Monday, 26 April 2010
Holy f-ing hell that was fun. Having never experienced a mountain bike race before, I'd have to say that Potomac Velo Club gets a whole lot of stars for the way they put the Greenbrier Challenge together. It was hard not to know exactly what you were supposed to do all the time, the lines for everything were short, the volunteers had the answers you needed, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting mechanical assistance, they had a hose (VERY important), it was all very well organized, and the results have been up for a while already.
My wife took a lot of pictures. If you were on the course between 11:30 and 1pm, there is probably a picture of you here
Mountain bikers are a friendly lot. There was so much courtesy throughout the whole race. People are just not pricks about letting you through when you passed them, and were totally cool about passing too - usually with a "coming through left when you get a chance" or something like that. The vibe and attitude on the start line was completely chill. The road can definitely learn from that.
My pre-race intel was pretty weak. I'd never seen the course, didn't really know how long the laps were, etc. Fortunately, my man Erik L (co-host of the Ed Sander Memorial CX Race) gave me most of what I needed to know in a very efficient debrief before the start. Off the line, I made a good start - NO ONE misses their clip in in a mountain bike race (2 sided pedals plus ENDLESS practice at clipping in) - and we were off. The front few guys split off from the group I was in, which was being held up by the guy right in front of me. Not knowing that it was cool to ask for a pass, I didn't, but he said "come on around if you want," so I did, and pedaled up to the lead group. Then came the first downhill.
The story of this race was how good I was at going uphill, and how absolutely Godawful I was at getting down. At the top of the first hill, there was a HUGE gap back to the guy behind me. When I whiffed my line about halfway down the downhill and had the inevitable contact lens incident, there was a half a school bus worth of dudes immediately on my ass. They all went by. Then I passed them all on the next hill. Then they all went by again. And so it went, back and forth, for the next 105 minutes or so.
You could easily see how people who race get wicked good at riding technical stuff. I've never gone anywhere close to that fast on technical downhills. Holy smokes. But you just point the front wheel at your best option and send it. Obviously I "sent it" about half as fast as anyone else out there.
Mechanically, my gear worked perfectly. I'm sure my fork could be tuned better, and I'm not sure about my front tire (I had pretty bad sideways slippage in muddy turns - good thing there were only about 342 of them per lap), but the shifting and braking and general doing what I needed it to do exactly when I needed it to do it was right there. I gave my mechanic an extra ration of beer last night as a reward, and now I'm hungover.
For those who followed my tire saga, I went with tubes at about 35 psi. Specialized Rockster Pro 2.1 on the front (I think this might be a really good rear tire) and a Panarace Smoke Classic 2.1 on the rear. I didn't flat, so that was good. I did bounce around quite a bit though. Hopefully - hopefully - when I go tubeless, the ride will be a little more plush. I kind of felt in danger of getting some dental work shaken out of my head a lot of the time. Also, the aforementioned Chevrolet slide to the south side on muddy turns might go away.
Talking with some people after the race, I was like "please tell me that this is at least one of the more technical courses around," and they all pretty much assented that yes, this was probably the trickiest one. Maybe on a less hairball course I would make a better showing.
In the end, I wound up 10th from 26 in my class. Two minutes into my last lap, I was 5th, so that's a big disappointment (that whole sucking moose balls at going downhill thing). As late as 3/4 of the way through the last lap I think I was in 6th or 7th, but there was a section in the back where I was just so ridiculously slow. I let a lot of guys get by there. That's the bad news.
The good news is that I did WAY better than I'd thought I might. Jumping into Sport Class (aka Cat 2) for my first race was maybe a bit ambitious, more from the point of me being totally a stranger in a strange land than anything else. As it turns out, my fitness and ability to go up hills were just ducky. Judging from how late in the last lap the group that beat me passed me, and the amount of time that they were able to put on me in that short distance, just learning how not to blow goat at the tricky stuff would make me several minutes faster per lap. But before the start, I definitely thought that me, being that jamoke standing on the side of the trail 1/4 of the way into the first lap, wondering "what the f just happened to me" was seriously in play.
After we got home, the wife and I did a nice ride around one of our more frequently traveled loops. Probably the best part of the day was her realizing that she should have done the race, too. When I signed up, I'd thought that there was a pretty good chance she'd want in, but she didn't. After seeing it all, and interacting with a bunch of people while she was taking pictures, I don't think she'll miss the next one.
What a freaking fun day. Oh yeah, no rain, too. That worked.
My week last week was like the mother of all really crap weeks, with the exclamation point on Friday afternoon when I realized I'd get the chance to once again wake up at 5 on Saturday morning and swing a shift at work. That shit's getting old, I wish they would stop changing layouts, it's kicking my ass. But on Wednesday afternoon/evening there was one big huge break in the clouds that may lead to a whole different kind of a deal for me. A strange deal, but a cool deal. Glass half full, glass half full.
Murad next, and then I guess some more road stuff after? Fort Richie maybe? I don't know. This month is much more about work and not stressing about riding, then we'll get a bit more serious for all those June races I like so bad.
Huge ups to Potomac Velo Club, and to mountain bike racing community in general. You guys are great.