This weekend was round two of the Snake Creek Gap Time Trial Series, a three race series over 34 of the rockiest miles of singletrack in north Georgia. NWGA SORBA puts on the event every year and they do a fantastic job in spite of the fact that the race is a huge logistical challenge. This year is my first time doing the full 34 miles – the last two years I did the shorter 17-mile version. The 34-mile race covers two sections of the Pinhoti trail, from the fast and flowy trail rolling out of the Armuchee trailhead across Snake Creek Gap to the technical sections and on to the finish line at the convention center. It’s an awesome ride. Hard, but worth it.
The Hammer and the Nail
Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail. At the first Snake this year, in early January, I was the nail. Actually, I think I was the board the nail was being driven into. I hardly rode at all in December, and I could tell at the January race. I rode like crap. Cramped up like crazy, lost a lot of time to flat tire, and then blew up my chain and it shot off down the mountain somewhere. I had to hike about two miles, and then coasted the last two miles downhill off the mountain to the finish. My finish time was 6:09. It was a long day. I wanted redemption at round two.
NWGA SORBA does a great job moving nearly 400 racers and their bikes to two different starting points. Photo: Featherbrush Photography
A few days before the race I posted a poll on the Singletrack forums and let folks vote on which bike I should race: my owner hardtail 29er or the Slingshot Ripper 29er I have on review. The Slingshot won by a lot. I was a little skeptical… but I took the Slingshot to Dalton but not before making a few changes to the bike. I swapped on some lighter Fulcrum wheels with tubeless tires, my own WTB saddle, and my much loved Ergon grips – the bike was starting to feel like my own. It was also a good bit lighter.
Some racers have more style than the rest of us. Photo: Featherbrush Photography
Fire The Weatherman
The forecast for the day wasn’t good: rain the night before the race and 70% chance of rain all day during the race. Well… WRONG. It did rain over night, but not at all on race day, which was good. The first half of the course was wet, and the doubletrack sections were really muddy. I was glad I wasn’t riding my own bike in those conditions. I rode well, didn’t worry about anyone else, and just rode my own pace, being a little conservative. The plan was simple: spin the climbs, stay safe on the descents, drink often, and down a gel every 45 minutes.
I was actually a few minutes slower on the first half of the course than I was in January, even though I felt a hundred times better. At the halfway point I stopped for a few minutes to adjust the brake lever positions, moving them in toward the stem and adjusting the reach closer to the bars so I could just use one finger to brake instead of two.
Conditions on the first half were a bit muddy. Photo: Joe Cattoni
One guy crashed out hard on the mega-fast decent leading to the halfway point. When I rolled past him he was on his back with blood all over his face, and he was surrounded by volunteers, one of whom was on the phone with 911. As I worked my way up the big climb after the halfway mark I heard the ambulances coming in to get him… not a good mood setter for the 2nd half of the race. Good news is he commented on the Snake’s Facebook page Sunday to say that he’s okay, mostly. He had a concussion, a few broken ribs, and various cuts and scrapes. He did go home that night – at least he didn’t have to stay overnight at the hospital.
The Last 17 Miles
For the first time ever, I think, I rode the entire climb out of the halfway point. When I was racing the 17-mile we started with that climb, and starting it cold was tough, especially since I was on a singlespeed, so my heart rate usually went past redline and I did a little walking here and there to recover. Last month I felt like I was dying already at this point, but this month I felt good. Rode it all with no problem. Once up the climb you’re rewarded with some really fun ridge-line singletrack. A little rock, swoopy, big views, good fun mountain biking. Oh, and the rain we were promised? Nowhere in sight. Blue skies. Sun. Warmth. And the trail here was bone dry.
A racer rips through the north Georgia mountains. Photo: Joe Cattoni
I reached the final SAG stop about half an hour ahead of my January race time – things were looking good, and they stayed that way. I had two minor mishaps in the big rock garden near the end, but nothing major. The first was a pedal strike on a rock. I slammed my left pedal, while seated, and the bike slammed up and into my, um, undercarriage if you will. It hurt. Bad. I thought I had ruptured my sphincter for a few seconds, but the pain went away pretty quickly and I was back on the bike and moving again. The second happened just a short while later when I fell after riding up and over a big rock instead of around it. Cleaned the rock no problem, then once on the other side I suddenly slammed into the ground for no apparent reason whatsoever. Tweaked my bars a little, but I was so close to the end I decided not to straighten them and just kept going. Crossed the line at 5:18 – a whole 51 minutes faster than my January time.
About The Bike
So how did the Slingshot fare? Pretty well, thank you very much. The wheel swap and resultant weight loss really made the bike come alive. It climbs surprisingly well. Is it the Sling Power that makes it climb so well? I’m not ready to say one way or the other on that just yet. I can’t feel it working, but the bike does seem to hold momentum going uphill unlike any other bike I’ve ridden. I’ve got a test in mind that should show if it really works or not, but you’ll have to wait for the final review for that. The rigid fork was a bear on the rougher descents, but I knew that going in – I’ve ridden the Snake rigid several times before.
The Slingshot fordes a creek! Photo: Featherbrush Photography
The Slingshot is an odd bike; it looks a lot different than everything else on the trail. But, part of our SWAG this month was the latest issue of Dirt Rag, which actually has three Slingshots in it! Most racers check in the night before the race, so a lot of us spent the evening flipping through the magazine. I lost count of how many people out on the trail said something along the lines of “Whoa! It’s a Slingshot! I was just reading about those last night!” The bike is a great conversation starter, that’s for sure.
One More Time
I get one more shot at the Snake this year on March 3rd. My goal is to finish in under 5 hours, which is certainly doable, if the weather cooperates, and I can avoid mechanicals, and keep from cramping up. This month I just rode my own comfortable pace, never really pushing it. Next month I’m going to try and turn up the wick a little and not stop at any of the SAG stations. I might even have another test bike to race on…
I was pretty tired by the end of the ride. Photo: Featherbrush Photography