They say misery loves company, but during this weekend's season opener at Hopbrook Dam the company was loving the misery right back. Nearly 350 riders rolled to the line in a steady rain with temps just kissing the 45degree mark, and though there was a fair share of token whining about fitness, equipment and conditions, few riders could hide their electric excitement.
Hopbrook has been a long-standing right of passage in New England MTB racing. As the perennial season opener for Root66 it has rarely, if ever, been anything but a sloppy mess come the second week of April. According to Bryna Nestor, a long-time veteran of the series and local pro, this year's conditions were, ironically, the best they've been in years. "Three years ago there was still snow, two years ago it was practically under water, and last year I just couldn't bring myself to come," she recalls from beneath a slimy brown body suit.
Even with the guarantee of soggy shorts and trashed components, Hopbrook never fails to have stellar attendance--including cyclocross legends Tim Johnson and Lynne Bessette, and 2008 BC Bike Race champion Sara Bresnick-Zocchi--but the real race highlights were the mud-covered high-fives and blackened faces cut by grins that stretched from ear-to-ear. The excitement was nothing short of contagious, with racers gleefully jumping in the lake after racing for two hours in near-freezing rain, and up-and-coming riders like Linnea Koons turning in rides that gave the pros a run for their money.
As for myself, Santa Cruz was kind enough to forget to ship my frame, leaving me with a single-ringed (32t), mid-90's style hardtail that I hastily put together the night before. Despite being squirrlier on descents than a trashcan full of birdseed, it performed remarkably well in the slop with it's Panaracer FireXC rubber and I did plenty of passing on the climbs, which was necessary as I hit the first singletrack section about two wheels from the back. In sharp contrast to last season, I paced myself enough to keep it together in the tech on the last lap, and finished in the points without much trouble. Maybe next week I'll actually be fast...
Pics to follow as soon as they hit my inbox.
Ride early. Ride often,