Two nights ago, I raced in the Red Bull SkyRide race through the skyways of Saint Paul, MN. Here in the frozen north almost all of our downtown buildings are connected by a system of enclosed bridges and tunnels that the office workers use to traverse the city without having to don winter gear. The race was the brain child of Adam Buck. I had ridden with him once before and I felt lucky to get an invitation to the race.
The field consisted of 50 invited riders from Minnesota and Wisconsin. The field was a great cross section of the MTB community from this area. There were participants of all ages; 15 to 50. Racers, freeriders, XC guys, single speeders, bike shop owners and weekend warriors were all represented.
The course was a little under a mile, so it was pretty much a sprint. There were not any technical features on the course and the crux was made up of sharp turns on slick tiles in narrow hallways. There were two sets of staircases; one spiral down three flights and one that went straight up one flight. Unfortunately due to insurance reasons we had to dismount and walk these sections.
The weekend of my wedding, a month before the race, my friend Nik and I walked what we guessed was the course. At the time we did not know that the racers would be walking the stairs. I decided that my Specialized P.2 would be the best bike I had for this race. I was worried that I would pedal through the gearing on the single speed too quickly and the VP-Free was overkill. The p.2 is a hardtail that could handle the stairs and any other feature Red Bull might have decided to include. Most important I could raise the seat to an optimal pedaling level.
My First Run
The first rider went off at 7:45pm. I started at 8:15.
My first run hurt. I have a problem with racing. I get really nervous, lose any kind of thought process about my abilities, pedal as hard as I can for as long as I can, which isn’t that long, and then flame out for the rest of the run.
The second hand on the starting clock clicked to 00 and I stood on the pedals and cranked as hard as I could. The first realization was that I was going much faster through the skyway than I had expected. Doorways that had seemed huge while walking seemed much narrower at speed. The outer walls of corners that had seemed so far away in the walkthrough come up quick when racing the clock.
I was a little worried about some of the tile sections because I had no idea how well the rubber of the tires would stick. Were these corners that I could hammer into or should I take it easy to avoid a fall?
One corner in particular was tricky. It was also one of the most popular spectating areas. The corner started in one of the widest hallways of the course. To the left was a metal barrier to keep the spectators off the course and to keep the riders from careening down the escalators. To the right, in the apex of the turn was a pillar. The wide hallway fed into a much narrower hallway as the corner progressed. This corner was flagged as a sharp corner and signs were put up to warn riders.
Emboldened by the spectators in this area, I stood up and cranked into the corner. As I came around the corner, past the pillar, my front tire started to make the sounds of rubber slipping on a tire floor and I felt the front end start to slide out. I tried to shift my weight so that it was more centered over the turning bike. It felt like I was floating toward the outer wall. Then miraculously the front tire hooked up as it came into contact with the baseboard on the wall and I again stood up and pedaled out of it, thankful that I hadn’t been splayed across the tile floor.
By the time I got to the stairs I knew I had pushed too hard. My legs felt like jello as I ran down three flights holding my bike on my shoulder. When I got through the tunnel, to the uphill stair section all I could do was walk up them. The last section to the finish was painful but I gave it all I had, which wasn’t much. I was happy to see that some friends had shown up to offer some encouragement.
I staggered off the bike, not sure if my legs would hold me. I sat down with my back to the wall tried to convince myself that I didn’t have to throw up. My lungs felt like I had shoved a wire brush down my throat and I thought I could taste blood. Looking at the MORC message boards after the race, I was encouraged that I wasn’t the only one who felt like this after the first run.
I sat there for a while trying to decide if I even wanted to do a second run. Eventually the cough subsided and the strength returned to my legs.
My time was 4:14.
The Second Run
Before the second run I told myself that I needed to take it a little easier in the beginning and then push at the end.
The timer dinged and I took off. This time I felt much more calm. I had raised my seat a little to give my legs better extension. I focused on my breathing and tried to maintain a fast but consistent cadence. I felt much better and the run was much more enjoyable. I used up the entire hallway on every corner. When I reached the uphill stairs I felt much better and took them two stairs at a time with my bike on my shoulder. As I reached the top I heard my wife cheering for me. That felt pretty good.
My time was 4:05.
Red Bull throws a great event. After the race there was a party at Pat McGoverns on W. 7th. There was free food and all racers got two free drink tickets.
I’d do it again next year.
Here are the results! I finshed 19th out of 51 riders.
Beautiful Shots of the Race. Click on “Redbull Skyride”
Minnesota Daily Coverage with Video.
I appear briefly in the video, about halfway through, jumping on my bike after the stairs.
Offical Red Bull SkyRide Website
St. Paul Pioneer Press Coverage
Helmet Cam Footage of the Race
WCCO Coverage of the Race
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