By Jake Schneidewind
The 2016 Battle for Townsend’s Ridge was a classic example of Arkansas mountain bike racing: lots of hills, beautiful course, good competition, and crazy weather. On the start line of the CAT 1 race, it was a balmy 90 degrees with high humidity (at 10 am). I was lined up next to some of the best racers in the state, and I was starting to question whether or not my mountain bike skills were up to snuff enough to podium.
The whistle blew and the mad ½ mile gravel road sprint for the prime entry spot to the single-track was on. The venerable Austin Morris, a very talented mountain bike racer, and I got out ahead from the gun. I let him take the lead going into the trail and followed his wheel into the sharp right hander that leads to the steep, loose descent down into the War Eagle loop. He got a slight gap on me down the twisty descent but I was able to make it back on the long, steep ascent that followed immediately after. A few more fast descents, steep climbs, and some switchbacks later and the two of us reached the very bottom of the War Eagle loop. There is about a mile of flat, semi-straight trail leading into another long steep climb; this is where I attacked and made the pass. I pushed hard all the way up the climb, down another descent, and then up the final climb to make sure I kept that gap. Once I reached the end of climb where the War Eagle loop dumps back into the Little Clifty loop, I took a look back to see if I could see anybody else. This is when I realized that I had a sizable gap on the rest of the field and was essentially alone.
I continued to ride around or above threshold for the rest of the race to be sure that I kept my gap. I was super paranoid that I would hear somebody coming up fast behind me knowing that if somebody caught me I was bound to become a nervous wreck and most likely would crash trying too hard to not crash. So I just made sure I went fast enough to not get caught but also not kill myself. Several more big climbs and descents later I came back through the start/finish area for my second lap. I believe I came thought in 49-50 minutes or so, though I can’t be too sure.
I took a water hand-off and started the next lap-which meant ANOTHER lap of War Eagle and Little Clifty. Funny thing about mountain bike races is that they tend to be a little like time trials…except with rocks…and loose gravel…and trees everywhere…and they are never flat or in a straight line. The race became a solo effort, trying to steal time through efficient bike handling and well planned efforts.
Up until about 7 miles to go, the weather had been hot and humid and the trail was very loose and dusty, not good for going fast through the corners. However, the beginning and the ending of the race was night and day different. The storms started rolling in with about 30 to 40 minutes left. The rain brought very favorable trail conditions for the rest of the race. The dirt turned from very sketchy to extremely tacky and nice. The close thunder and lightening were a little nerve racking though.
The last few miles of the race were tough. I pushed very hard up the last big climb and started to feel the onset of some painful cramping. Luckily my legs, and my whole body for that matter, held out to the finish. I came up the last little kicker and turned sharp into the finish straight and gave a little fist pump as I crossed the line. I was relieved to have finished and pretty excited that I had won! I was hurting everywhere. Anybody that hasn’t raced mountain bikes probably doesn’t realize the massive beating the body takes in one. Not only was I taxed from the physical effort involved, my body just hurt. I could hardly walk due to all the sore muscles throughout my body from negotiating my bike through the trail at speed. But, it was the good kind of hurt.
It took me 1 hour and 47 minutes to complete the 22 mile race, just under 13 mph average. During that time I racked up 2,400 feet of climbing while maxing my heart rate to 187bpm and averaging 177bpm.
I would like to thank my sponsors. Tyson Foods, Shoulder Center of Arkansas, The Bike Route, Creative Awards & CLIF BAR!
Way to go Jake!
Fan club is pumped