I love that the season is starting and that we'll be racing mountain bikes for the next 5 months. Sweet! I jumped a little from joy just writing that sentence!
Last year I flatted, and w/ all the mud it took forever to fix the flat, so I ended up a time of 40+ minutes and dead last placement in my age group. That was a good way to start my Cat 1 experience! The year before that I think I was at 34 and some.
I "pre-raced" the course two weeks ago and posted a 34.04. It was a little disappointing as I was hoping to break at least into the 33s. And to feel like a real cat 1 racer, I wanted to break into the 32s! Winter time spend locked up in a dingy dank stale basement watching the snow fall through a tiny dirty window as pools of sweat formed from being on the trainer all boiled down this: how low in the 30ies was this going to be?! Was all that going to amount to anything?
I had a chance to pre ride the course several times over the past three weeks and felt like i had come up w/ a good strategy: ride to my hrm max on the non techy parts, but really slow down and recover before hitting those few technical sections to clean them well! Use them as mini recovery zones. Also instead of hammering like a maniac out of the gate, I needed to slow down my start and build up. This, plus my usual mantra of riding smarter (ie: stop looking at the rock you don't want hit, and look down the trail not the front of your tire) was going to be a lot to remember. It sounds stupid, but when I am racing I usually am not all that conscious since all the nervous energy, adrenaline, endorphins, heart trying to jump out my chest, a couple of verses from some random stupid annoying song echoing in my head, etc... really keep me from being aware.
I arrived to the race later than what I wanted to (like always), but was able to get a decent warm up. I pre rode the second techy section (if you count the first drop into the small stream as the first), trying to stay high on the right and drop straight in between the two high rocks w/ enough momentum to clear the next step up. In the previous pre rides I had gone left around the tree w/out too much problems but did not like the angle coming through those two sharp rocks, and worried that at race pace this would become an issue (especially w/ carbon chain stays!).
At the start of the race, I was able to remember to go fast w/out over doing it. The plan seemed to work as I remained calm and was able to clear w/out issues the above mentioned section. The techy drop that soon followed was also no issue at all. During it I spotted the guy who started before me, and I passed him before the first left turn. On the next left down into the fast slight downhill-ish single track, I spotted Frank and got to draft him for just a bit before he let me pass. I then spotted Freddy on the fire road climb and was able to pass him before the top back into the single track. After the stair drops, I saw Adam and quickly passed him. In my little head I was having a party! Passed 4 guys before the 1/2 mark, one of which was Adam. I somehow caught & passed Adam!! (turns out he had a flat which I had not noticed, which would be logical explanation for me passing him). As I came onto the first road section, I barely caught the sight of someone exiting the other side and entering the single track whose colors looked like an NBX guy. Damn, could I possibly be catching Rich? When I pre rode w/ him last week he beat my time by well over 1 minute! In my excitement I gave it all I had hoping to catch him. My "strategy" went out the window with the result of entering the muddy climb way too fast and trying to hammer through this and the next step up section.I picked the wrong line and I ended up having to put my foot down a couple of times. Stupid is as stupid does (yeah I did really just use that quote!). I was able to regroup and stay clean until the next road section, where I finally caught the next rider. Not only was it not Rich but it's the Bikeman kit from Alex that looks nothing like the NBX kit. Don't know how I made that mistake. Wishful thinking I guess. I passed Alex once we entered the last section and tried to dig as deep as I could to push through that long false flat to the finish.
My time ends up being 31.45, with a placement of 11th in my age group and 21st overall. I was pretty exited about the time but disappointed by the placement. Rich beat me by 17 seconds, so I never got close to him.Next year, maybe next year... for now I am looking forwards to my favorite race of the early season: Winding trails!
(Nate on the race course)
(Mike on the race course)