I’ve been busy. Too busy to train. In fact, my training calendar was so sparse earlier in the Spring that I considered hanging up my road season instead of repeatedly wasting time and money in getting dropped out of easy races. More on that after Turtle Pond next weekend.
Mountain bike racing is different. Even if you finish DFL, you still get to complete the race and feel like you did something. Also, bike handling can often trump pure power, as is demonstrated season after season as road cat 4’s without an upgrade points stick it to soon-to-upgrade road 3’s weekend after weekend. But this offers me no reprieve, as the saturated trails have kept me from riding offroad much. So really, I was showing up to this mtb race with every disadvantage possible. No watts, no handling.
I rode to the race with Greg Whitney and Mike Wissell of Back Bay Cycling Club. I figured that driving to the race with faster off-road riders would make me fast. While their skills did not rub off, it was a pleasant ride where we discussed diverse topics such as: getting punched in the mouth, mixed martial arts fighting in the military, German scat porn, gambling in Thai sex clubs, skateboarding, neuroscience, METAL , fixed gears, Bicycle shops in Boston and Freds. Overall, interesting conversation.
Prerace was relatively uneventful, with the exception of preride. A number of riders, including myself, mistakenly thought that the previous race was over and we went to preride a particularly steep climb that occurs about 3 minutes from the finish (though I was unaware that this section was so close to the finish at the time). We jumped on the course and encountered the one deep nasty mud bog. We dithered and complained about getting our dry goods dirty before the race and were soon overtaken by other riders. I asked them if they were racing, while they were about 50 meters away. Here’s where the trouble starts:
A certain angry Cape Cod masters rider who I have seen unrepentantly interfering with cross races in progress was coming though (At Coonamesset 2008, he was loitering on the course in the logic line out of a corner during a race and when this fact was politely pointed out to him, he offered to punch the polite commenter out [I was not the commenter, nor did I comment]). I asked him if he was racing so that I could clear out if he was. He yelled at me to “get the F--- out of my way!” even though all of us were already off to the side of the trail at the time of my inquiry. I may or may not have called him a douche bag.
He verbally threatened me, using my last name. But he did not stop racing (at least he has priorities). I expected to get punched in the face on the starting line of my race. Since this didn’t happen, I expect that there will be some entertaining drama in the near future, as this dude is known to get into it (I have seen him in heated exchanges a number of times), maybe even more so than I am.
Back to the race. The start is a slight downhill into a sand section, where there is often crashes. 100 meters in there’s a rise, almost a climb which leads into some windy single and double track, which a good description of the course. My plan was to stick to the left of the course, as it was less loose and also offered a hard pack line on the climb, instead of the loose gravel and sand. I also planned to take the hole shot and blow up.
Wissell got the hole shot, I missed a beat clipping in. I get through the sand and climb drama free in about 7th or 8th. At corner 1, which was more than 90 degrees, a rider crashed, slowing several more riders. I rolled through incident free, now in the top 5.
I rode hard, made passes, got repassed. It hurt. The short story is that I blew up about ½ a lap into a 4 lap race. I was so slain that I almost pulled. In fact if the parking lot had been there at the moment when the parachute came out, I would have went to the car and cowered (and probably have received my punch in the mouth).
I tried to fake it. I rested and concentrated on not wasting energy and staying off the brakes. Riders streamed around me. I conceded to all of the riders in my chase group one at a time. The next group got me and I hung in for a bit, but at this point, I was in oxygen dept and handling the bike poorly, recovery was coming slowly and quite incompletely.
The course itself is twisty fast hardpack. There is no gnarly terrain, so bike handling should not have been a factor. In fact Wissell tried to reassure me before the race by saying that “there are few rewards for good bike handling on this course.” Little does Wissell know how poorly I handle a bike when I am out of practice and/or tired.
On the flats and climbs I was gaining ground, but as soon as there was a root or a turn, a gap formed. When people were on my wheel it was downright embarrassing. I started letting people by so that I could ride their wheel for a bit. Soon enough, I was getting passed by riders from other fields, since I was now riding DFL in the 30-39. I was passed by the 40-49 leaders. Single speeders came by me with little effort, scoffing at me as I hit the sissy switches before easy corners.
The race felt long to me. Last season I was a cat 2, racing 3 laps on most courses. Cross races are only 45-60ish minutes. Most crits are about an hour. 4 laps of mtb biking is more hard riding and self abuse than I am used to. Add to this my detonation at half a lap in and you can imagine my misery for the last 3 and half laps.
Wissell broke a chain, blowing a likely podium, as did good friend Cary Fridrich (Embronational) in the PRO race. I am not sure where Greg finished in the PRO race, but surely well.
I finished my race. Normally, I race bicycles. Yesterday, my performance was more akin to the hordes of people suffering through the Boston Marathon with no chance of placing, no real concern with their time, their only goal to finish and have a story to tell--“I finished the Boston Marathon”--and to get a $2500 Boston Marathon branded warmup jacket that they can where to running club events.
The race wasn’t a total loss: I was slapped in the face by my inadequacies, which helps me know what to work on when a precious afternoon unexpectedly frees up; I have a tongue lashing and possibly a punch in the mouth coming my way in the coming weeks; and I made a couple of friends, Greg Whitney and Mike Wissell are both solid and interesting dudes, who I hope to share a few more rides with soon.