March 3rd marked the fourth annual Echo Red to Red XC mountain bike race up in northeastern Oregon in the tiny town of Echo, Oregon. This was the first stop in the Oregon XC series, and the season opening race for most. Matt and I made the drive up to Portland Friday evening to stay at my mother’s house and meet up with our ride to the race in the morning, Clydesdale champion of the universe, Officer Michael Smelser. It was a three hour drive from Portland so we were up and out the door bright and early with egg sandwiches for early breakfast and peanut butter and jellies for race fuel on the go. We arrived at Echo with about two hours until the first group start, enough time to get registered, squeeze into our kits, and get a warm up. Pro/cat1 started together, and with a record setting 650 racers showing up to race the season opener, the group wasn’t very small. They started us with a neutral roll out on the asphalt before we hit the two mile section of gravel road that dumped right in to the single track. As soon as racers hit the gravel the race was one, with everybody fighting for position for the fast approaching single track. This was Matt’s first time racing in Echo, so he stuck to my wheel as we maneuvered our way up the pack in a hope for better position once we hit the single track and passing became difficult. Once we hit the single track there was no more road until the return finish and it was time to settle into a good pace and start picking off as many people as I could, with Matt only a few riders back. The scenery in echo is amazing every year, rolling farm hills without a tree for miles. The downside to this year was the thirty mile per hour winds that seemed to make the few downhill’s there were on the course hard to keep speed on. On many parts of the course you would go around a corner and be looking up at the next twenty minutes of switchbacks, single-track, and string of racers mashing their brains out to stay ahead of you, it was slightly discouraging to say the least. After 22 miles the pro course took an extra detour that led us screaming down a fire road to a set of freshly cut trails that weaved in and out of an island of trees bordering a raging river. After a few off camber ladder bridges that made you pucker as you crossed over rushing water we climbed back out of the river bed trails and traversed across an endlessly bumpy field back to the 2 mile road finish into town. For the last fifteen miles of the race I had been stomping the pedals fighting to stay ahead of another racer I knew was in my category only about fifteen seconds back. I knew if I held him off to the road I had enough gas to make it to the finish ahead of him. Everything was going to plan as I hit the road and did my best to tuck out of the wind and time trial to the finish line. The last half mile of asphalt was a downhill spin fest, and my 1×10 setup I had put on the day before was finally topping out after 30 miles of trails, and I could feel my competition breathing down my neck. I made it maybe 200 yards from the finish spinning an exhausting cadence when my right hamstring cramped up and I had to sit up and finish the race one legged as the fellow racer blew by me. I was 7th on the day for cat1, with 5th and 6th finishing ten seconds in front of me, and about five minutes off the winning cat1 time. Matt rolled in several minutes after, only to find me exhausted and shoving my face full of lunch and whining about my cramp already. Turns out I wasn’t the only one with cramping problems; Matt had been fighting them for half the race and several of our friends at the race put up some big numbers because of cramping issues. Overall the race was a blast with 95% single track and perfect weather I can’t wait to come back next year, let’s just hope they hold the wind off until Sunday next year. Thanks to Marin and Lost Coast for the opportunity to race with you guys, it’s still early so here’s to a successful 2012 season!

-Tbone