Cascade Cream Puff 100 mile MTB race, Oregon 8th July 2007

I had heard about this race even before I arrived in Oregon – it is often listed in the top ten of ‘epic events’ or ‘America’s hardest races’. So clearly, being just up the road, it was something I was going to have to do. But, entries are limited to 130 riders, and those who have ridden the year before get first availability. Thus, to ensure that I definitely got a place, as soon as the entry form was downloadable in February, I printed it out and took it straight round to the organiser’s house. Along with the very expensive entry fee of $222 – easily the most I have ever had to pay for a single day event. Still, a few days later I received a confirmation email that I was in, and I mostly forgot about it, until suddenly it was July already! I had had vague ideas of doing some riding out at Oakridge (the area of the course), and definitely to spend some decent time on the mountain bike. But what with one thing and another and being terribly short on time generally, that didn’t happen.

I did manage to do one warm up race in June – the Test of Endurance 50 mile, which featured something along the lines of 8500ft of climbing. This was my second time on the mountain bike since getting here in October – apart from my singletrack skills being a little rusty it didn’t seem to matter much; having my road and mountain bikes set up with very similar positions obviously helps. The weather was pretty dismal, starting overcast and raining pretty hard during the event. This made the second of two laps terrible – one of the muddiest races I have ever done. At the start I attacked and got away with one other rider on the first climb. On the first singletrack descent we were held up behind some of the singlespeeders who started before us, and three riders bridged. Around about this point I noticed that my seatpack had become detached from the saddle rails. And unfortunately before I could grab it to put it in my back pocket, it fell off altogether – so I had to hope not to get a mechanical…. On the next climb the group split, with three of us pulling away. And we basically stayed together until part way into the second lap, where one guy faded, leaving just myself and local star Evan Plews in the lead. Evan had an interesting bike – for once there was someone with a bike lighter than mine! Also fully rigid, but a 69er bodged onto a Scott Scale carbon frame, with a single 38T Q-ring. Tidy. I was pretty certain he was strong enough to ride away from me at some point, although I was hanging onto him on the climbs. The point arrived however, when I crashed on a very slippery section of singletrack, going over the bars and taking a nasty crack to the tailbone with the toptube. By the time I picked myself up, Evan had got a gap, and once he was out of sight he was gone. I settled into survival mode, trying to stay upright as much as possible on the now completely comedy muddy course. Not picking up two bottles at the feed was a bit of a mistake, but with the cold weather and the length of the race (four hours), I had to pee so bad that for the second time ever I took a leak in my shorts – I was soaked through from the rain anyway, and the warmth felt pretty good! Evan ended up coming in eight minutes ahead of me, but I was safely in second, so fairly happy with that. Fortunately they had a hose, so I could at least clean the bike off before driving home. My kit was so dirty that when I put it in the bathtub to soak I blocked the drain! And then it took two cycles through the washing machine too…..

But, back to the CreamPuff. Luckily the weather was looking a whole lot better than the ToE, with the promise of dry trails and sunshine. Up until the last few days I wasn’t certain I would even be able to ride – my right knee had been causing me a bit of trouble for the preceding two weeks, and I didn’t know if it would hold out for 100 hard miles. But the week before I rode very hard in the State road championships, and it wasn’t an issue, so I figured I would start and just hope it was alright. Owing to the length of the race, and the fact that some riders will take 15 hours to complete the course, the start time is obnoxiously early – at 5:15am, just at first light. Therefore I drove out to Oakridge on the Saturday afternoon, and camped at the HQ for the night. At 3am my alarm went off, and I sat up in the tent and ate two bowls of cereal, before snatching another hour of sleep. Then at 4:20 it was time to get up – very surreal getting up in the dark and putting sunscreen on! Also not very warm; it was ten degrees as I shivered my way the mile or so to the start area. Everyone got checked in, then with teeth chattering we rolled out to start a long day in the saddle. The first few miles were on the road, and everyone seemed content to ride as a group and attempt to warm up. But when we turned onto the dirt road to start the long climb to the top of the course, I wound it up and rode away. To my surprise, no-one came with me, so I settled into a comfortable pace, riding to heartrate, and carried on. I made it to the first feed after eight miles of climbing, in 50 minutes, then it was a further 30 minutes to the top of the course and the first section of singletrack. I was told I was eight minutes up here, as I began the mostly singletrack, mostly downhill second half of the lap (the course was three laps to total 100 miles and 4500m of climbing/descending). I was riding the course blind, and thus was dependent on the course markings, which were mostly really good. However, there was one place where they were decidedly confusing, and I ended up taking a turn down what proved to not be a track, and my front wheel sunk into soft ground, pitching me over the handlbars. Which wouldn’t have been a big deal had I not landed throat first on a protruding branch. Pick myself up, can I still breath? Check. Can I still swallow? Check. Can I still speak? Not so much…. But I don’t need my voice to race, so I got right back on. The crash, combined with my not knowing the course and probably not helped by this being only my third time mountain biking in nine months, meant two riders caught me by the bottom of the downhill. This was a little disconcerting, to lose such a big gap on the way down, but I didn’t panic, just pulled away again on the climb. Up to the feed took me 55 minutes this time, but my descent was much better – one small crash, but just the front tyre digging in at low speed, so no worries. I figured that if I could get to the bottom by myself this time, then I should be able to hold on to win the race. Starting the third lap I was all alone, and just had to get on with the suffering up the climb for the final time. It felt really slow, but in reality 61 minutes to the feed, so not terrible. I just hadn’t done the training I needed to for this event – I had done one five hour training ride in the last month, but that was about it for any endurance training. But I guess I still have the mental tenacity to just put my head down and suffer; I was really glad to get to the top for the last time though! Then I just had to survive the downhill for the final time, which was tough as my arms and hands were getting pretty tired. I had no idea how close the chasers were behind me, but I arrived at the bottom and the finish line alone, with 9 hours and 29 minutes on the clock. Second place arrived about five minutes later, with third just behind, so it was actually quite close. I won a free entry for next year, though whether I will want to do it again we will see…..

Full results can be viewed here.