After a long season of endurance races, the finale came down to arguably the best trail in the state: Hailes Trails. These unique trails are located on a private property that’s an old rock quarry, which was/is used for motorcycle Hare Scramble races. As it’s on private property and closed throughout the year, it’s a special place that is nobody’s home course. So the exclusivity factor alone makes it a must-ride. Then throw in some rocky climbs in an old rock quarry and slick descents with a little natural single track through the woods, and you have an amazing course.
We got into town early enough to catch a couple laps saturday to scout the course. I had ridden there twice before and each time the course was a little different, but this time it was almost entirely backwards from what I’d ridden before. Very cool layout had the riders hitting some technical climbs and steep descents right out of the gate, then into a rock garden before you got into the single track leading to the old rock quarry. There are minimal fire roads and double track on this course, so finding a place to rest and take a drink is difficult on a pre-ride, much less on race day. I was able to pre-ride with a few friends which is always fun instead of going solo, plus you may see some new lines you wouldn’t see on your own. Thanks Seth and Joe and Philip!
The conditions were perfect at Hailes on Saturday, with rain earlier in the week packing the course down nicely. The forecast showed increasing chances of rain as the weekend progressed. We got a couple laps in and felt good about what we saw, not knowing what race day would hold. The race weekend was also special because it was in memory of Shawn Smith, a long time MTB racer in Florida who recently passed away after being hit by a truck on a training ride nearby. Shawn was a great guy, always friendly and helpful on and off the race course while competing at the highest level. The outpouring from the cycling community has been a testament to how many lives he impacted. If you were impacted by Shawn Smith and would like to contribute, click here.
Waking up on race day showed a forecast that was looking increasingly damp. We got to the racecourse and the day was very somber as there was a memorial Silent Lap for Shawn including racers and non-racers alike. We all rolled through the woods in silence to pay our respects to Shawn at one of his favorite courses (at which he won the 3hr race just last year in fact). Once we all got back to the start we lined up and got this thing started. As always the race started hard and fast, so I moved up as much as I could without burning too many matches early. The technical sections and steep drops were dicey in traffic but I was able to push a good pace in the first half of the opening lap and find a good spot. I sprinted past a few riders burning matches early but I knew I wanted to have a clean shot at the technical roots and rocks in the old quarry section.
Coming into the race I knew I was locked into 3rd for points in the season as long as I showed up, but there was a tie ahead of me with 2 riders at 1st place so it was winner take all for them. I saw one behind me and one ahead of me in the early laps so I knew it was going to be a fun one. As I saw both of them in the woods I told them they better pick it up and battle, partially to encourage but also for my entertainment as well.
The laps were short, under 30 minutes, but very technical and intense, so making sure I was drinking the right amount of my Infinit Nutrition custom mix was difficult. I was doing about half a bottle each lap and was right on pace through the first 2 hours when it happened: rain. Not just a little bit, the skies opened up and the packed trails turned to muddy rivers. The dirt that once was full of grip turned to slick mud and found its way into shoes, tires, brakes, gears, and everywhere else you can imagine. The lap times certainly got slower but I felt pretty good, even as some of the climbs became impossible to ride and we were forced to use our cyclocross skill to get up them on foot.
After a lap in the mud and rain I noticed my brakes were starting to fade. Rapidly. By the end of the second wet lap I was sliding across the trail with no traction or brakes. I knew my pads were probably due for a replacement, but of course I chose to wait till after the end of FLE season to address that maintenance issue. This turned out to be a terrible decision, and after an hour or so of recklessly skating through the woods I decided to cut my losses and get off the course. I was running within 30 seconds off the top 2 guys at that point so it was incredibly painful to watch them ride off as I got off the bike, but there was no way I could continue with no brakes and little traction from all the mud.
As it was just over halfway through the day, that meant that I had a couple hours to cheer/heckle the racers who were still out there battling out. Lap after lap they were dropping like flies, brakes, tires, and just plain old fatigue taking its toll. Hailes is one of the toughest courses on a good day, and the weather turned the difficulty level way up. At the end of the day the few that were able to keep on pedaling did well, weather being the great equalizer and shaking it up a bit.
In the 2 man team division I think the top 3 were separated by less than 5 minutes at the end of 6 hours of racing, which made for a great race to watch. I did enough to get some points and finish 3rd in the series behind my friends Philip and Mikhael. It was a truly epic day of racing, and a great finale to the season. I’m sure if Shawn could have seen how all of us looked, caked in mud and exhausted to the core, he would have absolutely loved it.
Jemma grabbed a few shots at the race at least until the rain did her camera in, so be sure to check them out and use them for your latest bike race profile photo! We really hope you enjoy them, check out the full Haile’s Trails 2018 Endurance Race Gallery and sneak peek below!