2017 Bulldog Rump

The Bulldog Rump holds a special place in my heart, it was the first MTB race that I had ever done. It was a Cat 3 race a couple of years ago (2015) where I was broken and beaten into submission by what I at the time thought was a difficult course. Last year I did the Bulldog 4 hour endurance race and didn’t get the results I had hoped for. My goal was 7 laps, I only did 5.

Fast Forward to 2017 and the Bulldog Rump is race #5 on the H2H calendar. It was a date that I circled very early in the year. I love the course as it seems to perfectly suit my strengths as a rider.

My teammate Regg and I were able to get out to Kittatiny on June 4th for a pre-ride with some of the locals. The key points I was looking for were 1. Direction of the Course and 2. See the new switchback section that was added. Recon was perfect…course would run clockwise and the new switchback section was now part of the first climb as soon as you enter the singletrack. The newly added switchback’s made the bottom of the climb a little bit longer but much easier. The climb still ended with the steep, technical rocky section. This was the first technical section that could spell trouble depending where you enter the singletrack (lead group would be essential).

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There were a couple of other technical sections where line choice would be key but this was a course that I felt could be 100% cleaned with no hike a bike sections. Most of the climbs were short and punchy and most of the downhills were littered with small sharp angry rocks (tire choice/tire pressure was something to think about). There was even a twisty flow trail where you are riding right along the water. The course was fun, fast and beautiful. 3 laps done with a 4th serving of the infamous switchback climb and we were headed back to NY.

Race week went relatively smooth for me. I followed my training plan, properly hydrated, put together my race strategy and showed up feeling prepared and felt ready to race.

Just when you are ready to swing for the fences on that 3-0 fastball right down the middle, you get the curve ball instead. This time it was in the form of mother nature throwing us a 90+ degree day out of nowhere. All of us on the east coast have been riding in the 60’s & 70’s for the last couple months. Showing up on race day to a 90 degree day was surely going to be a challenge. Well at least I won’t be alone…we will all be suffering together!

The cool thing about racing in a series is there aren’t many secrets. You know exactly who is registered, you know who is leading in series points, you know who isn’t racing every race but kills everyone at every race they show up to, you know it all. I knew exactly who the big guns were and I had a race strategy in place. It was simple, go out as hard as I could and hold on until I couldn’t any longer.

Got a proper warm-up with the crew and it was time to lineup for the race start.

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Gun goes off and I immediately get onto Christian’s wheel. He’s pulling through the wide grass section like an untamed horse. 15 seconds into the race and the heart rate was already approaching Redline. Stick to the plan…I stay on his wheel even though I know there is a possibility that he would blow me up before I hit the switch back climb. Finally we hit the dirt approach on the other side of the field and he backs off a bit. Trust your fitness…I take a glance back and Ed the series leader is glued to my wheel with a small gap opened up to the 4th place rider. We hit the corner and he’s back on the gas as we approach the climb. Right at the start of the climb we all shift and up we go. I’m staying on his wheel as he surges up the root section at the bottom of the climb. We make it to the last portion of the climb where it gets technical. I back off a bit to ensure I clear my line. The top 3 all clear the climb and while I’m trying to recover Christian goes off the front and Ed goes around me and follows. I take a deep breath, look back and begin my chase. For the next mile their gap got bigger and bigger until I lost sight of them. I lose them around the 2.5 mile mark but my race plan worked. There were the top 2 that were super strong off the front and there was me sitting in 3rd. I was desperately trying to recover but they pulled me away from the rest of the field. 4th place was nowhere to be seen so all I had to do was hold my pace, race clean and I would get my first H2H podium. Legs were on fire, sweat was everywhere and I was panting like a reincarnation of Darth Vader. I pressed on racing with a certain paranoia of losing 3rd.

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I raced fast and stayed clean as I pushed up the punchy climbs and floated over the rocky descents. Halfway through Lap 1 I started to catch the back of Cat 2 19 – 39. This was great because I was pretty much racing solo up until this point. As soon as I crossed the field heading into another somewhat rocky, technical climb I caught a glimpse of my teammate Tom up ahead. It was exactly the motivation that I needed at the right time. Somewhere on the other side of the climb I catch him and simply say “what’s up Turz?”, his reply “what’s up Boss?, go get em.” It was a super short interaction but the sound of enthusiasm in his voice is always mind blowing. He’s seen me in all kinds of hurt locker moments and always finds a way to bring a smirk to my face. I gave him a “you got this” and pushed on. Rest of Lap 1 went smooth and out to the field we go.

Hammer was dropped. I pushed around the field as if it were the race start catching 2 others from the back of the 19 – 39 group. I knew I would only need to see that switchback climb one more time so I kept a harder gear and pushed to the top clearing the tech section for the second and last time. Just a quick update for Lap 2…heart rate 176 – check; legs screaming and telling me to go fck myself – check; Darth Vader mask on – check; hot as hell – check! Yup…were good! Carry on…

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I cross the field for the last time and know there are only a couple of tough sections that remain. The thought of getting on the podium is starting to sink in but I had to remain focused as a torn sidewall could take that all away. I stayed sharp but relentless, didn’t take any unnecessary risk but stayed aggressive. I wanted to make sure that I was still racing to win and not racing to try not to lose.

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On to the home stretch and the only racers around me at this point were the endurance racers who were probably working to squeeze one more lap in. The last flow section I ask for a pass and the racer was ecstatic to let me by. I let it rip past him and next thing I know he’s attached to my hip. WTF? You looked like you were about to pass out 10 seconds ago. “You have no idea how happy I am to see another racer” was his reply. I smiled and had no problem at all pulling a fellow racer out of the depths of the hurt locker. Lord knows it’s been done for me time and time again. I pushed hard and he followed until the last hard right into a technical climb. I cleared it, he dabbed and I didn’t see him again. I’m roughly a mile from the finish so I’m hard on the gas. Clear the last climb and clean the last rocky descent into the finish line. Race was over and I had left it all on the course. I saw Regg first (2nd Cat 2 SS) and then both Christian and Ed (1st & 2nd Cat 2 40 – 49), congratulated them and immediately dropped my bike and laid on the grass. That was hella hard!

We get stronger, we get faster but because of these two factors racing never gets easier. Shaving a minute off of your time comes with the same pain you felt the year before. You hurt the same and maybe even more but your time is faster and your results are better. It’s one of the things that draws me to racing. You see your improvement and it drives you to want to improve even more.

This was a really fun race, really hard but a ton of fun. Thanks to both Christian and Ed for setting the bar high. I know there is work to do and it’s awesome to get to race against really strong riders and have a day that I can be proud of. It felt really amazing to be specifically on this podium.

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Shout to the Brands Factory Racing squad. 6 racers; 6 top 8 performances and 4 podiums! BFR definitely had a great showing.

BFR

Photo Credit to Michel Sales & Thomas Turza

Lastly and certainly not least I’d like to thank all of my sponsors for helping me reach my goals.

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This has been a season full of ups and downs but we are making progress and achieving our goals. As always thanks for taking this ride with me. Live your dreams!

My Life, My Journey,

Jon Merritt

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