I’d heard really good things about the Mellow Johnny’s race when it was first put on last year, despite the heat. So with Austin being a relatively easy city to get to, I decided to make the trip out and stay with a college friend. I got out to pre-ride the course Friday and it proved to be a fast, fun, flowy course on dusty singletrack. The UCI course was a five-mile loop that felt like it had more downhill than climbing, although I knew that during the race it would feel otherwise.
We got lucky with the weather on race morning; the fog had rolled in overnight and was slowly burning off, but gave the women a reprieve during the race from the direct sun and heat that had been such a problem last year.
Poor showing from the women’s side meant everyone on the start line would be getting UCI points (provided they finished). As a back-of-the pack pro at US Cup events I have mixed feelings on this. One of the reasons for coming out to Mellow Johnny’s was definitely the allure of UCI points – as a C1 it offered points 15 deep, and unlike in ‘cross where UCI races are available almost twice every weekend in New England, the mountain bike calendar boasts a mere six chances to scoop up UCI points in the US. With such opportunities so few and far between I would expect the field to be stacked with not only the best international racers, but also the top “regional pros” from different parts of the country. For comparison, there were close to 70 men lined up on the start line, so where were all the ladies?
The race started fast and we were still all together when we hit the singletrack. We settled in quickly and by the end of the first lap I was comfortably in 8th with 7th not too far ahead. My legs felt good, the course was still fun, and the crowds were really loud and positive. Starting the second lap I was feeling a little squishiness coming from my rear tire and I realized I had forgotten flat repair equipment. I rode it until it was completely flat and started running.
The first tech zone had no neutral support, but they were pretty sure the main tech zone just after the finish line had support. There was no way in hell I was coming all the way out to Texas, to be guaranteed UCI points, only to DNF, so I continued running. Running 3km on hard-packed dirt in cycling shoes is an unpleasant experience, but as I was the idiot who had forgotten my flat fix, it was a more than suitable punishment.
The other tech zone didn’t have neutral support either, but as it was right next to the expo area, one of the awesome volunteers nipped out and nabbed a tube for me. I’d barely had time to take my rear wheel off when Georgia Gould came though, lapped me, and that was it for the day.
Not wanting to leave Texas with the taste of failure in my mouth I signed up for the Sunday Pro/Open race that was part of the local race series. I visited the Mellow Johnny’s shop in Austin and they fixed me up good and proper.
Race day number two arrived and unlike the previous day, it was going to be a scorcher. The course was much longer with more climbing, and staying hydrated was going to be a challenge. I took three bottles with me and planned on stopping to fill them up if needed. This was going to be a race of attrition. The whistle went, everyone took off like a bat out of hell, and almost immediately the voice in my head started whining. My legs were tired from all the running from the day before; I was in 5th – not even a paying position, and did I mention it was hot out?
The course was fun – more technical than the UCI course, with rock gardens and long, fast descents, and I couldn’t help but start enjoying myself. I settled into a sustainable pace and began to pick people off. I was staying on top of my hydration with the help of the awesome volunteers in the feed zone who were handing out bottles to racers as they went by. With one lap to go I realized the leader was 30 seconds in front of me. I got excited and had to remind myself to keep riding my own pace. The sun was brutal and I was starting to get some sloshing in my belly from all the liquid. I kept catching glimpses of her on the trail ahead of me but didn’t seem to be getting closer. With a mile and a half to go I came around a bend and she was on the side of the trail, puzzling over the front of her bike.
“Yeah, I think my headset came loose.”
And I rode in to take the win
Turns out she wasn’t really OK. Her headset was, I think, fine, but her efforts earlier in the race, and trying to keep the gap between us, coupled with the heat, had taken their toll and she was unable to finish, requiring medical assistance.
I thoroughly enjoyed Mellow Johnny’s: the volunteer support was amazing, it was a super organized event, and the fans were plentiful both days and were really positive and encouraging. This is definitely a race that will stay on my calendar for years to come.
Next: up to Quebec for some Canada Cup races.