Race Report by Mobb Capo Michael Banks
I raced my first mountain bike race on May 5th, 2013. It was a 331 Beginner race at Vultures Knob. I don't remember much about the day: It was hot. It smelled bad. I had no idea what I was doing. I felt really accomplished.
Yesterday I got my first Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Pro/Expert podium finish at the Lake Hope race: It was hot. It smelled much better. I still had very little idea of what I was doing. I feel really accomplished!
The OMBC series is highly contested by some of the fastest riders from the Buckeye State as well as some from PA, Michigan, and even as far away as North Carolina, on occasion. Despite a really strong season, including a 16th place finish at the Mohican 100k, the best I had managed at an OMBC Pro/Expert race was 7th place. At the line, I noticed that some of the guys I usually consider my closest competitors were absent but there were still plenty of fast guys, including 5-time OMBC Champion Ben Ortt (HWB Santa Cruz), whose palmares include a top 20 finish at 2018 USAC MTB Nationals and top 20 finishes in several UCI MTB races.
Imagine my surprise when I found myself holding Ben's wheel as we went out the gate and up the gravel climb toward the single track. Halfway up the first climb I let the gap open a bit and Aaron Graber (Ride On Wooster) slotted in between us. I still made it into the single track in third and with a gap of less than 5 seconds. I tend to go too hard early in races and often blow up spectacularly as the miles add up. At about 26 miles of nearly all single track for Pro/Expert, Lake Hope is one of the longer races in the series. Therefore, my plan was to ride at an average heart rate of about 160 BPM, figuring I could sustain that level for the full two plus hours. Heading into the single track, I sat at about 165, well within a reasonable range. I kept the gap to Ben and Aaron at less than 10 seconds for the descent to the bottom of Copperhead trail and the initial climb up Bobcat. My legs felt as though Julien, Al, and Philippe in person came in for an assist; of course those of us who followed the 2019 Tour know what happened to those guys on Stage 19. Determined not to share their fate and with a good gap open behind me, I decided to back off a bit as my HR pushed an average above 170.
The next 35 uneventful minutes saw me cruising by myself. My HR sat persistently at 170 rather than my target range but I decided to keep the pressure on because the rider in 4th was never far out of earshot. There is a 4-way intersection that Pro/Expert racers encounter 4 times; around miles 4, 10, 15, and 21, respectively. The signage can be confusing if you don't know your way around the trail and I found myself taking a wrong turn on my second time through. Fortunately, I quickly encountered some riders coming the opposite way and realized my mistake. Unfortunately, I squandered my lead over Christopher Cain (9285 Wealth Management) who had been in 4th place and wound up behind him and Josh Kunz (Knobby Side Down), who races Single Speed. The three of us rode together for a few minutes when Josh launched an attack ahead of the Copperhead downhill. Josh has incredible descending skills and, vaguely familiar with my surroundings, I recognized an opportunity to put some time back into Christopher. I passed Christopher on the inside of a turn and bridged up to Josh right as we got to the top of the DH. Determined not to get dropped by Red Beard, I was on the rivet coming down Copperhead, pedaling wherever the relentless roots, rocks, and switchbacks let up. At the bottom of Copperhead Christopher was nowhere to be seen and I sat in as we started the climb back up Bobcat. My HR was still way higher than I wanted it to be and I let up a bit. Josh slowly opened about a 15 second gap, when Peyton Randolph (Lancaster Bicycle), another single speed racer, bridged up to me. I gave him the pass and sat back in on his wheel. Peyton pulled me all the way back up to Josh but I was working hard to match his pace. Right around that time, I realized that a podium finish may be in the cards. Confident in the gap to Christopher, I decided to leave some gas in the tank rather than counter attacks in a field I wasn't contesting.
Once again on my own I settled for a steady effort always mindful of anyone who may come up behind me. By the time I reached the 4-way for the final time Ryan O'Dell, the race director, had dispatched a course marshal. The marshal directed me toward the correct final stretch of trail shortly before I got caught for one last time. This time it was Ross Clark (Truwheels) the leader in the 40+ Pro/Expert division. He graciously allowed me to lead us down Copperhead for the last time, up the final single track climb affectionately known as the Dirty Butt Crack Climb on Strava, and all the way through the campgrounds to my first OMBC Pro/Expert podium finish.
I came across the line with at 2:21:21, only 27 seconds behind Aaron. Maybe I could've closed that gap had I only held on to Josh and Peyton's wheels; who knows? Either way, I'm incredibly stoked for this result and look forward to the rest of the Ohio Mountain Bike Championship season! Oh, and in case you're wondering Ben Ortt, meanwhile, finished in 2:02:27. That only goes to show that even at an average HR 9 points above my original target, I have a lot of work to do before the next race.
Strava Activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/2571242034/overview
Series Website: http://ombc.net/
Bike: 2017 Rocky Mountain Element 970
Wheels: Velocity Blunt SS laced to DT Swiss 350’s (Custom built by the BC Crew)
Tires: Continental Mountain King 2.35 (F); Continental Cross King 2.35 (R)