Today represented the best and worst of mountain bike racing for me. I was feeling good, started strong, and found myself both in the lead on the razor's edge of control after about 10-15 minutes of racing. Then while taking a particularly tight and rocky corner in a particularly aggressive fashion, I burped my tire but managed to keep the bike generally upright. However the hissing noise coming from the tire indicated something was wrong. I pulled off and a closer inspection revealed a tiny twig, maybe 1/16th" in diameter, had wedged itself into my tubeless seal and seemed bent on ruining my day.
"No worries, I will just calmly attempt to seal the breach by removing the wheel and spinning it horizontally, allowing the latex sealant to fill the gap which this stupid, tiny twig has created", I thought to myself as I was passed by several in my category, though to these passers by it probably sounded more like:
And when I was thinking: "Hmmm, it would seem that this sealant has dried out and completely lost all of its functionality. This likely happened halfway through last season. I will just get out my spare tube and install it. Oh hey! Would you look at that, my spare tube has a hole in it! Well isn't that just the pits?", what was coming out of my mouth was more in the vein of:
"Oh goddam it you stupid fucking piece of shit.........FUCK"
At this point my mood was terrible, my chance of any sort of decent result was slim, and I was being swarmed by mosquitos while debating whether or not to patch the tube or abandon when a heavenly entity riding a Misfit singlespeed approached and asked "Do you need anything?" and without even considering the UCI protocol on trailside assistance I frankly and grumpily exclaimed "29er tube" which miraculously yielded the result of said tube angel stopping for me and allowing me to dig his spare tube out of his Camelbak and get down to business. The rage-induced adrenaline segued nicely into a determined and panicked numbness and I ignored the dozens of mosquitos chomping on me and was back on the trail in a couple of minutes.
Elated, I started hammering. This lasted about 15 seconds. Soon I ran into the 1st of, oh, probably about 100 riders who had passed me while I was dealing with my tire. Not to toot my own horn, but I am faster than most of these riders (actually, to be honest, I'm faster than all of them. Now I'm tooting my horn). And having to crank a singlespeed up technical, bumpy climbs is generally hindered greatly by having riders going half of your velocity a few feet in front of you. This is especially true when they fall across the trail, and somehow construe said failure to remain upright as a signal that they may remount and start up again at their leisure without making any accomodation to let the faster rider directly behind them pass. So, this once again put a damper on my mood, especially when imagining the glorious flow that this course was currently offering my category leader, that I could have been enjoying were it not for devil-twig.
But as they say, when opportunity knocks, give him all the lemons life handed you and God will shut the door. Or something like that. I basically made it my mission to finish my race the fastest I could, flat tires and slow riders be damned. I was frustrated, flustered, and mentally drained but beneath all of that I was still pretty sure there was a decent bike racer so I put my head down and hammered. It became apparent a couple of times that I was riding beyond my ability to focus (i.e. almost flying off my bike often, actually flying off once), but in this particular situation I felt this level of recklessness was my "sweet spot". I mean, why bother even finishing if I wasn't going to give it 110%?
Eventually, I started picking off riders from my own category. There are usually about 20 (there were 16 today) and I was pretty sure almost all of them had passed me. But I started reeling them back in; being on singlespeed bikes they are generally pretty easy to identify. And I got to a point where I was pretty comfortable with where I was at in the standings. Toward the end of the race I passed DD who was also KO'd with a flat, which sucked for him but also gave me some idea that all of my energy expenditure wasn't for naught, as he should have been a podium threat. I managed to make it across the line in one piece, and was happy to hear the announcer call out my name in 4th place. He also gave me props as one of the "original singlespeeders", which is kinda funny as I have only been riding SS for about 5 years, and there are probably some crusty die-hards that would want to fight me over that kind of statement.
Though satisfied with the way I salvaged a disastrous situation (attributable solely to the kindness of others) I also cannot help wonder what could have been. Looking at the lap times I feel like I would have been in strong contention for 2nd, and maybe even in a battle for 1st, but going down the road of hypotheticals is generally a useless exercise. If I want a 'W' in this field I've got two more races in which to accomplish it.....wish me luck!
Note: I have probably logged 4000km on MTB race courses and as far as I can remember this was my 1st flat. As untimely as it was I can only hope to maintain the same frequency.
Note II: Tube angel was Andrew S. of Lapdogs racing.
Note III: Apologies to anybody whose delicate sensibilities were offended by my screaming on the race course or its transcription on this blog.