"i don't think i'm an expert yet"... i said that to gwadz yesterday, as he passed me about a 1/3rd of the way around my last lap of the granogue course... i was trying to be a bit of a smartass, joking about how i was suffering, but after talking to a few people after the race and the more i think about it the more i see another side to what i said. i may not have the legs of the guys at the sharp end of the race (though this weekend's other activities may have had some effects on my performance) but that doesn't mean i'm going back to sport. to paraphrase something that eric roman said to me after the race - racing with people that are faster makes you faster, you rise to the occasion. ok, now on to the story...
2 nights of carousing in philly may not be the best way to get ready for a mountain bike race... but thats what i did this weekend. we spent friday night and saturday up in philly celebrating various events (not to excess, but i certainly wasn't being a "serious bike racer" this weekend) and then sunday morning drove down from there to granogue. we arrived with just enough time for me to check in and get ready to race, but not in enough time to get any warmup at all.
well organized lineup, and we're right behind the "elite" class with lots of other fast older experts lined up behind us. i recognize a couple of guys who've also made the move up from sport this year, and then we're off... fast. the start was faster than i expected, and by the time we hit dirt i'm all the way in the back. we stacked up a bit heading into the singletrack, but not for long. i'm hurting. my complete lack of a warm-up has left my legs cold and they're very quickly filled with lactic acid. once the field strings out i settle into a good pace and start getting passed by the leaders of the fields that started behind us.
the course was tough, but fun... dry in the sun, but greasy mud in the woods. plenty of wet roots looking to throw you off the side of the trail and lots of rocks trying to stop your wheels from turning. i did manage to pass a couple of people by staying on the bike on some of the technical climbs when other people where getting hung up and getting off the bike. we looped back through the start finish area half way through the lap, by way of a long field climb, and i saw heather at the top cheering me on and taking pictures which liftd my spirits a little.
the 2nd half of the course though, seemed interminable and was, combined with the constant stream of people passing me, a little demoralizing. i was making the technical climbs on the first half of the course, but not the second half, and they just kept coming. the lead in to the finish was a long road climb and by the top of it i didn't think that my legs had another two laps in them. on top of that, one of the few riders in my class that i'd managed to pass got around me and i wasn't able to stay with them.
but on the 2nd lap things started to turn around. as the various classes merged into one i found myself with rider that i could hang with for a little longer instead of hearing them behind me and then seeing them fly off into the distance. after a shaky start to the lap i started to ride better and made a couple of techincal climbs that i hadn't made the first lap, and that were forcing everyone else off their bikes. just before the end of the 2nd lap i took a beer handup to tide me up the final road climb.
the last lap started in the same manner as the second had ended, feeling a little better. tired but not exhausted, still riding fairly well. some tiny roots managed to trip me up every lap when other more difficult sections i'd ride with no problems at all. just before the halfway point of the lap i heard a rider coming behind me and out of the corner of my eye glimpsed the red & black of a city bikes jersey. it was joel, the one rider i'd really wanted to stay in front of (a little personal challenge), but alas, this was not to be the day for that.
just as he was about to pass i spot mike scardaville in the distance, but getting closer. joel may have passed me (and from a start a couple minutes behind me) but now i've got a new target. on the long grassy climb i catch and pass mike and focus on trying to stay ahead of him for the last half lap of the race.
by this time i've got the flow of the course down, and it's easier to pace myself... i ride from one section to another, knowing the finish is closing in. the back half of the lap wasn't as good the 3rd time around, with technical skills suffering from exhaustion just like the rest of my body. one last trip through the beer station and PBR has never tasted so good.