Yes, my race was saved by a bottle I picked out of the recycling bin. It was a beautiful, crisp summer morning and it was race day at Blue Mountain Ski Area. This was to be their first enduro race ever. It was a 5 stage race with each section being timed with your total being your finishing place. The courses were a mix of downhill, climbing, and xc, and the conditions were slick, nasty and loose! Racers started in numerical order with one transfer stage that you could ride or walk to. After that you used the ski lift to get to the top to get to the next course. After stage one, the starting order no longer mattered and racers had until about 2:00 pm to finish all 5 stages.
I was racing the Pro class and my race number was 3 so I would be 3rd to go with racers staggered about 30 seconds apart. All racers were responsible for their own timing and wore a timing chip on their wrists that was swiped at the start and finish of each stage. After a quick riders meeting, we were ready to go.
I was off to stage one to get ready to go, but instead of being nervous for the race I was eerily relaxed which was perfectly fine by me. As I headed to the starting gate, I visualized the course in my head, trying to think of all the turns and breaking points. Standing in the gate, I watched the racer ahead of me disappear into the woods, knowing in 30 seconds it’s my turn. Gathering my thoughts, I’m ready to go. I swipe my timing chip and I’m off sprinting the fire road that leads to the woods. As I enter the woods, I feel good and am happy with my start sprint. The woods section is made up of sweeping turns, jumps, and rock…lots of rocks. As the course takes a hard right out of a berm, I go to pedal….nothing. I look down at the chain and see it has fallen off the front ring. Short of stopping, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve been in this type of situation before, riding chainless that is, using my body, I pump through the course in an attempt to keep momentum and at the same time brake as little as possible. Approaching the finish line, I dismount my bike and run to swipe my card. Wow, that was disappointing. I put the chain back on the ring and walk up the hill to the start of stage 2.
Slowly racers gather at the start of stage 2. There is now no starting order and riders can go as soon as they please. The walk to this stage was pretty far, and we are all collecting our breath and trying to recover. I typically don’t like to cool down too much so I’m the first rider to tackle stage 2. This stage starts out with a climb, traverses several slopes, and is primarily a descent to the finish. Once again I swipe my card and I’m off climbing. My legs feel good and I’m happy with my start. After the summit I drop into the woods, being careful with my gearing and pedaling as I don’t want to drop the chain again. The run is going good, until a high speed section that traverses a slope. I look down in horror as my chain has dropped off again. Well, my plan stays the same as the first run, use momentum, and don’t brake. Inside I’m furious; why is this happening? I don’t ever drop a chain on my rides. The problem lies in the fact that none of my riding includes riding a ski slope at these speeds with this type of terrain. In this run there are several sections where I have to use my foot to help push me along and keep me going. My finish is the same as before, I dismount and run to the finish. In disgust I look down at my bike and not only did the chain fall off but it is also broken and wrapped up in the cassette. Well, I am a bike mechanic so it’s time to get to work. I coast my bike to the bottom of the mountain and back to the parking lot. The chain is severely mangled and I know I can’t reuse all of it. I shorten the chain, and use two quick links. I’m ok with a shorter chain, even though it will limit my gear range I don’t need those gears. Back to the top of the mountain I go for Stage 3. Even though I’m upset with the first two stages, I find myself happy. I have three more stages to go, and I’m having fun with my friends.
As I approach the start of stage three I begin to feel excited and nervous. Excited to do another stage, but nervous about my chain issues. Pedaling my bike as if I’m on thin ice I start stage three. I look forward, I look at the chain, I look forward, I look at the chain. It’s staying on and I’m one happy guy. The finish is a high speed section that goes directly under the ski lift. Entering this section I still have a chain, and I decide to sprint it to the finish giving it all I have. I reach the finish and swipe my card not knowing that somewhere in the final 50 yards my chain fell off. I’m ok with that because it was on for 99% of the run. Once again I head to the parking lot, this time I know I need to do something to keep the chain on the bike for the final two stages. In the lot I run into Lisa Ronca who has seen my mechanical issues after each stage. She says to me “I know you can figure something out, I’ve seen you MacGyver stuff before”. She’s right and the wheels upstairs start turning. I know how a chain guide works, I just need to mimic it somehow. I enter the ski lodge and dig into the recycling bin and pull out a plastic bottle. This should work I tell myself. I return to the parking lot to perform some kind of Frankenstein surgery on this bottle. After some shaping with a razor blade and two zip ties I’ve created a monster. Will it work? How should I know, but it makes a cool sound when I ride. Guess it’s time to test it on stage 4.
As I ride to the start of stage 4, I get funny looks as people wonder why my bike is making a ridiculous sound. I don’t even care. I’m having fun, and the worst that could happen has already happened. Once again I swipe my card and I’m sprinting away. I try to pedal as smoothly as possible and pick where I think it’s safe to pedal. Incredibly, section after section goes by and I’m still able to pedal. Yes! The last mile of this stage is a series of jumps, to ski slope, to a double wide trail. As I hit the last jump I can tell my tire has lost a lot of air and I’m getting a flat. Knowing my wheel’s pressure is limited I give it the gas and head for the finish. Ok, I made it down with my chain on, and my wheel made it to the finish, awesome! Now I just have to fix a flat and I’m off to the final stage. The final stage is a mix of xc, downhill, and gravel road.
Reaching the final stage start I’m still filled with excitement. Despite my problems all day I’ve had a blast. I know this will be the longest stage with the most pedaling. Frankenstein chain guide don’t fail me now! Without hesitation I swipe my card and start the final stage. The beginning is about seven minutes of cross country riding with tight corners and slick rocks. Exiting the xc section I’m happy with how it went, and off to the downhill. This is some of the most technical riding of the day with a small rock drop and several off camber sections. I make my way through it trying to remember my lines and am careful not to make any mistakes. All that’s left is the high speed gravel road to the finish. As I pedal I can hear my chain skipping around, it doesn’t want to hold a gear and I’m afraid it might break. As I cross the finish I’m relieved that the chain stayed on, and didn’t break. Wow, what a day!
I head back to the car to clean up and talk with friends about their day. Stories and laughter are shared all over the parking lot. Some people stop to take a picture of my soda bottle chain guide. Slowly everybody heads inside for results. As they are posted I see the frantic look on faces as people search for their name. I decide to stay back until the results frenzy died down. I see John Ronca turn around and head my way. Approaching me, he reaches out to shake my hand and informs me I won. Wow! Really? I’m shocked and at the same time so glad that even though the day had its battles I never gave up. I kept having fun, stayed positive and rode bikes with my friends. I will save that little soda bottle forever.
Thanks to everyone who helped me out that day and to my girlfriend for keeping a smile on my face.