had a longer time to use that good mojo. I was a bit disappointed with my slower climbing, but I realized that if I had pushed any harder on the climbs I would not have been able to see straight for those downhills. When they named this venue, they really meant that it was the Hill that would be Victorious.
Stage 2 I fell a bit behind the hopes of an overall podium, but I pushed through both laps despite debating dropping out, I didn’t crash, I found a groove, and frankly, I impressed myself! Without training or intensive mountain bike training for well over a year, I was still able to rock the day, and ride things that 2 years ago I would have been hesitant to try at speed.
Day 3 started right at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, which meant we got to sleep in and ride to the start line (Day 2 involved a 1.5 hour drive to the 8:30AM start) for our 10AM start. This stage was 20 miles and much less climbing than the day before. It also started and nearly immediately went into a long section of single track. I fell back quite a bit during the initial start straight due to over-gearing for a punchy climb and just overall lethargy, so a few of the women got away, and then I was involved in a bit of a collision tip-over after someone asked to pass me (despite there still being 2 riders blocking me). Once we all settled out and there were fewer people breathing down my neck I could relax and start to flow into the trail. Today’s stage was a mix of rolling flowy trail, technical roots and rocks, some steep punches, and then a great berm-filled trail. I fell into a good group of riders that I got to entertain with my songs and commentary. I was having such fun! I had no idea how to race and really didn’t have the punch to dig deep, but I was feeling great and rolling with the flow. By the second lap, I was RIPPING (relatively speaking) and even PROPERLY USED A BERM! I BRAPPED. It was incredible. I even rode a skinny log bridge.
Overall, on paper, my results don’t shine. But personally, I am very proud. And this race did a few things for me: gave me some more great base fitness, worked those off-road muscles, instilled some confidence in my skills, but largely… guys… I think I am going to race mountain bikes next year! No, you won’t see me striving to get into UCI races; I may never be a local/regional podium contender. I think registering for races will keep me focused on staying on the mountain bike. Any racing would be casual and fun: the last thing I need is to add another season of stress, anxiety, and results focus. UCI cyclocross is enough of that. But the VT3 showed me that mountain biking can be fun, casual, competitive, fun, exciting, relaxing, and fun. And I would still hope to throw in a dash of some of my favorite road and gravel events.
Regardless of what summer 2019 brings, I plan on coming back to the VT3. The trails were a perfect balance of grueling and fun, the food was MAGNIFICENT, the logistics were taken care of, and the crowd was welcoming. I loved meeting so many new people, having great conversations, taking a dip in the lake, nearly losing toes playing horseshoes, and kind of unplugging (total lack of cell service).
Oh, and Kerry won the men’s overall competition and Emily won the overall women’s 1-loop competition. What a power couple!
Thanks to the whole crew out at the VT3 for giving me inspiration, providing a fun race environment, and making mountain bikes great again. Blind “yes” answers have been serving me well recently, so try a more yeses yourself! I hope to see a whole slew of people out for the third edition of this race next year. It is a super accessible weekend with a full or half distance option, and a great way to wind down your mountain bike season, have some fun after road, or brush up on some off-road stuff for cyclocross. Because. #crossiscoming