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Dustin's Race #8 - Series Finale

Dustin White, GSC/SERC series winner!

Hey everyone, and welcome to the final race report of the 2017 "regular XC season!" This past weekend was the grand finale for the Georgia State and Southeastern Regional Championship Series'. The race was at the Unicoi State Park mountain bike trail system, just outside of Helen...what does that mean you ask....that means mountains ladies and gents...lots of grand mountains!
Saturday was a bonus short track race for the Southeastern Series (SERC). I had a one point lead over the now familiar "The Harrison" going into the weekend. With the way scoring works, that meant I was just a one place finish ahead of him. Arriving to the course I was somewhat displeased to see that there was no single track in the short rack course. Instead we had a gravel road + grass field + punchy grass climb course with a total of only 4 true turns. It was the best set up the promoter could manage though as there was a teenager's summer camp going on near the start of the trails. Regardless, it's a weekend day of bike racing so NO COMPLAINTS! At 4PM we lined up for the mass start and all the normal warriors were present! The race started out pretty modest as everyone was sizing up how bad the grass climb would hurt every lap. I was feeling great and sitting with the lead group. The first time I pulled to the front was when we began to pass lapped traffic and I really didn't want to get stuck behind. After the rest of our group had some trouble making passes, I picked up the pace and got a gap for 1 lap with my buddy Chris, but eventually we gathered back together. We stayed in a group of 6 for 2 more laps until we got the whistle for 1 lap to go (roughly 2 minutes of racing). This is when the nerves started to fire as people were bowing elbows out to hold their position and watch to see who would make a move. I really didn't watch too long because I ended up being the one to attack at the long grass straight before the stretch that winded up the grass climb! I never looked back until taking a corner and saw that Harrison jumped on my wheel and was rolling behind me like a freight train!!! We made it to the grass uphill and I kept the sprint up, but Harrison was mightily motivated! He made a very cheeky move on my inside into the final true corner...even head butted his way through a shrubby tree to take the lead and with no space left to make up a pass...the young man defeated me in glorious fashion! That was a great race finish, but of course I was disappointed that now the series was all tied leading into the final day! What good drama though, we now were on the eve of a "winner takes all" throw down to finish a 4 month long race series!
Sunday morning's race counted towards both series and settled all ties in points. After having a good instate campaign, I had a comfortable lead in the Georgia State Series, but the SERC was all tied up! That meant the race was really between Harrison and I, but like any other aim to win and let the chips fall where they may. The course for this epic showdown was by far the most physically challenging of the season. It was 3 x 8.5 mile laps with 1100 feet of elevation per lap. Simply put, you were either going up (5 times a lap) or down! The uphill stretches at Unicoi are no joke and that's why the course was used for a Nationals Series back in the 90s. The climbs are steep and 2 are exceptionally long, there is a rideable creek crossing, 2 really sketchy descents, and other downhills littered with switchbacks.
When the whistle blew, Harrison's motivation from Saturday was still in full force! He took to the front heading into the singletrack which immediately goes up the first climb. Within the first 5 minutes I knew we had the rest of the field under pressure and Harrison then got to shine at his best skill....going downhill like a mad man! Within the first half of lap 1, Harrison and I were off the front of our race and it was a constant slinky battle where he would drop me on the descents and I would surge back up to him on the following climb. We were riding a blistering pace (fastest lap set for the day) but still kind of sizing up the challenge ahead. The course can easily push you over your physical limit and with a long have to be cautious not to crack under the demand. After we made it through lap 1 we had roughly a 1 minute lead and seeing how Harrison could ride the downhills so much smoother, I did not want to take the responsibility of leading. We rolled through lap 2 with no real drama except a bush / tree top got caught around my foot going downhill into the steepest climb...that was not fun having to stop to unclip and then attack to catch back up to the Tennessee Rocket! As we concluded lap 2, 3rd place (Justin) caught us much to the surprise of Harrison and I, but there is no doubt Justin has gotten better and better every race this year especially having put me through the hurt locker in our last race!
Making our way through the final lap, I knew I had to find a spot to make an attack, but the question was where? I had a plan to do it kind of late in the race and after cresting the 2 major climbs, it seemed like I would get a chance! However, we started down the last long descent that was a true "no-brake" kind of hill. It was smooth and wide open, but the speed was certainly ridiculous! About 1/3 the way down this hill, we came up to a lapped rider in the 50+ field...this moment developed into the pivotal point of the race. Heading into a 90 degree left turn, Harrison made a great pass on the outside and kept up all of his speed. This kind of spooked the gentleman ahead of me so when we made the turn and the trail got steeper, it was impossible to pass him for about 20 seconds! We came up to a tighter single track entrance and I bombed the inside to make a pass!!! The rest of those switchbacks were full of furious thoughts imagining losing the race in the last 5 minutes due to lapped traffic! I made my way to the bottom and noticed a far glimpse of Harrison about 200 yards ahead!!! CRAP!!! That sight started the absolute unicorn rage against the machine attack mode!!! I sprinted on the flats and almost immediately started cramping. I was inching closer to Harrison and he was becoming more regularly in sight. As we started up the last sustained climb of the race I was near in touch with Harrison and as a result my legs were fully locking up! I had a moment of uncertainty to take 1 or 2 breathes and then attacked past Harrison as the hill got to its steeper section! Cresting the top I noticed I had only a 10 foot gap and I was wildly nervous that the 2 switch back descent to follow would be way easy for Harrison to make up time...but I was all in!!! I railed those last switchbacks as hard as I could, dropped into the grass field towards the finish and just kept sprinting! As I made my way to the grass hill from Saturdays short track, I knew I was 150 feet away from finishing the series! SPRINT! Ladies and gents, I inched out a win on the most challenging course of the year and now I am wildly sore as a prize!
I couldn't be happier to have capped off the season with 2 championship series wins, but most importantly...I am stoked about all the great competitors I met this year and the progress everyone made! We spent 4 months pushing each other's limits and we all made improvements week after week! None of that could have been possible without your support =)
That leaves me with 1 magical journey left for this cross country season. In 10 days I will be making the trip up to West Virginia to race in the National Championships. I have no true expectations for the event other than the promise to race the hardest I can!

Click here for the Ride with Dustin page complete with race schedule and post-race reports.