Race Report by AMR Member Murphy Davis- So ... about the Chewacla Challenge ... the name fit. I signed up for this race because I have family in the Auburn area and it fit nicely in between the first and second GSC races. I even met some of the organizers from the local SORBA chapter, CAMP (Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers) at Blankets Creek on a training ride one weekend, and if I wasn't already sold that this would be a fun race, I was then. Chewacla State Park supposedly offered a good singlespeed course without too much climbing. While I like a good amount of up and down, they were right, and I don't even know what I would have done with gears. My casual pre-ride on Saturday told me the main challenge would be some tight sharp corners and the general rough edges associated with young (very young) singletrack. I knew there was a chance for rain, but I didn't figure it would be too bad, and since it was supposed to start around race time, I figured it would soak in pretty well, and not get too slick or deep. Boy was I wrong. When I woke up in the morning, it had been raining a bit, but there was thunder, so I was questioning whether or not the race would still be held. Still, I got my stuff together, ate breakfast, and headed to the trail, where the rain was still pretty light. Fine, I thought, I can deal with some mud. I ride 2.4" Racing Ralph tires, which are somewhat knobby as far as XC tires go, so I figured I would be fine. By the start of the race I felt pretty confident I would manage a strong result, and I figured I could win. Out of the 8 singlespeed riders, 4 of us stayed in a tight pack for most of the first lap. I sat in the 4th wheel, feeling very comfortable. I only dropped back twice, once because I overcooked a corner and rolled off the trail, and once to remove my glasses, because they had become too wet, but it was very easy to chase back. The pace was never terribly fast, and I had no trouble matching any surges. I was able to move up to 3rd position after the guy immediately in front of me did exactly what I had done earlier, and carried too much speed into a corner. He rolled in right behind me pretty quickly, so most of what I gained was tactical position. As we rolled into the start/finish area, the leader fell back and the rest of our lead group jostled for position going into the second lap. I made a bid for the lead, but decided to settle for second ... I know I could take anyone here in a sprint, and if the pace was anything like the first lap I'd be able to ride in comfortably. Unfortunately, right before the start of the singletrack, I lost traction and before I knew what happened, I was sliding down the grass. I quickly got back on, but by the time I got back on pace the 2 leaders had a bit of a gap. In case you hadn't guessed, it had continued to rain this entire time, and even got heavier, so the trail was EXTREMELY slick and slow. Mud hadn't done any favors for our disc brakes, and most of us had pretty weak stopping power, if any. I varied between trying to chase and riding my own race, since I knew I could crash again easily, and I had 3rd pretty solidly if I kept my current pace. In some of the twisty sections I caught sight of the 2 leaders and sped up every time, but talking to them after the race, they did the same! On the very speed constrained course, I wasn't able to make any meaningful gains on them, although I passed some people from other categories who all seemed to be having a tougher time than me, even considering that my brakes were nearly non-functional. Their races were over, but I made sure to just keep up a consistent ride and came in a minute or two down. Third wasn't what I had hoped for, but it wasn't bad, considering the difficulty of the conditions, and the state of my bike. I'm really glad I have this experience under my belt now though, because I doubt any other races this year will be quite so gnarly. By the time I was done, my legs and lungs felt totally fine, since I couldn't go fast enough to really push myself, but the rest of me was in a totaly different place. I had mud and grit in my teeth, ears, and eyes. Even after I hosed off, I had mud thickly caked UNDER my shorts. My brakes, even pulled to the bar, could barely keep me from pushing my bike forward, although they had become quite good at making a lot of noise. Almost all of the finishers looked like riders straight out of Paris Roubaix circa 1994, albeit somewhat less beat up, and I can't wait to share the pictures. If it sounds awful, it was worse, if it sounds epic, it was more, and if it sounds AWESOME, well, as I told a CAMP organizer - 10/10, would race again.
Next time I'll invest in mud tires and something to prolong my brakes though!
-Race Report by AMR Member Murphy Davis (Photos: Bob Davis)