XTERRA Saipan Race Report Chapter 3: The Bike

The photographer Lewis Santos captured my mood brilliantly

The opening 10 or so minutes of the bike course is on road and involves a serious but steady rather than steep ascent up what is known as Navy Hill.

After picking off a couple of other riders that had clearly had a faster transition than me on the first half of this hill another rider drew up alongside me and took a good look at me, as I did them.

He was a Japanese gentleman and after a little hesitancy asked me the obvious question in a rather stern and heavily accented way: “Your Age Group?”

This was necessary as numbers were allocated randomly rather than by age groups for this race. I obliged with an honest and clear answer knowing what his response would be which came immediately back as “Me too” I then said, “Nice to meet you Yuji-san my name is Dave”.

Momentarily he was a little shocked then smiled and said, “Nice to meet you too David-san”. I then said, “Have a great race Yuji san” and he replied with a respectful “You too”.

After that exchange a bond had definitely been created but so to had the terms for our duel as a proverbial couple of gloves had been thrown down on that road and we had both picked them up and accepted the challenge to race each other.

The race was now most definitely “On, On” as my hashing Mates like to say.

We completed the road climb side by side for most of the way but by the time we crested and were preparing to turn into the trails I had assumed the position I’d keep for most of the next 15 kilometres namely sucking Yuji’s back wheel and benefiting from any drafting opportunities and, most importantly, his exceptional bike handling and decision making skills in terms of the lines he selected.

Yuji-san, David-san and Jerome-san

As a result, I don’t mind admitting Yuji-san helped me ride the 1st half of the bike course better and faster than I had envisaged I would.

For much of this time I knew I was on the edge of my limits and I suspect that Yuji-san did too. The reason I suspected this was that he kept inviting me to take the lead (as I would have done had I been in his shoes) and other than on two occasions when I could, I kept declining.

Amusingly, he even challenged me to chase down a rider who was in front of us saying that, “I think you can do it”. I knew that I could too but I also knew it would elevate my heart rate and compromise my race. I responded with words rather than action by saying with as cheeky a grin as I could muster “I think you can do it too”. ;-)

Just before we arrived at the start of the final ascent up to the peak of Mount Tapochau he stepped up a gear and got out of the saddle as he did on most climbs and did just as I had challenged him to do by catching and passing the rider ahead of us. He did this with consummate ease and it took him into about a 200 metres lead on me by the time I summited the steepest section of the climb which is affectionately known as “The Bitch”.

Bob-san, David-san and Yuji-san

He continued to slowly and steadily edged away from me and as I started the final climb to the summit of Mount Tapochau I was also caught and passed by Ryan Snow from Guam who was riding very strongly.

As he passed the thought crossed my mind to try and grab his wheel to help me get back on Yuji’s wheel. I knew that was not going to happen today though as Ryan was too strong and I’d risk “puncturing” myself rather than the bike on the run or even before then.

So, instead, I’m pleased to report that ‘Mr. Sensible‘ stayed on the racecourse rather ‘Mr. Madman’ and I continued to spin with a heart rate that was as controlled and calm as my head and at a pace that I knew I was able to sustain.

After summiting Mount Tapochau Yuji, Ryan and the other riders ahead of me turns out this was Charlie Sendin & Furuya Toshiyuki by this stage were out of view and gone over and down a section of trail that is aptly named the “Sound of Music”. It’s named so because the winds and grasses here replicate the famous hillside where Julie Andrews blasted our her rendition of the hills are live with the “Sound of Music”.

A magical section of Xterra Saipan's bike course

At this point ‘Mr. Madman’ made a brief reappearance by injecting the thought in to my head that perhaps I should try to catch them now on the descent. Thankfully, a very assertive ‘Mr. Sensible’, who articulated these cautionary words… “Don’t be Firkin Stupid Spencie! Race your race and stick to plan!“ silenced his nonsense. The plan being, to race clean and smooth and not to smash or crash so that I could not push the pedal to the floor on the run.

Mr Sensible VS Mr Madman

As a consequence, not being that experienced at serious technical downhill I’m pleased to report that I executed this plan perfectly riding everything smoothly but as fast as someone with my limited skill and experience could do so that I stayed within myself and most importantly on my bike. That was until one of the last sections before T2 where the off-road section switched to smooth wet asphalt and where the final water station was located.

Deciding intuitively to take a cold bottle of water to help keep my core temperature under control I touched my brakes to slow down to make a pick up from the water station volunteer but as I was still making the tight turn that transitioned on to the slick wet asphalt the next thing I knew was that both wheels and frame had disappeared from under me and I was skidding down the road on my belly with my hands and knees acting as the wheels on the long-board that was my body.

After about 5-10 metres I came to a halt and thankfully with only superficial wounds and after taking the water bottle that I needed I was instantly back on the bike and on my way into T2.

On reaching T2 which again was steady rather than stunning, I realized that with a bike split of 1:53:32 comfortably under my target time of 2 hours I knew now what I knew at the start of the race. Namely, that for me, breaking 3:45 was going to come down to the run! 

(To be continued...)


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