Heh heh.. I love me some irony.
Firstly - what I consider to be a major accomplishment - the fruit of 300 miles of unimaginably restrained driving:
This might seem unimpressive - but when you consider the new girl has 265 ponies pushing a 3300 pound AWD car and my fat ass - that ain't too shabby.
3 knocks on the table... (corporate thing we've been doing when folks get off track)
On arrival an hour and a half before the 1:30 start I put on fleece pullover and light jacket and headed out to check out the new course. Conditions: Still kind of dry - but the light drizzle was starting to help firm things up. I recall last year was how easy it is to underestimate speed through some of the sweepers. At least I thought I remembered.
Along the course I found Bikeman Don Seib being Don Seib. Encouraging everyone who passed and keeping track of his son's performance. I first spoke with Don last season post race @ the Weeping Willow. He was coming back from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash so his performance wasn't where it had been in the recent past. His comment on the matter has stuck with me and provided some encouragement given the slow start this season. With little emotion and total confidence: "It'll come back" . Holy crap did it ever. His fitness and CX results were very impressive.
After the winter that didn't happen there was plenty of fit roadie / CX talent on hand. Knowing there was no chance I could hang in the CAT 1 / pro category like fellow nouveau pros Andy Gould (formerly known as "annoyingly compatible" - now he's just annoying - nice job with this race Andy!!) and Steve Crossley (sorry about this Steve) I opted to race with the fairly old guys in plain old CAT1. For certain it'd be plenty challenging with perennial champion Mike Rowell in the line up (25 guys in our group).
Before the line-up I removed my jacket and fleece - donning a short sleeve jersey and shorts. After all, I'd warm up just fine - right? The fact that 98% of the crowd was wearing arm warmers, tights and jackets should have triggered something in my little head. One thing for sure, waiting for the start was getting chilly.
Lined up in the second row just behind Mike - off we went. Like usual dudes were cranking at a pace way beyond my comfort level. We headed up the double track were I lost a few spots going into the single track ridge line ride into a short wooded section. Position: Somewhere in the middle.
The course opened up again and the wattage gang laid it on thick. Head down, TT style riding kept the lead group in site. Sorta - but not really. The course then tucked into some single track where I started making ground. A pass here and there - then more open sections where letting off was not an option. OK, I'm passing & not getting passed - that's a good sign.
About 3/4 of the way through the first lap I found my people pace wise. I hung out behind them - moving well, but not thoroughly gassed. Our group of 3 slowly picked off more riders. Excellent - if this keeps up we're good.
At the start of the second lap a couple of guys went by pretty quick. One of the guys yelled "don't let them go" - which spurred us on a bit - we clung on, then passed them back before entering the single track. Good, good, good. We can create a gap in here. But it only lasted so long before things opened up on the double track again. Towards the end of each lap there is a section with 2 significant climbs (on each side of a hill maybe a 1/2 mile apart if you can picture it) where spectators assemble. The intent was not to create drama - but drama happened. Going up the shorter single track side the rider in front of me was in spin mode smartly addressing energy reserves. I get amped when I see climbs (maybe wanting to get them over with) and started passing on the right through the weeds - problem was, I wasn't fully committing to the pass. Just kind of going a little faster. We crested the hill side by side - with very little room causing some excitement for the crowd. I figured the rider would yield - but figured wrong. He maintained position on the actual course, and I ran out of room heading straight for a tree. Folks loved it. Lesson: Hit it hard next time - no half-assed attempts. He gained a decent gap and I worked to close it back up through the single track. We neared the other side of the same climb - and I backed off. Reason: A lot of riders run up this climb. I wanted to gain some steam to ride up and over. Sure enough as I approach the last bit - riders (3 of em) are popping off their bikes. I squeak by on the right just barely clawing my way up. I get a shove on my ass as I go by. Who does the shoving? The same guy I was battling with on the other side. He comments "It's all good". You gotta love the sportsmanship.
On lap 3 the rain started to pick up. The course was getting super greasy. These are the kind of conditions that work best for me. No longer was it about blowing past folks in wide open then maintaining position in the single track. Traction was getting marginal everywhere. You could power drift your bike around corners using the rear tire only for steering. Whee!!! I maintained the lead on the guys I passed on the hill while passing more riders from other age groups - occasionally passing on the greasy corners themselves. The guys behind were not letting up through the wide open though. The strategy (as it always is) was to conserve energy by riding at the very limit of control. Unfortunately I went past that limit on a LH turn and went down to promptly get run over by the guy who was 10 seconds or so behind as I was sprawled across the course. Damn!! If I nailed that corner it would have been worth at least a couple of seconds. Instead it cost many. The other guy (Keith Gauvin I think) whizzed past us while we untangled - then the runner-overer (David Diviney) took off - leaving me to get back at it - now, a bit out of sorts.
I was wearing glasses up until that point - then took them off as the crash caked on even more mud. This was nice for a short while - then of course, I started getting mud in my eyes especially while doing the signature praying mantis pose on the climbs and flats - so I pulled them out of my pocket (now very foggy) - wiped them off on my muddy jersey and dealt with feeling my way around the course.
"Praying Mantis" - a naturally evolved staple within the repertoire.
Photo courtesy "Eastwood9er" Many more from the event can be found.
The last lap was getting to be a death march. Temperatures continued to plummet (42º F from 52 or so at the start) while the rain continued to increase. The event turned from racing to survival. The drive train was grinding with the sand and muck, climbs were barely there due to so little traction & corners were very "let the bike go where it needs to go" affairs.
I bumbled around at mid-pace then upped efforts towards the end to try and make it all stop. Up ahead - David - he had a solid couple of hundred feet on me as we approached the finish - but was looking gassed. I charged and missed the pass by one second while he did the ole' arm push through the line. High comedy.
For the next couple of hours my fingerstips glowed bright white. Glad we didn't have any additional laps - as I don't know that I'd have made it.
The end result -5th place. 3 minutes back from Mike, one minute back from 2nd. Not stellar - but not bad. My fitness is right where I figured it'd be. Definitely behind - but a little commitment should turn that around.
Due to the epicness of this race I have a plan should similar conditions prevail:
The mantra for the next couple of months is simple: "It'll come back"...