ALWAYS CHASING | EF CORNER | JUST THE DIRT
by John Petrylak
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I once ate oatmeal for breakfast before the Wilderness 101 and had a good day on the bike so I equated that to the oatmeal. Now the only thing my superstitious mind will let me have before a race is oatmeal; and it smells like waking up at 4:30am in a tent after getting a few minuscule hours of sleep in anticipation of the days task ahead.
I had this familiar feeling the morning of the Stokesville 60/40 put on by the god father himself; Chris Scott at the Stokesville Lodge and campground. I got a good nights sleep in my own bed and woke up before the birds so I could have my beloved oatmeal.
The morning of the race was a typical cold but clear spring morning in Virginia. I won this race last year so I had confidence going into the race but also a nervous frrling since this was the first true MTB race of the year.
After a good 45 minute prerace warm up we all lined up and then boom! we are off.
The start is the same as the SM100, we rolled down Bear Trap Road and made a hard left onto Narrowback. Once on the dirt I started making my way towards the front to see who was going to be the first to make a move. I didn't have to wait very long to figure that out; after the first little stream crossing then a short steep climb the pack was broken up. Halfway up the climb I found myself too far back to gap up the first 4 guys. I settled into a pace I could sustain for the rest of the race. As we climbed up and up and up a little more we finally hit the gravy single track of Narrowback. Ryan Serbel, Heath Thumel, and Justin Mitchell all raced hard up the climb leaving me no choice but to ride the trail as hard possible to close the gap. After riding the 7 miles of Narrowback I could see the leaders at the bottom...success! Unfortunately the success was derailed by my rookie mistake of thinking I could blow by the aid station and finish the last 15 miles of the race with only 1 bottle. I caught up to the leaders and got by them and rolled a good pace down Tillman Road then we turned right towards the pavement. I looked back and everyone I passed was right with me as we went up the pavement. The pace was manageable until Ryan, Heath and another put in a big effort going up the climb and I was peeled off quickly. At this point I realized I was bonking because of my dumb mistake leaving my full bottle of nutrition at the aid station.
As the leaders rode away up Hankey Mountain Stewart Gross caught up to Justin Mitchell and I as we pedaled up Hankey and then he formed a little gap with Justin and they were also out of sight.
Then I remembered...you have a bottle of gel in your pocket you idiot!
I drank that vanilla gel like my life depended on it. Now all by myself I pedaled up the ridge towards the Lookout descent. As the trail turned into more down than up my legs were happy and we started having fun again as the gel worked magic on my blood sugar. At the bottom of Lookout I caught back onto Stewart and Justin but I had gone too deep to catch them on the road back to the finish line at the Stokesville Lodge. I came across the line in fifth place at 2:58 a 6 minute improvement over last year but this year it was only good enough for 5th.
Next up was the Dragons Tail; a true back country experience. Then it happened....Dragons Tail cancelled!!!!!
Then things got Stoopid. The inaugural Stokesville Stoopid 50.
Chris Scott put another "spring classic" together on short notice but anyone who raced it would have thought the race was in it's 10th year.
Stokesville Stoopid 50 was everything you ever wanted.
50 miles of single track in the GW with 9200 feet of elevation gain. Don't be fooled it was a lot of climbing but we were rewarded with the absolute best in class single track descents in Virginia and possibly the East Coast.
I wasn't sure what to expect for this race since I have never done such a route all at once. When I arrived to sign up and get my number I noticed a guy named Jeremiah Bishop was also going to be racing. Other familiar names I have been seeing a lot of this year Heath Thumel and Chris Michaels would also be in the mix. That set the tone for the day.
After the single track start up the climb in cold temps I warmed up almost instantly. I felt really good and lead the field up the climb to the top of Lockout Mountain. Jeremiah, Heath, Chris Michaels, and I rolled up Hankey Mountain and then dropped down Dowells. At the bottom of Dowells I grabbed a PB&J sandwich and 2 fresh bottles at the aid station and continued toward Johnsons Draft and then eventually up the dreaded Georgia Camp climb. It had been years since I rode up that climb.
It was as tough as I remember it for sure!
At this point our lead group was down to Jeremiah, myself and Heath. I had some bad luck with a stick getting jammed into my front rotor. A wheel removal was needed to get this sucker out! I got going again but now my group was down to just me "always chasing " again.
As I got to the top and then rode down the mountain and crossed the river at the base of the Braileys Pond single track climb I started to cramp going up the steep technical climb. I wasn't surprised to be honest I burnt way to many matches trying to keep up with these super human guys!
Drink, drink, drink was all I said over and over to myself. I hammered down a bottle by the time I crested the top. Then it was time to let gravity take over and I was there to just enjoy the ride!
Back at the bottom I made my way to the aid station grabbed another PB&J and 2 full bottles to make it up the Dowells climb. I was also alerted that Jeremiah and Heath were 2 and 4 minutes ahead.
I beat on those pedals up the climb as hard as my battered legs would let me.
All the way up then down Hankey and as a bonus we got to rip down Lookout Mountain again. I kept the pace going but it wasn't enough. Jeremiah finished in 5:02 and Heath had finished in 5:04. I came limping in at 5:20.
The day was great and what a fantastic day on the bike. The GW in the spring is a magical place with a surprise around every turn. We even hit some snow above 2000 feet❄️.
The after race party was the best part as usual. Fun for the whole family and the dogs!
With my day in mountain over I now shift my focus to the start of the 2016 VORS series which for me will be Conquer the Hill.
Oh and yes I ate oatmeal before the Stokesville Stoopid 50...
I'm looking forward to seeing everyone out there next weekend.
ABOUT John Petrylak
At 37 years old with 2 busy kids involved in travel soccer, karate and ballet I gotta get creative sometimes to fit in my training. If it wasn't for my wife Amanda keeping things together none of this could happen.
I grew up riding my bicycle everywhere it was my most prized possession! That turned into riding and eventually racing dirt bikes. I raced motocross off and on from the early 90's through 2009. During this time I always rode my mountain bike to cross train but I was never serious about racing it. Then I was invited to participate in a 24 hour race on a 4 man team in 2010. After the first lap I was hooked!
I sold my dirt bike, started losing weight and rode the wheels off my mountain bike. Cycling has brought so many wonderful people into our lives and has created too many wonderful family memories to count. I started racing my mountain bike late in life but I'm happy to make up lost time!
VIRGINIA OFF ROAD SERIES | DIRTY SERIES OF EVENTS LLC | POB 14546 | RVA 23221