This weekend I did my first mountain bike race, race #6 of the CCCX series. I chose to race the beginner class, since I didn't want to screw anybody's race up with my ignorance, but also because the Sport class (the next one up from beginner) raced 22 miles last time. Since the Sport riders race an extra lap, I thought it would be a case of discretion being the better part of valor.
The down side of racing beginner is the 9am start. So we were up at 5:45 to drive down to Monterey for the race. We got there with about a half an hour to spare, and after registering, I found myself with about 10 minutes till it was time to start lining up for the start. In classic fashion, I started to warm up, and promptly got lost. There was a sign pointing toward the start line, and I headed down the road to find it. I immediately hooked up with another guy also looking for the line, and we wandered around for 15 minutes befor finding the startt right by the original sign. Fortunately, this turned into a decent warmup, and the start was a little more casual than I am used to, since there were 15 riders per class, rather than the 40 or more per class from cyclocross season. As usual, there was much discussion at the start about how none of us had even mentioned the word "bike" since the last race, and how we were all worried that the recent sickness/sprained ankle/dislocated shoulder/leg amputation might get in the way of our performance. There really oughtta be a word for the kind of reverse sh!t-talking that goes on at bike races. Nobody (at my level, anyway) ever says "yeah, I've been training really hard and I feel great today!" From everybody's stories, you have to figure that Job would fit right in at the start of a beginner bike race: "Well, my training was going ok, till right after the last race, my house collapsed and killed my kids, and then fire came down from heaven and melted my bike, so that was a little tough, but what I really think is gonna hurt me today is the leprosy."
Waiting for the start
The course was mostly single- and doubletrack, with a few wider sections and three road segments. It was overall pretty flat, with one dirt climb out of the start/finish line and one road climb as well. The official let us know that we would be racing four laps, not three as it says in the website, and I was a little worried when one of the guys in the group mentioned that he had ridden the course and it was right about 5 miles. It was at that point that I realized I was gonna have to race 20 miles!
Anyway, they started the groups out in waves, with the juniors (under 18s) first, then the 19-34s, then my group, the 35-44s. I started pretty well, for once, and actually made it to the first trail section in first! I then fetched up immediately behind the last guy in the group before, and my failure to be aggressive about passing was exposed. A few seconds later, a train of four guys from my group came sailing by. I was able eventually to get around the guy and catch up to them, right before the next road section. On that section I was able to get into the middle of what was now a five-person group, and was third heading into the first extended trail section. I held onto the second-place guy's wheel for most of the first lap, until I simply lost traction going into a corner, and slid out. The fourth-place guy blew by me almost immediately as I was getting myself recombobulated, but shockingly, noone else came by in the 40 seconds or so it took me to get going. I realized as I got going that I had lost the fancy Smith Slider sunglasses my girlfriend bought for me for $5 from some homeless guy on the street, but of course competitive juices got the better of me, and I left them there for some lucky person to find (or maybe to grow a sunglasses tree, who knows?).
I was now fourthish, as far as I knew, and there was noone around me, particularly, so I kept going, notching down a little in the corners. The next lap and a half or so were pretty uneventful. I passed a few people, mostly the bottom two-thirds of the juniors and a few of the 19-34s. I realized that especially with the juniors, I can beat most of them up a hill, but they are way more mountain bikers than me, and can take me to school on the twisty stuff.
I passed one kid on the road climb and he latched on to me for a while. I offered to let him pass, but he responded "No, I like your speed." At the end of lap 2, I towed him up to two more of the junior riders, and looked to pass them. I finally got around them, only to come in too hot on a turn and go very wide. The guy who had been following me and one of the other guys got by me, and I was stuck behind them for a while.
Chasing one of the juniors
finally got around that kid!
I got by them on the climb at the beginning of the third lap. By this point I was beginning to realize that this race was LONG. Soon after the start of this lap, some guy in my class came rocketing by me. I had no idea where he came from, but he was gone pretty damn fast. This was pretty much the low poing for me, as I realized I was only half done, and I could feel acid in my stomach and my bike was starting to ghost shift a little (I assumed I bent or knocked something awry in my crash). I kept going, though, and actually rode a pretty good half lap. As I came around the backside of the course, the bike really started to rattle. Now, the damn thing's only a month old, so I was thinking to myself "man, this thing's a piece of junk! I can't believe something's already shaking loose!"
At that point I looked down and noticed that the front quick release was hanging open.
I guess I had not tightened it enough when I put the wheel back on after getting it out of the car. I immediately stopped and tightened the wheel (losing another 30 or so seconds), and resolved never to complain about the lawyer tabs on the fork again.
By the final lap, I was really starting to hurt. I knew I was gonna finish, but every climb was a struggle (and I like climbing!). On one of the road climbs, there was a woman sort of cruising along on her road bike watching the action. I couldn't help but wonder what she thought as I struggled along, slumped over my bars, grinding away. I didn't have the energy to ask, though. Oddly enough, my upper body was really feeling the worst. I was somewhat convinced my arms were going to fall off.
As I got toward the last third of the lap, I started to feel like there was someone behind me. At one point I thought I saw someone back there, but wasn't sure. I started to pick up the pace a little, anyway, though, although still trying to stay in control, so as to avoid a crash.
I was pretty crushed to make the turn onto the last 50 yards to the finish and see the sign saying "1 lap to go"! I was pretty sure that I had done the whole 4 laps, but I had a shred of doubt. As I crossed the line, though, the offical called out "197, you're done". I just had time to pull up when the guy who was chasing me came through. He was in my class, and I ended up beating him by a mere 7 seconds.
Overall, though, I was pretty happy with my results. I got 5th place (of 15), and did the 4 laps in 1:23, which is twice as long as the longest cross race I did. I did wake up today, two days later, feeling like a party bag of ice that someone had thrown in the sink and whacked a bunch of times with a hammer to make sure the pieces were all small. I had fun, though, and am somewhat more inspired to keep riding.
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