Saturday afternoon Josh and I joined up with Henry Bullock, a novice rider from Kansas City, to checkout the course. Henry was fairly new to mountain biking. Sunday's race was going to be his first event. Josh was going to be competing in his second cross country bike race. Josh's technical skills were much improved from his earlier spring race at Wilson Lake.
One lap around the 10 mile loop made it pretty apparent where the ride got its name. Whipping through trees across boulder strewn trails the course made me think of the armored bump strewn topside of those grumpy prehistoric reptiles. Several technical rock descents and trails skirting a 20 foot drop to Perrys barren waterfront had all the drama of trying to feed one of Irwins 13 foot crocodiles with a set of shortened chopsticks! Nursing the wounded shoulder and still a bit apprehensive of rocky trails after the crash at Blue Springs I didn't have a real Olympic feeling about the next day's event.
Sunday morning broke crisp and clear, the frost on my truck and my frozen nose proved Merril Teller called it right forecasting overnight lows of 32 degrees. The clear skies and unobstructed sun quickly chased the frost back into the shaded trees, but my outlook for the days race remained chilled and gloomy. As I was dressing for the warm up ride Josh pointed a missing knob on my front tire. Closer inspection showed several missing knobs from the croc's rocky bite. Instead of a pre-race warm up I spent the time swapping to back up tires with a little less grip than I was hoping for. I completed the two tire change and sprinted to the registration table with minutes to spare before sign up for my class closed out. A quick spin around the parking lot showed all systems go, (nothing fell off).
I rolled up to the staging area to join seven other riders that all looked a lot more prepared to battle with the croc than I felt. I anticipated the starters count down well and got a good start off the line. Slamming through the gears I got up to speed fast and went into the single track leading the field. With the rest of the pack breathing down my neck we negotiated the first few turns and climbs of the course. Less than a mile into the race however I knew my lead was not going to last. The aggressive start already had me gasping for air.
About a mile into the race, our group started catching up with the tail end of the 30 year olds that started a minute ahead of us. Bullock was riding cautiously but consistently in the trailing group. He did an excellent job moving over as we sped by. I heard a familiar voice behind me as fellow racer Rick Farrant closed the gap preparing to make his bid for the lead. At the next climb Rick slashed by me. A few pedal strokes later another rider passed me. My pace was starting to slow as we fought our way through traffic.
Even before the two mile mark I was out of steam. Mike Bell another eastern rider was on my rear tire and coaxing me to close up the gap between us and the new leaders. I told him I had nothing left and relinquished the trail to the faster rider. I gave Mike a weak encouragement of "go get em" as he disappeared around the next corner. Now it was just me and the croc battling for survival. I knew my pace was way off when our team's younger rider caught me at the start of another climb. Josh's class started a minute behind our group and he was coming on fast. He skirted around on a wider section of the trail and also disappeared into the trees.