The race I wasn't planning on doing...
This one came down to a "near day-of" decision for me. I had it on my schedule, but it was a low priority race. Although I love the trail, especially as a race course, it's a 2 1/2 hour drive to get there. So, my original decision was to not do this race. The day before, I started to re-consider my decision, and eventually decided that I would do the race. The next morning, I almost reconsidered. However, we did load up the car and hit the road.
We arrived at Fort Custer an hour and a half before start time, leaving me plenty of time to register, get ready, and get in about a 25 minute warm-up.
Just before 12:30, I made my way over to the start line, and lined up with the rest of the Sport/Beginner singlespeeds. The Expert/Elite singlespeeds were starting about a minute and a half before us. At this race last year, the singlespeed class was combined, meaning that I was racing against riders of all levels, from Elite down to Beginner. With the class being split this year, I would not be racing directly against the very fast guys.
GO!!! I tried to get the jump off the start, however a missed clip-in left me 5th wheel going into the singletrack (thankfully fairly open, but about a hundred yards from the start). The eventual class winner motored away right off the start, and another guy pulled away (a bit more slowly). The other 2 in front of me were not as fast, and 1/3 mile into the race I made a pass. Shaun from the Mysinglespeed.com team was shortly behind me, as evidenced by his rather loud rear freehub (Hope Pro hub).
The first couple miles were mostly open/flowing singletrack (the BLUE trail if you're looking at the trail map), with a tighter connecter (complete with logpiles) leading across an old road to the RED trail). Here we hit 2 of the major climbs at Custer, named Cardiac Hill and CPR. Cardiac is a longer climb, CPR is short steep and loose, and there is maybee 1/4 mile between them to recover. The top of CPR dumps you straight into a section named "Granny's Garden", the most technical section at Custer. Logpiles, drops, tight turns, logpiles, rocks, steep grunt hills. Through Cardiac, CPR, and Granny's I was able to hold off Shaun (in fact he would spend about 3/4 of the race very close behind me). After Granny's, there was a short hill, with a Boy Scout troop passing out water. I didn't take any water, as I use a hydration pack, but thanked them for their work anyways. This led to a stretch of open "2-track" where I was able to pull ahead of Shaun. In fact this would be the M.O. for the day. I'd pull away on the open and flowing sections, and he'd catch up in the tight stuff.
We rode through a short tight singletrack, then onto an open downhill singletrack, complete with a couple of whoop-de-doos. At high speed, this dumped us across another old roadbed into a section called the Amusement Park. This is a sweet flowing section of singletrack, with a couple of logpiles, a few short hills, and many fun turns. The Amusement Park, another section named the Crazy Beaver Loop, past the normal trailhead, and into a section called "The Trenches". This is probably my favorite section at Custer. This is a series of trenches that remain from when the park was still part of the military training base, and can be best described as riding in a halfpipe.
We rode through more tight singletrack, and over a section that could almost be described as "dirt jumps". In fact there were people there watching, I guess to see people catch air. I didn't, preferring to keep the rubber down. This spit us out over another old roadbed, and back onto the BLUE loop. There was a water crossing, a minor hill, and a very fast stretch of singletrack leading us back through the start/finish area. I finished lap one with Shaun hot on my tail.
Lap 2 basically continued where lap 1 left off, with Shaun on my tail and me trying to hold him off and pull away. Just before Granny's Garden, we ended up catching the 2nd place guy. I made a pass near Cardiac hill, and held them off through the singletrack. We passed a couple of the slower riders in the Expert/Elite class, and headed back into the Amusement Park. Here I could feel myself finally putting distance on Shaun and the other guy in my class. My legs were feeling strong at this point, so I put the hammer down. In the Crazy Beaver loop, I caught another 2 riders from the Expert/Elite wave, and passed them on the 2-track which followed. They stayed on my wheel back to the BLUE loop, and we traded passes.
I rolled across the finish after 1 hour 20 minutes and 9 seconds, in 2nd place! The 3rd place finisher came in a half minute later, and Shaun took 4th, about a minute and a half behind me (I guess my focus on endurance paid off with a good finishing kick). The winner was 4 1/2 minutes ahead of me: I would've needed a motorcycle to keep up.
A beautiful day, a great course, and a strong performance. You can't ask for a better race day!
Photos by Dan Frayer. Video by Duke at Mysinglespeed.com