First of all, congratulations! Deciding to enter your very first mountain bike race is a big step, and you should be proud of yourself. You’re about to discover a whole new world of intense competition and camaraderie.
And while — as you’ll soon find out — racing can be hard, I think you’ll also find out that it can be very rewarding, just so long as you don’t overreach and keep your goals at a personal level. For example, when lots and lots of people pass you, don’t think “Oh no! These people are beating me!” Instead, think, “These people are not competing against me; they are competing with me. My objective is simply to finish this race in under twelve hours, or thirteen if it comes to that.”
You’ll be amazed how much better you feel!
But I don’t want to spend this whole letter giving you a pep-talk, Levi. No. I’m writing this letter to give you practical, useful advice you can use on your bike race right now.
At the Starting Line
Since you’re not used to mountain bike racing — and especially since you’ve never been to the Leadville 100 before — you’re going to be a little bit overwhelmed at the starting line. There is a huge crowd there, and you may feel intimidated. But don’t worry; you’ll be fine. Just follow these tips:
- Start from the appropriate place in line. Assess yourself honestly — do you belong at the front of the line where everyone’s going to be jockeying for position, or would it be more prudent to place yourself further back, where there’s more of a ride-and-let-ride mentality?
- Don’t surge forward off the line. It’s a neutral start. Don’t go attacking right off the line. You might knock someone down and make that person very, very angry. And don’t wear an iPod at the starting line either. For similar reasons.
- Careful of the Shotgun. Ken Chlouber likes to start the race off by firing a shotgun. If it catches you unawares, you would not be the first person to poop yourself before the race even starts.
This isn’t a road bike race, Levi. Well, actually, most of it is on roads. But they’re dirt roads. Downright Jeepish, often. Except the paved parts.
But my point remains: there’s some bumpy, unpaved stuff in this race. So pay attention! Stay loose. And don’t, for crying out loud, go crosschaining your bike.
(Crosschaining is when you have both your front and rear cogs in the largest gears, or when you have both in the smallest gears. And it’s not a good idea.)
Next, you need to be aware that from time to time, people will certainly want to pass you. With more than a thousand people on the course, this may happen more often than you might expect!
When those people want to get by, they will generally yell “On your left!” or “On your right!”
Levi, I cannot overstress the importance of what those riders mean.
When someone says, “On your left!” that does not mean you should move left. No, it does not. It means the person wants to go by on your left side.
Please try to remember that, Levi.
And, by the way, in the interest of good sportsmanship, you should let people by when they want to go by. Remember: you’re not racing against these people. You’re just racing against the clock. It’s just that a whole bunch of other people are there at the same time, also racing the clock.
Endurance Racing Tips
Levi, I have to admit that I’m a little bit surprised that you chose the Leadville 100 as your first-ever mountain bike race. Did you realize that a lot of people take close to — or even more than — twelve hours to finish this?
This is not just one of those 45-minute rides you’re used to doing on the road, Levi!
Here are a few tips to make the miles go by a little more swiftly:
- Use some chamois lube. I recommend Dave Zabriskie’s Nuts. (In fact, I believe most everyone likes Dave Zabriskie’s Nuts.) You’ll find that your taint — no doubt not used to the punishment long hours in the saddle can bring — will be glad you did.
- Use a Camelbak: You want to stay hydrated, and you may not be proficient at grabbing a bottle while riding a bike. Also, a Camelbak can be very helpful if you’re going to be out between aid stations for a very long time, which may be the case: in one case there is 20 miles before you get to an aid station!
- Don’t get discouraged. Sometime during this race you’re going to get tired, and people are going to start passing you, left and right. Don’t let this get you down! Just remember, you’re in this for the long haul. Try singing yourself a merry tune to lift your spirits.
Levi, I think this is going to be a tough race for you, but totally worth it. Just remember: you’re better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.
PS: Just in case you were wondering how Levi really handles a mountain bike, you may want to check out this video: