The 2012 Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series picked back up in September after a month hiatus with the Slaughter Pen Jam in Bentonville, AR. This would be my 4th cross-country (XC) mountain bike race this year and I was definitely excited for it, having not ridden up at Slaughter Pen before. I was especially looking forward to the cooler weather after the brutal, hot summer we had been having. I definitely ride much better/stronger when the temperatures are cooler.
Seeing as how the race started later in the day, I planned for an up-and-back day trip with some of the members from the Spokes team. This was even more enjoyable being a passenger in the plush Spokes team van driven by fellow teammate Matt Runge. We arrived in Bentonville just after 11am, just in time for my 12 o'clock noon start. I got signed in, got my gear ready, and got a quick warm-up in riding around the parking area.
As I had never ridden the course before, I talked to fellow teammate Chris Randle to try & learn about the important parts of the course. I was told that there was a significant climb just after the start, a couple of tricky technical sections, some short but steep climbs in the middle, a fun downhill, and then a couple of climbs in the last couple of miles. I decided that I wasn't going to kill myself at the beginning like I often do, and I was going to pace myself up the first climb, and then attack the rest of the course.
At the start of the race for my age/division (CAT3/40-49), there were 15 of us, a pretty good-sized field in my opinion. They shouted "GO!" and about half the group took off like a bat out of hell. I was not in that particular group. I was about mid-pack riding through the grassy section before we hit the singletrack in the woods, spinning easy and not going too hard. Someone behind me told me that the directors wanted us to stop but seeing as how the lead group was gone, I didn't think that was going to happen so I just kept riding.
I managed to catch up to another competitor and rode his wheel all the way up the first major climb. There was a tricky technical section with several rock ledges at one point and the leading rider in my group got hung up & stuck, causing the rest of us to come to a grinding halt. I immediately hopped off my bike, pushed it through the crowd & over the rocks, and mounted it cyclocross (cx) style without hardly loosing any momentum or speed. Instantly, I had improved my position by 3 places which was awesome! Glad to know my cx skills can be applied to mtn biking as well!
I spent the next part of the race going as fast as I could on the downhill sections (while maintaining control), and riding hard on the short climbs. I remembering passing several people and only getting passed maybe twice. There was a fun part of the course where we got to ride on the DH section, which had a bunch of ramps. I kept my wheels on the ground the whole time, but it sure was fun. There was another part where there was a huge banked turn made out of wooden planks that was fun to ride around.
We came down to the finish area, but we still had to pass through it first and then ride another 3 or so miles before actually finishing. I passed a few more people here and then rode the last section pretty much solo without seeing anyone ahead or behind me. Just before the finish, we got to ride on part of the paved trail. I saw a couple of riders ahead of me at this point and I attacked hard. I didn't know exactly how much further we had but I knew we were close. I managed to chase them down and passed them before we got back into the woods for the final time. I kept the gas on and finished in a respectable 55 minutes & change in 7th place.
Later on, I found out that the reason they wanted us to stop after the start of the race was because there were 3 people who missed the roll call and they wanted us to restart with them. They ended up ranking them based on their race time, instead of their finish order. IMO, they should have placed wherever they finished, but whatever. It wasn't quite fair to the rest of us who were racing against each other, while they were literally racing against the clock.
Anyway, I still had a fantastic race and did about as well as I could have, especially since I was riding the course unseen. No mechanicals, no flats, no crashes or injuries makes for a successful race! It was an awesome course too, with lots of variety, that I would look forward to riding again. Out of the races I've done this year, that course was probably my favorite. I'll be skipping Devil's Den this weekend, and resuming with the Spring Hill Classic in October.