Knowing that the CAT 3/4 race was pretty much sold out and densely populated I opted for the Masters 35+ race (1/2/3/4) thinking it'd be a good way to ease into this CX thing without getting frustrated or in the way of too many people.
I'm guessing we had maybe 40 riders as my number was 238. The startup had me in row 4 - but Alec Petro happened to be there offering some general pointers (basically get your ass moving off the start) and suggested I move up into a spot in row 3 as there was an opening available. Cool! Every bit helps right?
At the start the group took off pretty quick but it didn't seem too terribly fast. I gained a few spots as we headed up a shallow paved hill. At one point I heard someone say "Hey!" - as in "Yo! - you's getting hurly burly" So I cleaned up line selection amongst the group and we headed into the first RH into a straight section of double-track.
Most riders stuck to the the left track as it was cleaner - but I hung out on the right side. I'd rather deal with a bumpier ride than follow too close so soon in a race. I gained a spot or two along the way.
From there - I found some riders cruising near my pace. Through some grassy fields we went. Cornering wasn't super grippy or super slippy. I bumped my tire pressure to 45 F / 50 R before the race. I'm thinking somewhere near 35 / 40 may have been better - but I'm not sure where the sweet spot is with these skinny tires yet.
After the first field, there was a section of "almost" singletrack that included a log. The log was maybe only 6" high but gave me the heebee jeebees. The first lap: Whap! goes the back tire - lap 2, Whap! - Lap 3 & 4: I finally work up the nerve to air over cleanly (pretty sure mountain bikes are easier to loft). After that - a nice paved section through a wooded area. You could really lay on the juice here and peg the corners while hopping a couple of bumpy sections where tree roots ripped into the surface.
A short uphill followed. It was here I'd gain time on riders juicing it in advance to fly up. Then around some more grassy fields that included a little mud hole. A few nice off-camber corners here really tested your ability to stay upright. On several occasions the bike got out of shape - but I was able to just recover each time.
Then down some corners into the biggest uphill. It was probably the one called out as the "run-up", but if you carried enough speed you could blast up it and crest neatly every time.
A paved section followed - then went into some more corners - then some normal size barriers - followed by some more corners than the last of the barriers - and back around to the hill from the start.
On the second lap I was passed by some fellow just before the mud hole who was freaking flying, there was no chance of catching him. Then a little while later I found myself thoroughly "chicked" for the first time ever. This gal was moving. She blasted by - and instantly created a solid 40' gap. Over time I slowly reeled her in. As we passed the crowds - I could hear people yelling "Go Sally!!" From then on I had this song stuck in my head:
Sally was maintaining a solid pace. Being that she passed all the guys behind me, I figured she'd keep me moving fast enough to prevent any more passes - so I did the honorable thing and sucked wheel - profusely. At the end of lap three I heard a bell - and figured it might mean one more lap - but to be sure I asked: "What was that??" reply "One more lap!" Oh good. Cuz I kinda want to puke.
As we headed into the field on the final lap, Sally yielded. My response: "Umm, that's Ok, you're setting a great pace" - Sally: "I need to practice some cornering" - Me: "OK, but I'm not sure I'm the right guy to lead".
From there I lead around the course - with Sally pretty much "right there" throughout 3/4 of a lap. Unfortunately, at the first set of "normal size" barriers when I got back on the bike, my chain / rear derailleur was all bound up. Bye-bye Sally, then another rider. DAMN! DAMN DAMN! - I got the drive train sorted out, rode the last few corners, hopped the last set of barriers then headed up the last hill only to have a rider absolutely rage past sprinting to the finish.
Phew! I didn't puke!
Result: Maybe 14th or so. A little over 3 minutes behind the leader (JB of course)
At the finish talking "race" was Don Seib from Bikeman. Apparently he crashed bunny-hopping the second short barrier and broke a rib (!). He "had some difficulty breathing for 20 seconds or so" but still put in a strong effort to finish 5th. Damn. That's serious toughsmanship.