In the great grand scheme of things, to a mountain biker, I'm a roadie. This distinction is immaterial except as it pertains to an email discussion I have with a friend this morning. He said that a lot of the guys he rides with deride Fair Hill as a "roadie" course, a characterization which doesn't bother either of us at all. The thing is, it's not a roadie course. True enough, it has a fast start that's pretty much "go straight, really really hard." Apart from the prologue,though, it's like 90% single track, and fairly tight and twisty stuff at that. So while, yes, Fair Hill has very few things that might make someone crash or have to get off and walk (as opposed to, say, Greenbrier), the critical component to me is the decoupling of power and speed.
At Greenbrier, except if you crash or fall off, your power and speed are closely intertwined for most of the course. The back downhill lets guys with Jedi-flow (tm) make up enormous chunks of time but for most of the course, you are going as fast as you are pedaling hard. At Fair Hill, you predominantly go as fast as you are turning the bike well. The guys who are carving edge to edge are going faster with far less effort than guys who pedal hard but don't flow. In an 8' single track section with 40 or 50 tight-ish to fully tight turns, a good mountain bike guy is going to put minutes on someone who can't corner. That's what I have to say about that.
One big difference from road racing to mountain bikes and cross is that if your legs don't show up right on time in a road event, you can very often just hide until they get right (or don't, which also happens). In a mountain bike or cross race, you give away seconds that you are unlikely to ever get back without tremendous expenditure of blood and treasure. My legs wanted no part of the prologue yesterday, and that cold sucked. Fortunately I tagged onto the second group and rode around with them for a long time. I would guess that the top seven guys were up the trail, and there were about 10 of us. Guys would blow up and drop, guys would bridge from the group behind, it was an interesting and dynamic thing. Much more active position changing and riding among other people for the entire race than you often get.
At the beginning of the third (of 3) laps, I started to get really sloppy. I'm better at turning the bike than I ever have been, for sure, but I still rely too much on legs and powering myself out of scenarios where I haven't ridden the bike as well as others around me. Skill is sort of a perpetually renewable resource, where energy is finite. Ride on skill, you last longer; ride on fitness, and when you blow up it's not pretty. So I spent the first half of the third lap riding atrociously and making myself pay an exponentially increasing price for doing so. As such, I dropped off the group I'd been with before regrouping and getting my shit back together to some degree or another. I finished 15th of 38. Not thrilled about it, not despondent. The more races I do, the better I'll get, and that's kind of that.
Not really sure what the next move is. Iron Hill is Sunday, which is a nice course but super far away and I'm sick of driving and buying gas and putting miles on the car. Turkey Hill is Saturday and team mates are talking about doing that, which could be fun. But also 5 races in 3 weekends, one of them being over half a day long, has me pondering a weekend off.