Each February, the Oregon Bike Racing Association (OBRA) mountain bike season kicks off in a big way with the Echo Red 2 Red XC Mountain Bike Race.  Echo is a very simple 4-hour drive from Boise.  This makes it logistically appealing and not overly disruptive to my triathlon training schedule.  That said, I did have to ride in the morning, drive for 4 hours and then run on the treadmill at the hotel. C’est la vie.  -Nothing a Hampton Inn Belgian waffle can’t cure!

Echo is a little rural town or Route 84, near Pendleton. Echo has a charming downtown, some nice shops, and a few restaurants.  One of the biggest attractions seems to be the sophistication that the local Sno Road Winery brings to this otherwise fairly isolated town on a (very active) commercial railroad line.  Also, the same Echo West Ranch Winery happens to have a public mountain bike system on their land.  How cool is that?  Those same trails happen to also be the Echo Red 2 Red race course.

The race itself is fairly large by numbers.  I counted 363 finishers in the results.  Each wave start seems to be 50+ riders deep, since the staging takes up the whole block.  There were 21 racers in the Expert division alone.  For that reason (I’m guessing) there’s a 1-mile neutral roll-out behind a lead vehicle, so that helps with the chaos of so many riders in a mass start.  After all, everyone has cabin fever and is ready to take out months of turbo trainer frustration.

On that note… I have to say, mountain bikers don’t so do well in a peloton.  Our handlebars are way too wide nowadays for group riding.  It was nerve racking.  I did my best to stay steady and out of harms way as the race turned onto dirt roads, and then the racing was ON.  The group ramped immediately up to about 20 mph but no one wanted to lead.  My race plan was “reactive, not proactive” today as this race tends to attract a strong field and at least one big-name ringer.  I wanted maintain a smart position and figure out the race.

Going into the first descent to single track, I made an error.  My “reactive” plan had me too docile and I was caught in about 20th place at the first climb.  I had to jump onto the grass and sprint back up to the top ten.  From there I patiently leapfrogged up to what looked like the selection of about six athletes and I stayed steady through some technical terrain.

After about 20 minutes or so we hit the winery’s dirt road, with a short but steep climb.   Everyone slowed significantly and started to look at each other a bit.  I don’t like all the cat and mouse stuff, so I initiated an honest climb pace.  I say “honest” knowing that 20 minutes into a >2 hour race is way too early to make a break for it.  But when I looked back at the top of the climb, there was a bigger gap than it should have been.

They let me go?

It wasn’t the plan to make a move so early, but that’s what happened.  My only explanation is that no one wanted to take up the pacemaking.  I just rode away, fully expecting it to come back together.  But when it didn’t, I took the pace up and committed fully.  I was happy with my fitness.  I went very hard at times and my body responded well.  When I asked for power, it was there.  I just had to keep the pressure on for a lot longer than I had anticipated.

I also have to say that GFit Studio Boise and Niner Bikes put me on the optimal equipment for this race.  My Jet 9 RDO full-suspension Niner soaked up the rather bumpy new single track and technical sections.  I’m sure that was a significant advantage.  Also, GFit had recently put me on a 1×11 Shimano XTR gear system.  I had my reservations about what gearing would work for me, but we had the ratios absolutely dialed for this race.

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I’m more than pleased to come away with my second MTB XC win in two weekends!  I’m very happy with the consistent hard work I’ve put in, and the fitness is coming along.  I have to thank coach Paulo for pushing me day-in, and day-out.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have earned my first giant novelty check! (hehehe)

Looks like I also took the Women's Overall!  (Sorry Serena)

Looks like I also won the Women’s Overall! (Sorry Serena)

Congrats to all who raced this weekend!  I had a great time racing with everyone, and connecting with friends.  Always a pleasure and icing on the cake.  Thanks to Echo Red 2 Red crew for putting on one of my favorite events.  I highly recommend this race to anyone interested in a great mountain bike experience, for all abilities.  Thanks to Niner for the on-site support and fun times!

Mondo!

Mondo! We both have SO much less facial hair going on lately…

Now for eight solid weeks of hard training back in Boise!  XTERRA season on the horizon!

Results can be found HERE.