Thursday, June 28, 2012

The beauty of new trails: Westhill-Grafton Ponds XC

Every mountain biker has favorite home trails. We ride these trails again and again, to the point where we can rip them at fantastic speed. We can also get a little bored riding them by the middle of the season. Racing  at different venues offers the opportunity to try something new. Sometimes it's not so good, sometimes it is better.

photo by Thom Parsons

The Grafton Pond XC trails are great. The Grafton Ponds center is a nordic ski area in the winter. (I have never skied there either, but I may make a trip this winter.) The start was in a large open field next to the pond. The pond is big enough for a swim raft and canoeing, so families had plenty to do while dad or mom was racing. The first section of the race course was a long double track uphill. The distance from the line to the first singletrack was almost half a mile!. The trail started level but progressively got steeper until just before entering the single track.

Once the single track started, the fun was at hand. Grafton Ponds has some gorgeous manicured single track trails. Lots of well built bridges, nicely placed rock crossings, and even linked bermed turns. I had fun racing just for the great sections of singletrack. Between the trails were enough flat double track sections to grab a drink or punch up some speed. Two tough double track climbs at the end of the lap gave us a chance to crawl  into the pain cave for a few minutes. I love this course.
photo by Thom Parsons

With a preview lap as my warm up I hoped I could turn out a podium result for the first time this year. I slotted into the front row and went for the long long hole shot. I was third wheel coming off the line trailing Carl Smith and Will Raymond. He and I had the same idea and attacked up the steep part of the hill leading into the singletrack. I followed Carl through the first trail section with most of our group stacked up behind us. At the next double track section, I attacked around Carl. I took the lead and created some separation from the bunch. Heading into the next singletrack section I drop my chain off the middle ring. My shifting had been touchy during the pre-ride, but I had hoped to have tweaked it enough for the race. I had not. I would drop chains three more times during the race. I quickly remounted in third wheel and pounded the pedals to catch back up to the leaders.

I caught Carl Smith at the end of the next singletrack section. The guy who was in the lead had attacked through the singletrack and was out of sight. The rest of the race Carl and I would trade attacks, each getting a 10-20 second gap, then the other pulling back. In the middle of the last lap I dropped my chain for the third time, this time off the inside of the cog, while I was leading Carl by 30 seconds. I yelled, swore, and got to re-setting my chain. Carl cruised passed me as I was fixing the gears. He realized his chance and pushed the pace. I tried to pull back the gap, but felt demoralized by the mechanicals. I lost a minute to Carl in the last mile of the race.

My effort was good enough for 3rd place. I was on the podium at a mtb race for the first time in 2 years. I clearly did not have the legs for the win, but I was happy to execute my race plan. I hope to find more great trails at the new Stonewall Farm XC race in July. Until then, go check out Grafton Pond's trails if you have a chance.

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