The Echo Valley Ralley is the second race in the newly minted 6-race Fat Tire Revolution [mountain bike] Series that is taking over central Washington. Echo Valley, just north of Lake Chelan, is characterized by buff, swoopy trails and sunshine: perfect ingredients for an awesome mountain bike race! The ten-mile lap climbs (and descends) 340meters and is made primarily of single track. Beginners ride one lap, Sport level riders ride twice and the crazy Experts go three times.

Last weekend, Sarah, Kelly and I all rode the Sport course. For Sarah, she wanted to move up a step on the podium from her 3rd place at the Beezley Burn just 2 weeks prior. For Kelly, it would be her first mountain bike race ever! Her focus would be to have fun. For me, it was about recovering from a Dead Last finish in the Expert Category at the ‘Burn. That sandy, rocky, bucking bronco course totally schooled me and neither the heat nor my legs were much help either. So this week, I rode Sport– deciding that it would be better for my training as well as my morale, to ride faster rather than farther.

Boy, was I glad I only had to ride two laps. As we lathered up in sunscreen, it might’ve only been 68 degrees outside, but MAN! my body thought it was 88. I decided that I’d drink Nuun out of my Camelbak and use the bottle on my bike exclusively for pouring on my head.

The start gun went off and up the hot dusty climb we went. I instantly began to melt and my heart rate was furious. I announced my race goal to myself: RIDE YOUR OWN RACE. Then I dumped water on my head.

Fortunately, a light breeze began to pick up– and I was amazed at how my power spiked up whenever I got a whiff of it! (I don’t have a power meter, just going by feel here!). By the time I finished the first lap, I had adjusted to the temperature and began to ride stronger. I decided that I was probably in second place, but I hadn’t seen the first place  girl in the green jersey since the start. So I continued to ride my own race.. do, doo-doo.. jus’ ridin’ ma’ mountain bike.. la, laa-laa.. HEY!!! I crested the climb and spied a green jersey just around the bend. THERE’S FIRST PLACE!! I had no idea she was RIGHT THERE!!

My race senses lit up. There was nothing but descent left in the course and we were about to enter the “whoop-de-doo” section of man-made mountain bike ‘moguls.’ I hit those whoop-de-doo’s HARD, coming up after each just barely atop my bike. My body was in conflict, as I pedaled furiously but tried to keep a flow. I had to go FAST, but I had to stay SMOOTH. Pedal pedal, WHOOP DE DOO!, pedal pedal, WHOOP DE DOO! The green jersey moved in and out of sight. Pedalpedalpedal-WHOOPDEDOOOO!!!

We turned onto the last stretch of gravel before the fast, grassy cyclocross-style finish. The volunteer sitting at the corner cheered me on, “YEEAAAHHH!!” I was a ninja about to pounce- she had no idea I was coming. I closed the gap quickly on the gravel, just before the singletrack. I had barely enough space to dive in front of her, but I decided against it as my road racer instincts said to stick to her wheel and bet on the sprint finish.

On her wheel, the race immediately turned from an endurance event to a sprint-style cross country eliminator. We rode FAST over the ski hill grass, jockeying for position into every corner. It came down to the final U-turn, I took the inside line just behind her and jumped out of her draft. I wasn’t really sure how sprinting on a mountain bike was going to work, but I was willing to find out.. sprintSprintSPRINT/bikethrow! Just as I was about to regret not diving into the singletrack first, I nipped her at the line!!!

The green jersey girl gave me her congratulations and we shook hands.

The best congratulations, however- came from the guy I passed on the climb. He was a bit surprised that I continued to ride away from him on the climb and even more surprised that he couldn’t close the gap on the descent either. This is the second time a dude has found me after a mountain bike race to compliment my downhill skills. This makes me wonder that either I descend better than I think (I take myself to be pretty average), or these guys have really got to increase their expectations for women. Whichever the case, it feels good to ride well!