I was a touch apprehensive about entering the Elite class due to recent CAT1 races in the ROOT 66 series. They didn't turn out as hoped - but a couple of solid weekend rides have started to turn fitness around. I can usually tell how I'll feel based on blood pressure & resting heart rate values. Both were below anything I had ever seen in the past - which was good news, especially given the longer nature of the race (4 laps advertised as 30 miles - but this guys Strava results had it nearer to 25).
Oh what the hey..
The weather was a little on the hot side for May but nearly as perfect as it gets. The trails here are seriously fun. Little ups and downs through twisty single track account for roughly 70% of the course - with roadie heaven double track making up the rest.
At the start - the same guys I've been moving up with for the past couple of seasons: Andy Gould, Steve Crossley & Marty Allen - then another 27 or so fast folk. Easily the biggest Elite field I have ever raced in. Andy, Steve and Marty have been putting on the miles this season, so today's race was about "where am I? / can I hang?" more than anything.
I settled in somewhere near dead last to stay well out of the way at the start - and we took off at a pretty tame pace. Ya 'spose that was due to a 30 man draft?
Within a few minutes I settled in behind Will C and a couple of other guys. Will has become something of a contemporary. We'll often wind up next to each other in these things. As far as I was concerned - that was even more good news. Of course Will was running a full rigid SS with ridiculously tall gearing. 'K stud!!
We paced behind two other riders - which may have been a strategic mistake. In key areas they'd drop momentum. How Will managed to clean everything was... I ask not for forgiveness here: A matter of Will.
When things opened up towards the end of the first lap - Will opened up. Thank the MTB gods. I stuck to him while he churned away - then after a little verbal suggestion - returned the favor for a bit. Position booming through the lap system: "ALBY KING 24TH". Goody - I am not dead last. Yet.
Between the the two of us that burn yielded Greg Jancaitis - aka "Mr Endurance". Sweet! We had gained pretty rapidly and settled in for a moment - then, even after I blurted out "Greg really knows how to pace in these things - let's stay here for awhile" I did the stupid thing and started putting down the power again (face palm).
Within a few minutes said predicted stupidity was validated. Another strong rider led Greg and Will right up to me and they started going past just before getting to the single track (this is an especially strategic bad for my talent set) - so I whittled into position just behind Will. Right... Pace then position at the correct time you dolt (!)
Greg did the leading through the long backside single track this time. He was riding as can be expected - a perfect pace that kept things running towards the upper end without blowing. Before long - we had swung into the double track, eased up a touch and rounded towards the lap point. I managed to toss my spent bottle and do a nicely executed flyby bottle grab. Happy happy joy joy!! I didn't mess up in front of the crowd.
Will, Greg and the other guy did the same on the other side of the turn point - which allowed settling right back into the group. We all downed much need hydration while cruising the field section. About then I started feeling pretty good. So I started riding with a little verve. A head down, steady but not stupidly quick pace - as I figured they'd just go and do the same thing again before we got into the single track. I figured wrong.
This was perfect. The pace through the double track left plenty in the tank. Now with a clear view of the course and some experience it was time to get flowy.
Lap 3 was "my" lap in terms of fully focused smooth riding. A decent gap had formed - until about halfway through the single track. Behind I could hear someone gaining. A look back - and it wasn't Greg or Will - who the heck is this?
That turned out to be Jacob Harris. He was rubber banding along - as things pointed up he'd close the gap - only to be minutely distanced through twisty tree-lined sections.
When the trail opened up into double track I let him by thinking he'd fly out of sight. That didn't happen. Yet again, stupid luck was on my side. I had a fellow who was pushing just enough to properly latch onto. It turns out Jacob (among several others) thought the race was 3 laps. No wonder he was pushing through the single track like that. For once, I knew what was what in terms of lap count & pacing. As we reached the end of lap 3 - who should we see? Colin and a couple other guys. Nice! Colin has always wanted "to hang" - here's our chance buddy!
I bypassed my second bottle at the lap point. Colin and the other two guys rounded the bend then slowed down rather quickly in the traffic pattern to grab their bottles. I swung round - and headed down the field section. Up ahead a skinny red clad rider who'd do well to serve Santa if he wasn't 8 feet tall. No matter how I coaxed, he just wouldn't push the lead. "C'mon!" I begged - "just go!" while gesturing with my hand. Nope, he wasn't having it. He waved me on - surely thinking " ha ha sucker..."
I caught back up with Jacob - shortly after Colin & crew showed up. Colin muttered something about whether or not I was able to hang onto Jacob while rattling off cyclocross standings and stuff. As we headed into the single track I motioned my hand out towards the left. Colin: "what was that!??" - "I am pointing out that it's better to swing wide here". For sure I thought, I can hang with this guy - no prob.
Through the first single track section into the straight away with three stream crossings - la dee da.. This is nice. So nice.. I'm not really gassed, I have interesting company - tra la, la... Not really working too hard here behind Jacob - what a nice, nice day... things are working out so ni....
Oops I did it again. You'd think I'd know by now.
EVERY FLIPPING TIME I RELAX THROUGH BORING SECTIONS I CRASH.
It was a fairly good hit - but I've had worse. Somehow while crashing there was awareness of the dudes *right* behind me - so I grabbed the bike to keep it from creating an unnecessarily wide path of carnage. Colin and Tim swung round - Colin savoring the event (that's what he does - there is sure to be some wonderful video footage) while Tim yelled back "Ya OK??" I yelled back nervously & instinctively from the ground - "I'm good!" then made short business of standing up & checking the bike for any unusual shapes or alignment. Looks good. Time to catch back up.
I reeled in Tim pretty quick. He asked if I wanted to go by - but I knew better. If I went past after that retaliatory effort - I'd likely get gassed too soon. Better to stay put for a bit. He drove a perfect pace. So perfect that we slowly gained on Colin. Nice.
The rest of the race Colin carried us. Dripping red from the elbow, knee and hip I wasn't in quite the right mood to do anything particularly daring.
At the very end Colin laid on it HARD. Tim and I discussed our lack of enthusiasm - but excitement got the better of me so I cranked it up a little and took the last corner with much speed.
Final result 15th. Results
Final opinion on Elite: Seems I fit somewhere near the middle.
Final opinion of the day: One of the best I've had so far. Days like these kick ass.
A shot of fellow Bikeman Don Seib on the Vet 2 CAT 1 podium (after wrecking hard while road biking a few days prior - note multiple bandages)
Post event raffle.
Yet another Emergency vehicle this year - hope whoever this was is ok.
Take it from a guy who is not at all sore where he should be post race. The Weeping Willow is fast - fast enough that things can go bad pretty quick if you let your guard down for only a moment.
I'd say "be safe" or something pillowy - but more folks get hurt taking a shower.
Thanks to Riverside Cycles for another well done Weeping Willow event. See you next year!