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Carrabassett Backcountry Challenge 100k

Team Bikeman - Race Reports

This was my fourth time racing the long course at Carrabasset, although it was only around 50 miles the first year in 2011. Back then I said I would do it every year, but life or injury has gotten in the way every other year so I’ve just made it to the start line in the odd numbered years. In 2015 I finished the 100k in a time of 6 hours 19 minutes, which was good enough for 3rd place overall in Sport. I had planned to enter in the Expert category this year but they did away with the EFTA categories in favor of open age classes anyway. Either way, with the chance of a podium finish gone I set a goal to finish in 6 hours or less instead.

Just three days out the weather looked good for race day; a few showers the day before but sunny and low seventies on race day itself. Perfect! But, Friday evening, after our pre-ride of the trails near the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center, the skies opened up. It poured rain during the night and rained some more throughout the morning. So, course conditions ended up being very different from what I’ve raced on in previous additions. There has always been some muddy sections, but not like this!

Without the category waves, the mass start was a bit more congested than in the past. But, it only took a couple of miles before I was able to work myself into a position where I could ride my own pace. After that I was going back and forth with pretty much the same handful of riders for the rest of the race. The built trails at the Outdoor Center were in good shape despite the rain. The real fun began when we hit the first snowmobile trail descent over on the mountain.

After a long road climb through the Sugarloaf condos we got the first taste of the rough, muddy snow mobile trail descents. Enough riders had gone before me that these open trails were pretty churned up. The mud was so thick and deep in some of the dips that it would bring you to stop in the middle of what should have been a fast descent. On one descent, my front end got loose in the deep mud and I ended up on my back in a ditch. Luckily it was a nice, soft muddy ditch! Trails like these were the defining characteristic of the 100K race, but there was also plenty of fun single track and fast pedaling sections mixed in there as well.

One of my favorite sections of the 100K course is the Esker Trail that runs from Stratton Brook Pond east towards Birthday Hill; a narrow, rolling, fern lined single track on what appears to be an old road bed. After that it’s a bit of snowmobile trail to the Birthday Hill aid station where I stocked up for the final 18 mile push to the end. I always feel energized here knowing that the end is within striking distance. The out-and-back dirt road section isn’t so fun, but at least it gives you a chance to see what the gaps are in front and behind you. That motivated me to push harder and I was able to really gap away from a couple riders that had caught me at the aid station. But, I wasn’t able to catch anybody ahead of me before the finish.

I arrived at the final aid station with a full bottle so didn’t need to stop ahead of the last big climb up Cromit’s revenge to the top of Oak Knoll. It’s a miserable climb but made less so by the knowledge that your suffering will all be over soon. I managed to hold it together on the Oak Knoll descent without crashing this year, which was nice. Then across the river and up to the finish! Always a happy feeling!

The muddy conditions, along with more climbing pretty much put my six hour goal out of reach, but I still felt like I had a good race, finishing in 7 hours and 11 minutes in 15th out of 24 finishers in the open men’s 40 to 49 age group. I might have been able to shave a minute or two off with more efficient bottle stops, but everything else went perfectly and I kept on the gas the whole time. I think my Carver wheels made a difference for me on the long climbs, and they absorbed the punishing muddy rocks without problem.

The area itself had plenty to offer before and after the race too. Camping at the venue was convenient and ribs at the Rack barbeque restaurant were much appreciated afterwards. The Narrow Gauge rail trail was a nice recovery ride on Sunday morning before getting on the road for the rest of our vacation.

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