Iron Hill is a great venue. There are a lot of different courses they can run there, and this year was a different course from the two I've raced on before. No mega dip, general counter-clockwise-ness of direction, every rock in the joint in play.
Mentally, I was just flat at the start. No jitters, no pop, no nothing. Allowed myself to get shuffled around and wound up near the back. It's a self-reinforcing negative cycle when you do that in a start like this - you lose the joust for the line in a bend, dab the brakes, and 3 other guys roll by. Then of course you have to spin back up to speed. The good hole shots I was getting last cross season were the product of a lot of practice, I need to remember that.
Soon enough we were turning onto a gravel road, and I could pass a bunch of guys. A group of three or four was slowly opening a lead, and some number of us were effectively the chase group. At one point my front skewer decided to come loose (Rock Shox forks have WAY too much paint on the drop outs - I thought I was long past this problem, but not), so I had to pull over to fix that and then chase my balls off to get back to the chase group.
Part of the issue with my flatness at the start was just being a little burned out from mountain bike racing. It's a funny thing to have a lot of relative strength in the pedaling part, but glaring weakness in doing an endless series of tight 180* turns on rocks. I'm at the point now where I can do it okay, if I'm riding in a pack of guys from my field I'll typically hold my place just fine, but it's mentally exhausting. It seems like other guys are just having fun with their dogs, where I'm doing things that are outside of my comfort zone and it fries me. It keeps getting better the more I do it, but yesterday's course was really taxing in that regard.
Sometimes life hands you lemonade, though, because just at the beginning of lap two, at the point where I was like "fuck this, I would be having so much fun if I was just out riding on this course, but I'm having no fun racing on it," I got a rear flat. A razor slice that Stan's really had no chance with. It happened super close to the parking lot, it would have been too easy to just say "well, wasn't meant to be, bye!" Instead I took my time, put in a tube, had a drink, got my shit back together and went for a ride. And I rode pretty fast. Pretty fast indeed. It took about 13 minutes to change the flat and get going, by which point if I wasn't last on the course of everyone in the Cat 1 wave, I was awfully close.
For the next hour, I picked off people one by one, and really had a ball. A couple of pros passed me and I did what I could to ride with them as long as possible, making a few good turns at it a couple of times. A woman from Bike Lane named Sue, which I know because she had people cheering for her all over the course, was giving lessons on how to be a ninja in the tight woods and downhills, and I enjoyed riding with her until a longer power section that suited me arrived.
It's hard to push yourself as hard as you would when you're riding for nothing other than trying not to get last (at which I was successful), so I know I didn't ride as fast as I might have otherwise, but it was a strange way for what was devolving into a shitty day on the bike to turn itself into one of the more fun rides I've had in a long time.
No mtb races on the schedule for a while. Poolesville next weekend.