September 12, 2011

Coal Cracker Classic

September 11, 2011
Tamaqua, PA
Conditions: drying out after 10 inches of rain the week before
Riders: Aaron, Mike, Jeff

Following a 4am wakeup, I headed to Maryland to pick up Mike and we drove the 3.5 hours to central PA to race in the Coal Cracker Classic, a race on private land near (or maybe on?) abandoned coal mines.  The race had some of the hardest and most challenging singletrack I've encountered in the MASS series and reminded me of the trails I grew up riding in New Hampshire.

The course started with a newly cut singletrack trail up the side of a mountain.  It was loose, rooty and wet.  After that initial 1 mile climb, it flattened out onto a long fireroad along a ridgeline and dropped back into tough rocky singletrack that seemed to go forever.  Finally, the course dropped back down the ridgeline and into some cool singletrack that followed the natural terrain features.  While advertised as 22 miles, I recorded about 17 miles of riding (or in my case, riding and hiking).

After a 25 minute delay at the start due to local kids removing or re-routing trail signs, we got started.  On the first climb I realized I hadn't warmed up very well and was in a world of hurt while trying to follow Aaron, Brandon Draguelis and Kevin Carter.  I hit my rear derailleur on a rock and lost the upper three gears on my cassette; the two gears I really needed for that climb.  About a half mile into the climb, I passed Aaron who was working to remove his chain from where it had gotten jammed between his spokes and cassette.  It was really wedged and took him 2 minutes to free.  From there, the course went up a newly cut trail that was loose and wet.  I've been riding too much easy singletrack as of late and had some trouble keeping my momentum on the trail (I finally got back into the swing of things after 30 minutes).

Aaron passed me at the top of the climb, just before an unridable section of trail that went throught the middle of a "V" shaped tree. 

Immediately thereafter, I hit a rock that tore a 3 inch hole in the sidewall of my tires (I was running some older tires with bigger knobs today, not my normal tires with good sidewall protection).  The flat took me nearly 10 minutes to fix after sealing the hole with a GU wrapper.  I watched the whole elite field pass me, then the senior expert field, then the masters expert field and just as I was finishing the repair, the singlespeed class passed me.

I passed a bunch of people on the ridgeline fireroad, but not enough before the turn-off to a long section of rocky, muddy singletrack.  I ended up running up most of the climbs to pass people as I couldn't use my low gears.  The trail was definitely tough and offered little opportunities to get something to eat or drink.

After a seemingly endless series of challenging rocks, the trail opened back up into another fireroad that led back down the mountain via some crazy steep descents and onto some smoother singletrack that included lots of steep drops and short climbs.  I got into a good rhythm and saw a few people ahead of me.  I caught one, but the race ended as I was getting close to passing some more.  Despite the delay for missing trail signage, the course was well marked and easy to follow.

Aaron nearly won the race, finishing second while clawing back all but 57 seconds on Brandon.  Mike rode a great race to finish 5th and was closing in on 4th when he ran out of trail at the finish.

Aaron 2nd, Mike 5th
I ended up 14th out of 18.  Not bad considering my mechanical failure.  Results are available here.  This is a race I'd like to do again next year, but I'll bring some bigger tires with stouter sidewalls...

Here's my file from the race from

- Jeff

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