Sunday, 02 May, 2021
Ryan McKinney powered to a "W" Sunday in Reston, VA! photo credit: Bruce Buckley
Exciting and inspiring race write-up:
For 23 months I have been haunted by finishing 2nd to Brian Lewis at the Hagerstown Twilight Cirt back in June of 2019. I got smoked by Brian’s impressive last lap attack and it stung. Badly. Little did I know at the time that I would have to wait 23 months to compete in another, non virtual, bike race. I think the sting of getting crushed in that crit has kept me hungry throughout the pandemic and helped motivate me to reach for new levels of fitness. Today, I was able to test out how far I have come and I was pleased with finding myself on the top step at the end of the day.
Three weeks ago I noticed that my long time friend and teammate, Paul Mica, was registered for the Mens Open Expert Rivers to Rails Mountain Bike Race that would take place in Reston, VA (my home town). I was motivated to go race with him so I asked my wife, Jessie, if it would fit into our family schedule. She informed me that she had already registered for the women's expert race (yes she is that awesome!). I quickly pulled out my credit card and sealed a spot in the race which sold out not long after. Bam!!!
From that time until the gun went off at the race today, I was literally bursting with excitement about racing. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for some in person competition until that $45 entry fee was paid!!! My training took on a new level of focus. I had done so much “homework” over the last two years that I was ready to be tested and started putting a lot more intensity into my workouts to prepare my body for race pace. The first few workouts did not fill me with confidence, but after two weeks of structured work and a few group rides, my body responded well.
With fitness and a positive attitude, I went out and pre-rode the course and smiled the entire time. It was rooty, rocky, technical, and even had 4 creek crossings! I rode the start a bunch of times as the holeshot would be critical to a successful race as the course was tight singletrack and passing would be tough. After checking over the start list, my big goal for the day was to turn the screws on Justin Mauch (dcdevo coach and long time friend/arch nemesis). In fact, that was my only goal.
I didn’t sleep the night before because I was so excited. I got a front row starting position right next to Justin. Gun goes off and I’m second wheel going into a 14% gravel climb. We crest the top of the hill going at an anaerobic starting pace and wouldn’t you know it, Justin attacks from 11th place and opens a gap. A Cutaway rider in front of me reponds and I’m on his wheel as he goes even more anaerobic to track Justin down. We connect with Justin as the singletrack is 150 meters in front of us. There is a touch of wheels and a sideways scramble and Kelly rider, Jason Schneider, moves to the front and gets the holeshot with a Cutaway rider in second. With some luck/bike handling skill I’ve battled past Justin to find myself going into the singletrack in third place. (It was awesome to be bumpin bars and tires again!!!)
On the first off-camber right hander the Cutaway rider is not pleased that he is in second so he tries to pass inside of the Kelly rider. He crashes into Jason’s right rear seat stay and loses momentum as I slide on past into second place (he should have just settled in). I’m feeling good sitting second wheel with Justin in tow behind along with the rest of the field. Let’s go!!!!!!
The race is on and Jason is setting a decent tempo at the front. We make it to the top of the first significant climb and he elbows me through and I obliged. Just at the top of the hill my family cheers like crazy (waving their brand new lightsaber toys) and I accelerate because they filled me with all kinds of good vibes. Next thing I know, I head into the next singletrack section with a 5 second gap. The following singletrack section the gap had grown to 10 seconds. At the bottom of one of the most technical rock gardens the course marshall lets me know that I’ve got 20 seconds and that was all she wrote.
I pulled away from the field, but most importantly, from Justin! As I was out in front I just kept telling myself to stay smooth over and over again. The course was such a blast. I was able to pass my family two times and lap and they were waving their lightsabers and singing songs to keep me rollin’! I feel blessed to have had them out there (Jessie couldn’t race because she messed up her back).
In the end I took the overall win and am pretty certain that the trauma of losing at Hagerstown has now been replaced with the thrill of winning at Lake Fairfax. That said, Justin finished in second place and I fear that if there was another lap that he may have caught me as he was coming on strong in the end. Knowing that he is a threat is all the motivation I need to continue pushing through those tough training rides. Here’s to bike racing! May you all have the chance to get out there soon!!!!