Well, the event I’ve been preparing for since January has come and gone. It was an interesting weekend to say the least. There were three races (short track cross country, a time trial and a cross country race), and points that accumulated for an overall GC placing.
On Saturday morning, I was doing my favorite event, the STXC race. I love this race because it suits two of my speceeeALities: sprinting and short punchy power throw downs. I won last year, and while I wouldn’t admit it, my goal was to make it two years in a row.
This was my first weekend away from LHP, and it hit me like a ton of bricks the day I was leaving. I was pretty bummed out to be away from her for two days. So, as I was packing, I decided she would be my good luck charm. I grabbed a pair of her socks and in the back pocket they would go as I raced!
The course was 1.1 miles long times five laps of about 6:00-6:30 in length. There were 16 of us, and there were 15 other riders who had designs on taking my tiara away. Naturally, I’d have something to say about that.
When the race started, there was a mad dash (as there is always is in MTB races) for the hole shot to the single track. I was sitting at about 6th wheel letting the group tow me along. My plan was to follow wheels until it was time to launch at the end.
On the first lap someone attacks and builds about a :15-20 second lead by time the lap ended with another rider with him in second. When these guys went, my inner monologue went something like this:
Legs: “GO DUMMY! YOUR TIARA!”
Head: “Let them go, we’re sitting on a good hand.”
Legs:”WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?? WHAT IF THEY GET AWAY?”
Head:”They will blow up, by the 3rd lap (18 mins approx, remember, 40 mins, harder than race pace, more climbing), and we will be in the perfect spot.”
Head:”Shhhhh, just keep making the bike go forward. If we go five seconds faster per lap, we will reel them in, trust me.”
While my legs were pissed, but my heart and lungs werent, so we were good. I defended third , and at the end of lap one, 6:36 secs had gone by. On to lap two with only two people between me and a repeat.
The leaders were widening their gap as the lap went on, and they were getting harder to see. At this point, I had a momentary on bike board meeting:
Legs:”WE ARE LOSING GROUND!! LET’S GO!!!”
Head:”Patience, one more lap and we will start to make our move. Just keep the bike going. They are going to fade.”
At the end of lap two, it took 6:39 to get around the course. At the beginning of the third lap the legs were feeling better, the chain feeling lighter and the pedals seemed to go a little faster. By the end of the lap, I had caught the guy in second place with a good hard charge to grab his wheel. Mission accomplished, a 6:36 lap, and someone to pull me to the leader so I could recover, oh, and recover I did because it was windy, and it was pretty damn nice to have someone’s wheel to sit on.
At the start of lap four, my escort was fading, and the field was starting to catch us. Which sucked, because I was just about to ask him if he wanted to work together to get the leader. The good news was, as predicted (well gambled on really), the leader started fading, he was getting closer and he was only a few good charges away. Lap four ended in 6:35. Only a second faster, but I was gaining on the leader.
You see, going off the front in a race is great strategy. If it works. If it doesn’t, you’re that guy who blew up. I know this first hand, because last May, I was that guy. Not being one to not fully embrace a “learning opportunity,” I let experience be my guide.
Lap five started, I was getting closer to the front and another chance to recover on someone’s wheel and it was almost time to go:
LEGS:”UM, LAST LAP, HALF DONE, CAN WE GO YET????????”
Head:”Not yet, just keep going a little faster every :30 or so.”
Legs:”WHAT????? BUT THE LEADER!!!”
Head:”Is fading, and has bad body language, he’s cooked.”
And sure enough, halfway through the lap there he was, only about 10 yards away. As luck would have it, it was a pretty lengthy straight away that allowed me to catch him and grab his wheel. I was fully planning on catching a ride to the end, then out kicking him at the line. But so did another rider.
The guy who was in 4th was now in 3rd charging hard. With only about a minute to go, on a long straight away, the cycling Gods dealt me another ace after I hit on a pair 10’s!
Legs:”NOW? CAN. WE. GO. YET???”
Head:”Wait for it……wait for it……”
The leader, realizing he wasn’t riding me off his wheel, puts his head down, and then…..PULLED OFF TO THE LEFT!! WHAT. THE. HELL????
This has never happened to me in a race, or a group ride for that matter.
I had not only worn out his legs, but apparently his head too. OR, was he hoping I would tow him in and he’d attack me at the end playing a well timed gamble of his own?
Well, I sure as hell wasn’t waiting around to find out.
Legs:”HE’S DONE. HIS HEAD IS DOWN AND HE’S HEAVING!!”
Head:”OK, GO. NOW! GO. GO. GO!!!”
Legs:”ALRIGHT BOYS! UNLEASH HELL!!”
And that’s what I did. I was starting to hurt, but I knew he was too. It was now time to find out how his training stacked up against mine, and it was riddle I was more than willing to try and solve.
It was time to get into the 11 (26/39 up front, 11-36 in the back), out of the saddle and put my training to the test. As I attacked, the leader was fading back. There was only one thing in the way of me and a repeat: the stupid Folsom Rodeo grounds they insist on putting into each event as much as possible. I. HATE. THIS. WITH. A. PASSION. Its loose, thick, you can’t go more than 5mph, and it can suck you down to the dirt quickly if you ride it wrong.
So into the rodeo grounds I went, and right as I was going through the second switchback, the chasers showed up for one more dig only about 15 yards away. The GD rodeo grounds cost me my lead. Luckily we were going the same speed, and while I wasn’t getting away, they weren’t getting any closer and an odd sense of calm sort of kicked in. After I went through the last of four switchbacks, it was a left turn onto terra firma pavement, up a :05 power climb, two left turns and then the finish line.
As soon as I made the left turn out of the rodeo grounds, I knew if I made it to the hill without them, I was home free. Now it was about :30 seconds from the rodeo grounds to the finish. The last three weeks, we’ve purposely simulated a STXC race with a 22% climb of 1:00 done 6 times in 40 mins for just such an occasion. There was no way I was letting any of our eight INTEGRATE riders show up to this gun fight with anything less than a howitzer in their back pocket. Luckily, that meant I had mine as well.
So, out of the saddle up the hill I went trying to literally rip my handlebars off my stem so I could get away. I made the first left hand turn out of the saddle, and put in another charge on the short straight to the last left hand turn and pay dirt. Right at the turn, there were some INTEGRATE faithfuls there cheering us on, and it breathed one last burst of power into the motor for the last :10 of the race!
After I made the last turn, recharged by the cheering, once I hit the straight, my morbid sense of curiosity took over, and I snuck a peek about 20 yards from the turn I just made. With only about 10 yards to go, the chasers hadn’t made the turn yet!!!!!! I quick math job in my head put a smile on my face.
When I realized what was going on, I sat up and it was arms out wide because mama I was coming home! With arms overhead, I sailed across the finish line before the 15 other riders I started with. To go from :20 down to about :06 up at the end of the race was pretty damn nice. That’s one of the best things about racing: competing against yourself and finding out who you are every time, regardless of where you finish.
Of all of the races I’ve done, this was by far, my most memorable. But not for the reason you think. I never thought my back would let me train to the point where I could do this. I went from three 4:00 short hill repeats hurting my back in February terrified to sneeze because I thought I’d blow out my back, to being able to do 10 of those repeats in under 3:00 mins and crossing the line first in June. I bring that up not to blow my own horn, but to share where I was, and with some seriously damn good luck, where I’ve ended up.
At any rate, it was one hell of a ride, and will always be one of the highlights of MTB career!!
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