ok, maybe a 23-mile race isn't the best thing to do as your second time back on a mountain bike after a 3-month injury layoff, but damn it all i wanted to race. early start sunday morning, up a getting up at 5 and in the car by 5:30 got me up to fairhill by 7:15 with time for a coffee stop en-route. i contemplated tackling the 29-mile expert race just for the extra distance, but decided that it probably wasn't a good idea and registered for sport and set about getting dressed and getting all of my supplies ready. i took a quick spin down the fireroad that we'ed be taking at the start of the race to get my legs warmed up and then headed back up to the staging area where a crowd was rapidly forming and tried to find a bit of shade to hide in from the sun that was already beating down on us a 8:45 in the morning.
the race started fairly calmly... we were a big group, around 40 in sport 30-34 but a long fireroad section allowed us to sort ourselves out and get most of the stronger riders up towards the front. as i turned into the singletrack in round about 10th place the conditions turned from occaisional puddles into a constant ribbon of churned up mud. conditions were difficult and bikes were getting muddy very quickly. there was some moving around in the group, taking places on the climbs, losing one occaisionally in the endless super tight twisty singletrack that is fairhill, but for the most part i spent the first 1/3 of the race steadily moving up through the field.
i had some minor chainsuck issues on a couple of climbs that cost me a couple of places but those were quickly regained and the chainsuck disappeared. coming into rough stong bridge with a 45-degree incline i noticed the riders in front dismounting and walking and remembered doing the same last year, but felt good, put in a little burst and rode up & over it, passing two riders in the process. a couple of times i was able to stay upright and riding on technical climbs that forced other riders off and i was able to get around them.
about a 1/3 of the way into the race my back wheel clipped something and sent me tumbling off the bike, only to see a 1/2 dozen riders pass me while i got myself back together. after that i found myself riding badly for a while - a couple of dabs and some tentative riding - but slowly i started pulling back the riders who passed me after my fall and used some long field climbs to put time on other riders. this pattern continued for most of the rest of the race... gain time on the climbs, lose it in the twisty sections, but overall moving up. i was riding comfortably, feeling much better than last year where i was having trouble climbing by the end of the race.
towards the end of the race the course got a little more muddy again and a little rocky and my chainsuck came back, only this time a lot worse. looking down at my chain it looked like there was a kink that was causing the problems, so i stopped and had a closer look... turned out i had a link of my chain that was about to explode, so i had to stop to and break out the chain tool to pull the bad link out and re-join the chain. in the process i probably lost 10 minutes and 5-10 places. i rode the last mile of the course re-energized thanks to my little break and felt strong at the finish.
in the end i was 18th of 40+ in my class in a time that was slower than last year, but felt a lot better. i'm not sure where i was before my chain failure, but looking at the results i think i'd have been 8th or 11th. my time was longer than last year, but i felt a lot better and for my first race of the year, and my 2nd time on a mountain bike in almost 4 months, i'm pretty happy.