I haven't had a catastrophic flat in a mountain bike race since I switched to tubeless wheelsets. I've had a lot of thorn punctures during races but Stans latex sealant always seals them up and then it's just a matter of a quick hit with a CO2 inflator and I'm back to racing. I've had a couple of catastrophic flats where the sidewall has been torn out by a sharp rock or some such thing but that's been on training rides or fun riding. Overall the tubeless system has treated me well and I have been riding flat-free for a long time. All of that came to an end on the weekend...

Hey, look how happy I am taking an iPhone shot of myself about to cross the Arkansas border on the way to the race, completely unaware of the flat tires and mud I would be facing. ;-)

IMG_0334entering-ArkansasIMG_0335muddybike

The Ouachita Race had a great feel to it. Nice organization and wonderful volunteers, all of this in a town of approx 200 people! The 80mile course and 60mile course were significantly different, with the 80mile having way more singletrack and elevation gain. It's worth doing the 80miler just because you don't ride any hardtop, the 80 is all trail. Overall, the vertical gain on the 80 was a good amount of work and a perfect way to realize this summer's approx vert gain of 50,000' for BCBR and 30,000' for Worlds is going to be eye-watering good, I mean harsh, I mean fun, I mean...

Ouachita-elevation

The course had a lot of fun sections with nice flow. Nothing really difficult except some of the hike a bike on the 80mile section being completely unrideable, simply too steep and gnarly and required pushing your bike up for a few minutes. At one point I was pushing my bike up past another racer on a very steep rock field and asked him "Any idea what this section is called?" his response was "Kicking my arse hill". The only other slog part of the race was some of the mud sections went on for several minutes. The weather cooperated throughout the race with the exception of near the end when the temps dropped down to the low-40's.

On to the actual race... it didn't go well at all. At approx 5.5hrs into it I was feeling great, reeling guys in as planned and generally having a good day. Then I got a flat, a big gash across my rear tire tread. I spent approx 25mins trying to fix that problem, one of the issues being that I couldn't get my tubeless stem out of the rim in order to place a tube in. I was beating my hands up trying to get the stem out as I tried to force it up and out, the whole time my knuckles were smashing off the spokes. Uuugh. Eventually I got the bright idea to go and break off a tree branch thick enough that I could put it between the spokes and rest it against the tubeless stem and then kick the branch super hard which launched the tubeless stem approx 15' straight up. Now it was time to get the tire back on, a tube in, aired up and rolling again. The whole time I was there it was super frustrating watching a pile of guys that I had reeled in ride past me as I sat on the side of the trail trying to fix things. But that's racing. Once back on the bike I lit it up so that I could make up some time and pretty soon I was passing guys again, and feeling good about being on the bike after the extended trail side fix.

Now I'll make a very long story short and just say I ended up with a total of six flats before I got to the finish line. Six!!! My PowerTap showed me riding for just under 8hrs, the rest of the time was spent pushing a bike with a flat rear tire, or carrying a bike on my back with a flat rear tire, or carrying a semi-bike on my shoulder while carrying a wheel in the other hand up a hill, or working on a flat rear tire, or babying an about to go flat rear tire through a section hoping it wouldn't flat again, or clenching my fists and shaking them at the sky and waiting to be struck by lightning. The lightning never came, the flats did.

80mile-Ouachita-overview

Six flats in one race is unbelievable, unpossible as I told myself many, many times out there. After the fourth flat I just didn't think it would happen again, the odds were simply too great. I got my fifth and sixth flats at the top stretch on the 8mile fire road heading towards the finish.

I'm still shaking my head about the whole thing. Looking at the data I had some good power out there, the first 70mins of the race were approx 275W avg and once I settled into a rhythm on the singletrack I carried a 230W avg until I got my first flat at the 5.5hr mark. When I was racing I felt good, when I was carrying my bike I didn't.

Thanks goes out to Charley Rome who scored me a tube and CO2 cartridge for my 6th flat. Thanks to the unknown 80mile racer who scored me a tube and CO2 cartridge for my 5th flat. Thanks to the unknown 60mile racer who scored me a tube and CO2 cartridge for my 4th flat. If you read this Charley, send me a PayPal address so I can send some cash your way to pay for the goods.

Here's some video of the race from YouTube, be sure to click on the HQ view for better viewing. You can see me briefly in the first video at approx 2:52 on the inside line close to the camera (wearing red helmet).



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