Toeing the line….local style!
I will go on the record and say that the course at Williams Lake, just outside of Kingston NY, is one of the best and most unique race venues on the East Coast. The combination of non-stop undulations, wicked technical rock and root sections, and the famous “cave” where you actually dive below the ground and race for the light on the other side as the temperature suddenly drops what feels like a good 30 degrees.
When I realized that I would be around to do this race again, something I haven’t been able to do for at least 6 years, I knew it would be good fun. In the back of my mind too, was the knowledge that while I love this course, and in was virtually in my “backyard” when I was growing up, I was never able to get the win there and so, felt as if there might be some unfinished business to attend to in the woods of upstate NY. But I know better than anyone not to underestimate the talent pool of strong local racers who all want to make a splash by putting the hurt on the resident “pro”, and when I saw that the legendary Dan Timmerman was going to be there, fresh out of retirement and preparing for his cyclocross season comeback, I knew the win wasn’t going to come easy. A solid weeks worth of rain ensured that the course would be it’s greasy, frustratingly technical self-just the way I remembered it- and that success would depend not just on pedaling hard, but staying smooth and keeping the rubber side down.
Luckily I was able to pre-ride with my good friend Nick from Windham Mountain Outfitters and it was definitely worth the hour less of sleep it took to get me there early. I reacquainted myself with the crucial sections of the course and took the start line with the confidence that comes from not having to head into anything blind. Not one to fall short of my expectations, Timmerman set off the start at a fairly blistering pace, leading the strung out group single file through the flat, double track run-in to the base of the courses longest climb. As we hit the slopes I waited till a flat section after the initial kick to put in a dig of my own, quickly putting some distance between Timmerman and I, and the rest of the field. I kept the attack going up and over the climb and into the first of the courses many technical sections- all wet roots at rakish angles to the trail and seemingly flow-less rock gardens to pick through. On top of that, the course changes elevation so suddenly that you can easily find yourself in the wrong gear with a wall of a roller to try and make it over….did I mention it was slippery out there.
I was doing my best to keep it smooth and each turn had me thankful for the stability and monster truck like ability of my new carbon D-680. I could sense that Timmerman was under pressure and I was sprinting out of every turn like it was the first lap of a cross race and I was gunning for a first lap prime…which surprisingly I was as I found out at the finish when I was awarded a $50 first lap prime…sweet!
The gap between Timmerman and I slowly opened up, and I was steadily able to add to the gap each lap as I focused on my “smooth and fast” mantra. By the fifth lap I was definitely feeling each and every one of the punchy rollers and high torque technical sections, and reveling in the seconds spent in the relative comfort of the coolness of the cave. But I knew that if I just kept it upright I had it in the bag. Rolling across the line to the cheers of old friends brought me back to when I used to do all the NY State MTB series races, honing my skills against a solid field of great local racers and challenging courses. My finishing time was well over two hours too, harkening back to when XC races were more than just a long cross race and endurance really showed in the final lap of a long hard race. I was proud of my victory and glad to be able to say that I have actually won Williams Lake- an institution in North East racing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make it back there in the future…I certainly look forward to it.