Ski hills - I must have a love hate relationship with them.

In 2015, Mt. Morris I did great, WORS CUP Cascade Mt. not so good, Treadfest Grand Geneva great again. This year was no different. I think it has to do with the layout of each course; Mt Morris and Grand Geneva have a good mix of single track and leg burning climbs. Cascade is almost one-dimensional in that you’re either climbing or descending. They are all equally tough, but something about throwing tricky technical aspects into the mix just get my batteries charged. So it was no surprise I was going to have a good race this past Sunday at the WORS #9 Treadfest. How I going to place? Well that was the only mystery.

We have a ringer, Jamie, in our midst this year, though he is not entered in the series; meaning he doesn’t accumulate points for the year-end win. Jamie has been taking top step for much of the year. I did beat him at CamRock by zipping through some technical loose rock section and dropping the hammer to stay ahead. Other than that he has finished with a pretty good margin above myself and the other two top competitors in my age group, Todd and Brian. Sunday was no different.

The key to this race is the start - Get up the side of that ski hill as fast as you can. Once you’re up then its right back down again. Recovery is short because the course goes up a second hill - not quite as steep as the first. Once your legs have burned off and you’ve maxed out everything your body can handle you descend into some sweet single track accented by short punchy climbs. Momentum is crucial in punchy climbs. If you don’t carry enough speed to the top you”ll stall and either fall or waste a lot of energy trying to get over the hump.

Jamie and Todd broke into the lead. Brian and I trailed behind. The course is set up so that it crisscrosses back and forth. I could see Jamie was creating a gap so my goal was to stay with Brian and see if we can rope in Todd. New to the course this year is an uphill section of 7 switchbacks. A switchback is a trail feature that gets you either up or down a steep slope and aids in preventing trails erosion. Picture 180 degree turns on a CX course, then imagine having about a 2 foot width of track going either uphill or down at a pretty steep angle. Add in some loose dirt and reduced speed it becomes a test of balance and power. Sometimes going downhill on a switchback can be even more intimidating than going up.

As the race progressed I lost Brian when he stalled on a climb and fell to the side. Checking to see if he was injured, I got the ok to leave. Knowing Brian, he would be on my tail soon. Aside from the climbs and switchbacks there is one more obstacle to tackle; a short steep “rock-pile” climb with a nasty trait of loose gravel. Mountain biking is a game of seconds. It is so important to stay on the bike; falls or a foot down can cost those valuable seconds. Both my attempts at this feature were successful. I was lucky not to have traffic commonly found at these obstacles. I was able to gather steam on the firmer lower section, then scoot way up on my saddle and will my way over the top.

Now were getting into the last lap. As I come around the corner I find Jamie walking the course with a flat tire, big break for us all. Todd is the only one left to catch and motivation is high with Jamie out of the game. I was feeling great throughout the race, feeding off some tasty black cherry CarboRocket fuel. I pass my best supporter and private paparazzi Yvonne. She yelled out “25”! But all I caught was “5”. Four more single-track sections and I was able to make up the seconds I was behind. Todd was in view. Being aware of my presence, he tried putting slower traffic between him and I.

As we exited the last single-track section we rolled side by side up the double-track. After some friendly banter I took to the front thinking, “A short descent and then it’s an uphill battle to the finish”. I gather as much momentum before the steep climb and just went all or nothing up that final hill. Topping the steep section there is a false flat followed by a short up-grade. Todd made his move there. I saw him off my shoulder and resisted the temptation to get up out of the saddle. At this point the key is to get all the power possible. As I peaked the top I start downshifting, getting ready for the sprint to the finish. The Niner RKT is an amazing bike. As soon as you stomp on the pedals you are moving. It did not fail me this time. I hit the bottom of the hill and charged to the finish. I crossed the finish with a 2 second lead for the win.

Brian, Todd and I are neck and neck in the series standings. So having a first place finish is big for me. And doing it at Treadfest is big too. Treadfest is one tough course, a trademark of the Treadhead Cycling team’s trail builders. Grand Geneva trails were once exclusive to only Treadhead members, but are now open to the public. The cost is $10 dollars to ride there, but I can guarantee you will not find anything like it in Illinois. A big thanks goes out to my supporters Half Acre, Johnny Sprockets, CarboRocket and Mad Alchemy. They were all part of my day. My biggest thanks to Yvonne, the support she provides before and during the race have been a big key to my success. Introduce yourself and you’ll most likely end up in her camera lens out on the course.

~Rich Baumgarten